Innovative Technology Program to Help South Florida Military Families

A military deployment overseas is a tough enough assignment, but imagine your spouse being sent to a war zone and you are left alone to care for your family, including a child with a developmental disability. The Mailman Center for Child Development at the Miller School, in partnership with U.S. Army Garrison Miami, has established the South Florida Project 360 for Military Families, a one-stop virtual center to help military families with children who have disabilities get the support and services they need.

UM has received a $1 million grant over five years to create an innovative technology-centric resource to connect military families living in South Florida with community partners who deliver support and services for people with disabilities and their families. With the use of cell phones, wireless internet capability on laptops, and a newly designed website with multiple informational and service links, specialists serving as “systems navigators” will help families identify and prioritize their needs, connect with local resources, and ensure their needs continue to be met.

“There is a huge need in South Florida to help military families who have a child or children with developmental disabilities get the services they need and are entitled to,” said Antoinette Hill, M.B.A., voluntary assistant professor of clinical pediatrics, director of parent and family leadership at the Mailman Center and project director for South Florida Military Access Portals for Supports and Services (South Florida MAPS). “Because Miami doesn’t recognize itself as a military community, these families often feel a sense of isolation in their community. South Florida is a unique military landscape of all Department of Defense uniformed services, plus the Coast Guard. Yet, because there is no large brick-and-mortar installation and they are largely guard- and reserve-affiliated, the military families are scattered across three counties and are largely unrecognized and anonymous in their community.”

Southeast Florida is home to the U.S. Southern Command, one of six Department of Defense four-star combatant commands. In addition, all components of the uniformed services, and especially their frequently deployed reserve and guard units, are represented in the region. The U.S. Army Garrison Miami is responsible for all military family support and is acting in collaboration with the Miller School to identify and facilitate the involvement of affected military families.

“Military families sacrifice for all of us at many levels,” said Daniel Armstrong, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and psychology and director of the Mailman Center. “For those families with children with special needs, the challenges can be seemingly insurmountable. This project is one concrete way to provide these families with support that gives hope and the confidence needed to meet the needs of their children. It is our way to give back in appreciation for their sacrifice.”

The project, for which Jean Sherman, Ed.D., research assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences is principal investigator, will serve more than 180 military families living in Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties over the next five years. The funding is through the Administration on Developmental Disabilities which is under the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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