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Supporting Canada’s Military and Veteran Families

Leaders from business, community organizations, government, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and military and Veteran families gathered in Ottawa at the Canadian War Museum on January 29 for the second annual meeting of the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle to foster and strengthen relationships, to facilitate collaboration and to spark innovation in the development and delivery of supports for Canada’s military and Veteran families.

Building awareness, competence, capacity and community

This second gathering of the Leadership Circle builds on the success of last year’s inaugural event, which saw 32 leaders from business and community organizations, the Department of Defence and Veterans Affairs, as well as Military Family Services and Military Family Resource Centres convene to build and strengthen supports for military and Veteran families.

Of the 21 organizations in attendance last year, 18 signed on as members and two more joined this year. Today, more than 40 individuals from 37 organizations have come together, including all of the original members.

Modern military and Veteran families are diverse, complex and evolving

Military and Veteran families, like civilian families, are diverse, complex and dynamic, and each one is unique. Today, there are nearly one-half million military and Veteran families from coast to coast to coast, and over 1,000 military families posted to the United States and Europe. And, across the country, nearly one-half million children are growing up in military and Veteran homes.

Military and Veteran families manage multiple roles at home, at work and in their communities. One in five Regular Force members with children is a single parent, and 16% of Veterans with children are single parents. Like civilian families across Canada, in the majority of military and Veteran couples, both adults contribute to household income. Today, on average, CAF personnel report spending more than one-quarter of their time away from home on military-related duties.

Military and Veteran family life is evolving. Twenty years ago, 80% of Regular Force CAF families lived on a base; today, 85% of these families live off base. Another 40,000 reservists live in neighbourhoods across the country – away from a base or a wing, and often not even in close proximity to one. Almost 600,000 Veterans also live in civilian communities.

Like all families, military and Veteran families access a variety of programs and services in their communities, including child care and eldercare, health and mental health, community recreation and leisure, and education and employment. These programs and services are often delivered by professionals and practitioners who have little or no knowledge, understanding or experience working with military or Veteran families.

Military literacy key to providing support for military and Veteran families

As the military and Veteran family community grows, there is a need for military literacy in Canada – awareness of the unique experiences of these families and the “military life stressors” (such as high mobility, extended and/or unexpected separation, and risk) that have an impact on CAF parents and their children.

Individuals and organizations that are military literate have the competency and confidence to consistently deliver high-quality services that are respectful and responsive to the experiences, circumstances and perspectives of military and Veteran families.

Leadership Circle partners are collaborating to support military and Veteran families

Organizations that incorporate military literacy create environments that are welcoming and inclusive of military and Veteran families, and can provide evidence-based programs and services specially tailored to support these families.

Military Family Resource Centres are but one example. They provide access to services to medically released Veterans and their families for up to two years as part of a pilot project launched in 2014.

Calian recently partnered with Military Family Services to provide access to family health care through their clinics in Toronto, Winnipeg and Halifax as part of the recently announced Military Family Doctor Network. This program helps military families access physicians to enhance the quality and continuity of care – addressing one of the key findings of the 2013 DND/CAF Ombudsman report on military families.

The Canadian Child Care Federation has partnered with the Vanier Institute to develop resources for Early Childhood Educators as a prototype for a comprehensive awareness-building campaign.

Accenture Canada is working with Military Family Services and Military Family Resource Centres to deliver employment-related training for spouses, both in person and virtually through the Skills to Succeed program.

The Vanier Institute was created through a military and Veteran family partnership

Support for Canada’s military and Veteran families has always been important to the Vanier Institute, as the inception of the Institute itself was a collaboration that included members of the military.

Our founders were military family members. His Excellency Major-General the Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier, a Veteran of two world wars, arrived home from the battlefield having lost part of his leg in combat. In 1964, in his role as Governor General, His Excellency and his wife the Honourable Pauline Vanier – along with a leadership team that included Military Social Workers – convened the Canadian Conference on the Family at Rideau Hall. That conference resulted in the establishment of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Building relationships to strengthen supports

Going forward, there will be many opportunities for sharing, strengthening and expanding this circle. One of the publications being planned coming out of this meeting will be a Compendium of Partnerships and Collaborations that exist across Canada. This publication will highlight work being done across the country and will encourage others to join this growing initiative. It will convey a strong message to military and Veteran families that the country is standing beside them while they stand behind their loved ones.

Partnerships and collaborations such as the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle demonstrate the power of working together and leveraging respective strengths. By working together, those who study, serve and support military and Veteran families can accomplish more than they can individually, can make more progress in less time and can realize more gains with less energy and fewer resources. We can ensure that of those who serve – and have served – our country, and their families, have access to community services and supports that understand the unique experiences, realities and perspectives of military and Veteran family life.