Counseling for children of military parents sent to the Persian Gulf is being made available at Hill Field Elementary School.
Nine weeks ago Heather Sather, Davis School District director of family therapy, and Pat McKay, principal at the school, devised Desert Shield Group Counseling, a pilot program for students with parents in the gulf.About 80 children participate in the program, which is partially funded by the district's special-education budget.
The objective, Sather said, is "to empower the children with information and strategies in dealing with worries and concerns."
"We want these kids to feel like they are not powerless in their lives," Sather said. "Sometimes with the father gone, kids get a little clingy or restless. These kids don't know what Saudi Arabia is like."
Sather, McKay and approximately 10 social workers, their services donated by area agencies, work with the base Family Support Center and meet with groups of eight to 10 children one night a week.
They follow a program written by Sather.
Teachers recommended two or three children from their classes for the program. Because of a lack of workers and money, Sather said, not all the approximately 200 children with parents deployed could be included. The school enrolls 725 students.
McKay said that although all eligible children can't be helped, she has noticed other children gathering around a child in counseling, asking questions.
"We want to help them function better within their families without the head of the household there," she said. "This is different because the fathers are not just gone for (temporary duty) of two or three weeks, but a minimum of 180 days. The family unit is broken down and more pressure is put on the mother and the kids."
Sather said the curriculum is written to help children open up about their concerns and inform them generally about what their fathers are doing. At the meeting's end, students write a note to their mothers.
Base representatives visit the groups regularly to answer questions.
Sather said that simply knowing where Saudi Arabia is helps a child deal with his or her father's absence. Sather said none of the children she deals with has a mother deployed.
During meetings, children create collages of activities they used to do with their fathers and tell ways they can help their mothers and themselves deal with the stress.
Most of the students mentioned a household chore they could do to help their mothers. Before students are finished with the meeting, they are asked to point to Saudi Arabia on the classroom globe.
Sather said it is important for the children to know it is not their job to make Mom happy.