Student support during parental deployment: qualitative investigation of the Defence School Transition Aide Program in North Queensland

Macdonald, Gail (2016) Student support during parental deployment: qualitative investigation of the Defence School Transition Aide Program in North Queensland. Professional Doctorate (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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Parental deployment to a war zone brings many changes to family life. Deployment related changes in family roles and routines typically unsettle children and can interfere with their educational engagement and progress. Furthermore students with parents who are deployed are more vulnerable to increased levels of stress and anxiety, health problems, and behavioural disorders.

Research reports that teachers often struggle to support the increased emotional needs of students with a parent who is deployed. Furthermore qualitative studies exploring school programs and processes that are in place to promote positive student coping during a parental deployment are lacking. In Australian schools students with parents who are deployed are supported by Defence School Transition Aides (DSTAs) to manage the school-based challenges associated with a parental deployment to a war zone but little is documented on the nature of DSTAs' work in this area.

DSTAs' deployment related work varies in each school in relation to the school's size and sector, the number of enrolments from students from Australian Defence Force (ADF) families, and the number of students with a parents who are deployed. The aim of this naturalistic inquiry was to develop an understanding of specific school based practices, programs and strategies that encourage students' school engagement and contribute to a sense of student wellbeing during a parental deployment.

This study endeavoured to identify processes that encourage students to capitalise on their strengths and fully participate in their educational program during their parents' absence. Through semi-structured interviews this study investigated the perspectives of parents, teachers and DSTAs in relation to student support during a parental deployment. Fifteen parents, 17 teachers and 15 DSTAs, representing thirteen Townsville school communities were purposively selected to represent multiple perspectives of the research problem. Bronfenbrenner's bioecological theory of human development was used to guide the study design and act as a lens through which to view the findings.

When conducting interviews during 2014 the researcher was working as the Regional Education Liaison Officer (REDLO) with the Defence Community Organisation (DCO) in Townsville, North Queensland and was familiar with the research setting and issues associated with the research problem. The researcher asked participants to discuss their perspectives of students' responses to a parental deployment, school based efforts to support students during a parental deployment and aspects of the DSTAs' role that they felt eased students' challenges that related to their parents' deployment.

A naturalistic design was employed for the study. Qualitative data were sorted, collapsed, and categorised using grounded theory methods. The data analysis remained close to the data and produced a theoretical framework that was grounded in the data. An initial process of open coding identified in-vivo codes for each group of participants. The initial codes were refined into focussed codes. The data were further analysed using social science paradigms to allow themes to emerge from the data. The study's findings suggest that:

Defence School Transition Aides (DSTAs) bridge the cultural gap between Australian Defence Force (ADF) families and schools and assist students to adjust to deployment related family transitions by reducing cultural barriers between ADF families and schools, constructing cultural knowledge through professional relationships, and integrating knowledge and practice. Through their work DSTAs assist in building school capacity to provide additional student support throughout a parental deployment cycle.

The study's participants were well aware of the unique challenges and strengths of students from ADF families and also with DSTAs' practices that supported students throughout a parental deployment. Parents were reassured by the presence of readily available, schoolbased, culturally aware practitioners who understood their families' challenges and who were available to attend to their children's school-based needs. Teachers valued the practical support and cultural expertise offered by DSTAs that allowed them to further support their students' unique needs. Furthermore DSTAs added value to existing school processes from a position of cultural expertise. Working from within an ecological framework, DSTAs created professional relationships with students, parents, teachers and the ADF community. DSTAs' work generated a network of supportive school processes that increased the capacity of school communities to respond effectively to students' deployment related needs.

Item ID: 51064
Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate (Research))
Keywords: ADF community, Australian Defence Force (ADF), Australian schools, children of military families, children, Defence School Transition Aide (DSTA), education, families, military deployments, military family support, North Queensland schools, parental deployment, students of military families, Townsville schools
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Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Macdonald, Gail (2017) School-based support for students with a parent on military deployment. Children Australia, 42 (1). pp. 57-65.

Date Deposited: 08 Oct 2017 23:40
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130106 Secondary Education @ 30%
13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130105 Primary Education (excl Maori) @ 60%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130313 Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators @ 10%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9301 Learner and Learning > 930101 Learner and Learning Achievement @ 100%
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