Military family support programs have proliferated in recent years, but there has been little evaluation of whether these programs are meeting their key objectives. To help fill this gap, a RAND study explored the curriculum, themes, and outcomes of Operation Purple, a free weeklong summer camp program for youth with a deployed parent.
Assessing Operation Purple
A Program Evaluation of a Summer Camp for Military Youth
Published Jul 25, 2012
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- To what extent is participation in an Operation Purple camp associated with self-reported improvement in the four main camp outcome areas (communication skills, understanding of military culture, sense of service/stewardship, and outdoor education)?
- How and to what extent was the curriculum implemented at participating camps during the study period (summer 2011)?
- How do the self-reported outcomes of camp participants differ from those of youth who did not attend the camp?
- How might qualitative data, such as youth and parent perspectives on the value of camp participation, inform the research findings and future studies of military family support programs?
Parental military deployments pose a host of challenges for child and family well-being. Military family support programs have proliferated since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq a decade ago to address these emotional, social, and academic issues, but there has been little evaluation of whether these programs are meeting their key objectives. To help fill this gap, a RAND study team explored the curriculum, themes, and outcomes of Operation Purple, a free weeklong summer camp program for youth with a deployed parent. Using a quasi-experimental approach, the study incorporated youth and parent survey data (from both camp attendees and a control group of non-attendees) and camp after-action reports and visitor observation logs to determine whether there were differences between attendees and non-attendees in the four camp theme areas: comfort and skill in communicating about feelings, understanding and appreciation of military life, sense of service/stewardship, and outdoor education. The study also sought to determine how and to what extent the program's curriculum was implemented by participating camps in the summer of 2011. Despite limitations in the data (e.g., a non-random study sample, some variation in curriculum implementation across camps), the study found some positive effects from camp participation, particularly in communicating about feelings, as well as valuable youth and parent perspectives about camp, reflected in responses to open-ended questions. As such, it helps lay the groundwork for future investigation of similar support programs for military youth and their families.
The Study Found Only Slight Differences Between Operation Purple Camp Participants and the Control Group.
- The most significant difference between youth who attended an Operation Purple camp and youth who did not was in parent reports that youth had a greater ability to communicate feelings of anxiety and stress surrounding parental deployment and a greater connection to the military and their peers. Parents also reported that camp participants had a greater interest in camping in the follow-up surveys.
- There were no significant changes in coping-related activities, such as journaling.
- The study found no significant differences between youth who attended camp and youth who did not in the area of sense of service/stewardship.
Participating Operation Purple Camps Administered the Program's Curriculum and Collected Data in Different Ways, Posing a Challenge to the Study.
- Camp after-action reports, completed by camp directors, indicated the types of activities in which campers engaged, but they did not always reveal the frequency or duration of these activities. According to these reports, more than 80 percent of the camps addressed the four program themes.
- Visitor observation logs, completed by trained staff or volunteers, indicated that, with the exception of one Operation Purple camp objective, at least 75 percent of the camps implemented the program curriculum as required.
- Concerns about data validity meant that it was not possible to construct a fidelity measure to use in the study's outcome models.
- Although the study found benefits to youth who participated in an Operation Purple camp, future studies should also explore the effects on parents, including periods of respite and other benefits.
- Given that positive outcomes persisted only at one month but not three months after camp attendance, participants may benefit from booster programs or other supports between camp periods. This type of strategy should be investigated.
- Youth programs, such as Operation Purple, should consider a more systematic way of capturing whether and how core activities are implemented; such changes would help inform future camp improvement processes.