Video Text Alternative: Military Children, Health, and Research: Interview with Dr. Mary M. Keller, Military Child Education Coalition

This news is archived NICHD Archive
Note: Information on this page was accurate at the time of publication. This page is no longer being updated.

To view the original video, please go to

Video/ Graphics Audio

Family Issues of Military Connected Children with Special Needs

Extended Interview with Mary M. Keller, President & Chief Executive Officer, Military Child Education Coalition

April 14-15 | Natcher Conference Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
Dr. Mary M. Keller: And I’m Dr. Mary Keller, and I’m the…
Camera view of Dr. Mary M. Keller. Dr. Keller: …president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: Our mission is to serve 4 million children whose parents are in the active duty forces, the National Guard, the Reserves, and post-9/11 veterans, and that’s children from birth through age 23.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: Well, when we think about 4 million children, you know, every child has their own story, they have their own needs. But we have some children who have some really amplified needs, and what we have a reasonable assumption for is, there’s somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the children whose parents are currently serving, or those whose parents have served recently, who have an amplified need, and that means they’re in special education programs, maybe they have a health need, they could be in other types of programs that we give them accommodations. And it’s so important that this conference is bringing together those from the research community, those from the medical community, educators, and parents to talk about the needs of children who also serve our country.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: The most important thing when we think about future research is that we really don’t know a lot about military and veterans-connected children. It’s surprising how little we do know. You know, there’s such a need for the adults, especially from the veteran community and those who have been wounded, ill, or injured, that their needs—and they are important—can sometimes overshadow the needs of children. So what’s important for us now is to think about, what does the research say, and how does that help bring voice to the needs of children and their parents? But then, what do we learn over the long haul? What do we learn on the long-term about children who have maybe amplified health care needs or educational needs? And then how do we learn from military and veterans’ children in ways that we can help other children who maybe move and change schools a lot or have—maybe their families have gone through some type of challenge that has provided for—you know, just, turbulence in their lives? And then when we think about children who have special needs, that means, how do we surround kids with convoys of support in ways that really are sensitive to what does that child need and what do their parents need?
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: First of all, my background is as an educator, and I spent almost 40 years as an educator in elementary schools first and then as a district administrator and then as an area superintendent, and I was blessed to be one of the founders, 17 years ago, of the Military Child Education Coalition. So from the beginning, our organization has always said that we’re for the sake of the child. And that means, where does each child need help, and how do we help their parents? But also, how do we talk about the strengths of children? So my special story is, that’s my professional background, and that is that I have had the blessing to teach children with special health care needs. I’ve had the blessing to be an administrator, to help with the programming for children with special needs, and I’m also the grandmother of a wonderful young woman who’s just 12 years old, and she’s had some special health challenges. So I mean, I get it from a personal reason and from a professional reason, you know, that we really need to pay attention to children with disabilities or children with special health needs.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: You know, it’s so confusing when a parent finds out that they have a child that has a special health need. It’s really quite overwhelming. And you know, first of all, you know, they tend to go immediately, as they should, to the health professionals that are letting them know what kinds of things they need to do for that child immediately, what’s urgent. And then also the school professionals, what can they do? But there’s many other people, and that includes other parents who have been down that same path, and I don’t think we should forget the faith community and others that are out in the community that give, you know, really the whole family the kind of support that they need. But then I think they shouldn’t be afraid to tell their story, because you never know, by telling your story and reaching out to other people, how you help someone else just because of the journey that you’ve been on. So I think the parents should not only—and the other family members should not only—see themselves as needing help, but being as a vessel of help and support for other people, too. You know, and educators don’t always understand. You know, I told people before—a teacher, a principal, a counselor cannot read your mind. They do not know what story that you’ve had. They do not know the experiences that you and your children have had. So I encourage parents to engage with the schools—to teach, to coach, and mentor, too, from their experience—because it really is that team approach, when we all are there for the sake of the child, that we make a difference for children on the long haul.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: I think the advice I have for parents, first of all, is—is, you know, if they have that new baby or they have that child that’s just started school or that teenager or that young adult—is, you know—that every child is a promise. Every child is a blessing. And I know that it isn’t easy for parents, you know, when they have a child that has, you know, some amplified needs, some challenges or some very, very complex health challenges. And I think my advice for parents is, please tell other people your story, and please let others know what you’ve done, because parents are good about figuring things out, and what we don’t want is that special way that a parent has figured out how to navigate a system or connected with a special person in the community to just reside in them. But it’s that shared wisdom for all of us that we all learn from each other. So, again, I would urge parents—don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, don’t be afraid to tell your story, but also to know that you’ve got something to contribute, as does your child. So I think the more that we see everyone as being part of our larger community and that we encourage 100 percent acceptance, that’s when I think we can all lift each other up.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: You know, for clinicians, I’ll tell you I’m going to take an educator’s perspective—because that is my background, as I am not in the medical community; I am an educator—and that is that respecting the professionalism of others is critically important. That’s important from the educators to the clinician as well as the clinician to the educator. I think that if clinicians realize that educators have a different perspective, that they’re working with a whole classroom full of children, that they rarely get to see children one-on-one, and they need as much collaboration, input, and support from that clinician—they also would appreciate it when clinicians come into the schools and they teach what they know. They say, “These are the kinds of things that we know.” Perhaps to help children with their health and their risk and their resilience. So I think, again, if we see each other as a community of support, a community of care—that would be my advice. And it’s too easy for everybody to get involved in their own bureaucracies and not reach out, and I understand that. But I think that—when I see it works, and we’re blessed to work nationally and globally—it’s that when people are willing to reach out, when we see those health care centers in the schools, when we see clinicians in the schools teaching, coaching, and mentoring educators—but we also see educators that are there with the clinicians trying to figure out, what do we think is the best plan and how do we include that parent in ways that make a difference?
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: For members of the community, the advice would be, you know, there’s so many times that we fail to recognize that there’s programs, supports, and services that already exist, and you know, the more that we can synchronize services, the more that we know about each other, the more likely we are to really hit that right note with that family and what they need. And I see a lot of times replication of services, both in the military side and in communities, and in schools. What my advice would be is for people to see each other as one community and to get together and say, what do we have to offer? Maybe for mental health services, behavioral health, wellness—you know, what kinds of things are cities offering? What kinds of things are youth programs through the faith community, through schools, after school programs, and through the military—you know, what kinds of things are available? We don’t have enough resources for one group to be all things to all people, but together we can make a difference, and that’s also where you can identify those gaps because you may find, “Oh my goodness, we’re not doing anything for middle schoolers, and we need to bolster our services there.” So that’s what I would encourage—everyone to see themselves as one community and to engage in conversation consistently and to look for ways to work together.
(Edit/camera cut) Dr. Keller on camera. Dr. Keller: I would just like to really thank the work of Valerie Maholmes and the wonderful work that they’re doing here at NICHD. You know, I had the blessing to be involved in the first conference that they did, right in the middle of the war on Iraq and Afghanistan, to start talking about children and what does it mean when you have a combat-deployed parent. And you know, we’ve really learned over time and we—how do we know, 13 years ago, that we would be through this? How do we know that children that are now in college would never remember anything but a wartime experience in their school years? So how do we know then, you know, what are the kinds of supports, the kinds of protective factors we needed to put out there for children? But the work here is leading the way so that we don’t lose it. So as we learn over time, we can also say, if anything ever happens again, you know, we haven’t started over. And that’s the true legacy of the great work that’s going on here, and I’m just so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from this community and to really draw from the expertise.

Family Issues of Military Connected Children with Special Needs

Click here now to Return to the Conference

April 14-15 | Natcher Conference Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland
top of pageBACK TO TOP