Lived Experience: Understanding Families Affected by Incarceration

Farhat Rehman

Incarceration has an impact on thousands of families across Canada. When a person is sentenced to time in prison, their families are often profoundly affected; they are separated from a son, daughter, sibling, parent or other relative. Feelings of stigma, guilt and shame are common, and can be compounded when the sentenced family member is also living with a mental health condition – a reality for many incarcerated individuals and their families.

My family life has been profoundly affected by incarceration ever since my son was sentenced in 2001. When the chasm of the prison system had swallowed him up, the world appeared dark with no hope of seeing daylight. Our lives took a drastic turn on that ominous day. Our family’s lives and relationships were forever changed.

As a mother, I couldn’t help but wonder over and over again why my son had committed such a serious criminal act. Why did his mind work this way? What could have been done to prevent this catastrophe? Why, after years of treatment in the mental health system, had he still fallen through the cracks? What could I have done differently that would have prevented this crime from taking place and tearing apart two families? Since then, there have been daily reminders as I speak to him and visit him in prison. For us, his family, the impact of my son’s action have sunk in gradually over time. The nightmare of prison has played havoc with his mental health conditions with all the ups and downs of a roller coaster, and it’s become a constant source of worry for our family.
 

The nightmare of prison has played havoc with his mental health conditions with all the ups and downs of a roller coaster, and it’s become a constant source of worry for our family.

 

Incarceration affects family relationships, family traditions and family futures

As we have learned, in-person visits can be traumatic for the visitor. When visiting someone in prison, you have to first pass through layers of security such as the ion scanner (a drug-scanning device known for detecting false positives). Otherwise, you risk being turned away, which can seriously impact the inmate’s prison life.

There is no occasion that is celebrated as a family where I don’t feel my son’s absence. The festivities, the good food and laughter lack the genuine happiness that can come from family gatherings. This is never really talked about openly.

Family members will occasionally ask about my son and he may receive birthday cards from family and friends, but there is a kind of hesitation to discuss such a sad subject and ruin a festive atmosphere. The fact a family member has not been seen among you for almost 16 years registers low on the Richter scale of family life.

These days, as I contemplate the possibilities of the future, I wonder if this will be the time that my son will be able to start to turn his life around. Will he convince the authorities that he is deeply remorseful and resolved to never offend again? Will he be seen as worthy of being allowed to be paroled out of prison and into the community, where he can start the long process of healing and repairing the ravages of a lengthy period of incarceration? Will he be able to reintegrate himself into our family, one that misses him terribly but has adapted to life in his absence?

The love and light of support gets families through

While I contemplate these questions daily, I am grateful for the support of those around me. When my son – and my family – first began our journey with the justice system, I felt like I was travelling down an uncharted road. Despite being well connected to community, there was no real support I could turn to where others would understand what it was like to have a son in prison.
 

Despite being well connected to community, there was no real support I could turn to where others would understand what it was like to have a son in prison.

 
In November 2010, a community activist and expert connected to the Church Council on Justice and Corrections and a crisis worker at the John Howard Society (JHS) introduced me to ‬another mother with a son in prison. We all met for the first time at JHS in December 2010 – three mothers coming together with common experiences and goals.

From this shared experience, Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS), a support group for women, was born. The first formal MOMS meeting occurred on December 15, 2010. Our meetings take place at the local JHS building, during the first Thursday of the month. JHS has generously donated this space to us so we can meet in a location with privacy.

We now total more than 45 members, all of whom feel immensely grateful to be able to come together and climb out of the black hole we fell into when our children were convicted of an offence resulting in their incarceration. Now we come together to support each other and find ways to help them in a meaningful and constructive way. Mothers whose sons have completed their sentence or are on parole continue to support and guide the new members who join the group.

A loving family on the outside can play an important role in advocating, financially supporting and providing loving contact to offset the indelible ravages of incarceration. Through MOMs, we are able to support each other as we support our incarcerated children.
 

A loving family on the outside can play an important role in advocating, financially supporting and providing loving contact to offset the indelible ravages of incarceration.

 
The harsh realities of incarceration are with us, but together we encourage each other to take one day at a time. We have been working to ensure the justice system facilitates rehabilitation and education, with a focus on physical and mental well-being and supporting our sons or daughters while they serve their sentences and plan for their futures. This has provided us with opportunities to engage in dialogue with government and community leaders about human rights. Policies and programs benefit from understanding our lived experiences and our perspective as mothers. We have been encouraged by increased public awareness of these issues.

As you can imagine, for some moms and family members, issues of stigma and safety keep us fearful of speaking out publicly, even though we are worried sick and lose sleep thinking about the condition of our children. We do not want to add to our shame and worry by being on the receiving end of insensitive or negative comments.

As mothers affected by incarceration, we meet regularly to share our experiences and our shock, pain and heartbreak. Working together gives us energy to focus on strategies to equip ourselves with knowledge and best practices to keep ourselves and our loved ones hopeful and healthy. We are determined to achieve humane and just treatment for our loved ones in prison as we work together to strengthen the ties that bind us in our struggle as families affected by incarceration.

 


Farhat Rehman is co-founder of Mothers Offering Mutual Support (MOMS), a support group for women with incarcerated family members.

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Published on March 14, 2017




A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada

At some point in our lives, there is a high likelihood that each of us will provide care to someone we know – and receive care ourselves. Family members are typically the first to step up to provide, manage and sometimes pay for this care.

Families are highly adaptable and most of the time people find ways to manage their multiple work and family responsibilities, obligations and commitments. However, juggling work and care can sometimes involve a great deal of time, energy and financial resources, and employers can play an important role in facilitating this care through accommodation, innovation and flexibility.

In A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada, we explore some of the family realities and trends that shape the “landscape of care” across the country. This resource highlights how our family, care and work responsibilities intersect, interact and have an impact on each other.

Highlights include:

  • 28% of Canadians (8.1M) report having provided care to a family member or friend with a long-term health condition, disability or aging need in the past year.
  • Three-quarters of family caregivers (6.1M) were employed at the time, accounting for 35% of ALL employed Canadians.
  • Most (83%) surveyed caregivers say their experience was positive, and 95% say they are effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities.
  • 44% of employed caregivers report having missed an average 8–9 days of work in the past 12 months because of their care responsibilities.
  • More than one-third of young carers (36%) arrived to work late, left early or took time off due to their caregiving responsibilities.
  • Employers across Canada lose an estimated $5.5 billion annually in lost productivity due to caregiving-related absenteeism.
  • Research shows that caregiving provides a variety of benefits to caregivers, including a sense of personal growth, increased meaning and purpose, strengthened family relationships, increased empathy and skill development.

 

Reconciling care and work requires understanding, respect and recognition from employers that sometimes an employee’s family circumstances need focused attention. Research shows that family caregivers and their employers benefit from policies that are inclusive, flexible and responsive, and when employees have a clear understanding of the process for handling individual requests for accommodation and customizing work arrangements.

For nearly all Canadians, caregiving is inevitable at some point over the course of their lives. Care is not always predictable and does not always arise outside working hours. Open communication and creative approaches to harmonizing work and care in a flexible manner benefits employees, employers, the economy and society.

Download A Snapshot of Family Caregiving and Work in Canada from the Vanier Institute of the Family.

 

Learn more about family caregiving and work in Canada:

 


Published on February 21, 2017




Supporting the Health of Mothers and Their Babies in the Context of Incarceration

Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin and Brenda Tole

When a friend told Ruth Elwood Martin that there was a need for a part-time family physician to work in a women’s correctional centre, her immediate thought was that there was no way she could work in a prison clinic. She perceived that it was the lowest kind of medical job, only for those doctors who were unable to find any other type of work.

Ruth is not sure what drew her to start practising medicine in a prison, but she did. On that first day in 1994, she felt like she was visiting another planet, passing through those gates, experiencing another world and learning from the people inside it. Ruth saw more pathology and more tragic medical diagnoses than she had seen in a year in her regular family practice in Vancouver’s West Side.

In the clinic, women told her about traumatic events they endured as children, young teenagers and women. Ruth would put down her pen, bearing witness to their lives, and listen to medical and social histories she could not imagine enduring. That first day in her new position changed Ruth’s life forever and she knew that prison health would become her calling. Ruth has often reflected that if she had been dealt the same childhood cards as the women she met, she might be sitting in their chairs.

In 2003, Brenda Tole was assigned to oversee the remodelling of an older facility that had housed provincially incarcerated men and to open it as the “Alouette Correctional Centre for Women” (ACCW), a medium-security facility to house provincially sentenced women. If you are a parent with school-aged children, you will have noticed how the school principal greatly influences the overall ethos of a school. In a similar manner, the warden of a prison influences the ethos of the institution, which in turn influences the overall health of the inmates.

From the day it opened in 2004, Brenda shaped the tone and ethos of ACCW. She maintained that if you expect both staff and incarcerated individuals to treat each other with respect, they will rise to meet those expectations, at least most of the time. That’s how she planned and that’s how she ran ACCW, not on the basis that 1% of the population may breach those expectations.

Brenda knew that the more she gave people opportunities, the more they valued the opportunities and responded positively. The more she gave responsibility to the women for doing things themselves, and the more she talked with the staff about her plans, the better the situation would be for everyone.

During a meeting of key health care players planning for health care delivery at the new ACCW, Brenda met Sarah Payne, the director of Fir Square at BC Women’s Hospital, a maternity unit for substance-using mothers. Babies who remained with moms at Fir Square had positive health outcomes compared with the health of babies that were taken away from their moms at birth.((Ronald R. Abrahams et al., “Rooming-in Compared with Standard Care for Newborns of Mothers Using Methadone or Heroin,” Canadian Family Physician 53:10 (October 2007), http://bit.ly/2k4K29I.)) Sarah asked Brenda to consider the possibility that babies born to incarcerated mothers who came to the BC Women’s Hospital for their delivery might return with their mothers to ACCW, in order to foster breastfeeding, attachment and nurturing.

Separation through incarceration negatively affects the health of new mothers and their infants

With peer-reviewed academic literature growing on the subject, Brenda had good reason to consider this proposal. Evidence shows that one of the most compelling motivators for incarcerated women is pregnancy and their children. International correctional practices that promote contact between women and their children have shown benefits for both. Positive results have been seen in visits, email, tapes, telephone calls and letters. Children of incarcerated women are negatively impacted if the contact with their mother is limited or absent. Although it is accepted around the world that nursing infants and/or small children benefit from remaining with their incarcerated mothers, this was rarely seen in Canada at that time.

Many incarcerated women have dependent children. Worldwide, an estimated 6% of incarcerated women are pregnant while serving prison time.((Marian Knight and Emma Plugge, “The Outcomes of Pregnancy Among Imprisoned Women: A Systematic Review,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 112:11 (December 2005), doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2005.00749.x.)) An estimated 20,000 children each year are affected by the incarceration of their mothers in Canada,((Alison Cunningham and Linda Baker, Waiting for Mommy: Giving a Voice to the Hidden Victims of Imprisonment. London, ON: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System, 2003.)) where women tend to be held in correctional centres that are large distances from their children and families due to the limited number of correctional facilities for women across the country.

The provision of mother–child units to women in prison who have given birth to their infants while incarcerated is considered normal practice in most countries in the world. Published reports of such units exist for 22 countries, including England, Wales, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, some US states, Kyrgyzstan, Ghana, Egypt, Mexico, India and Chile.((Helen Fair, “International Profile of Women’s Prisons,” World Prison Brief (February 7, 2008), http://bit.ly/2knx0BM.))((Kiran Bedi, It’s Always Possible: Transforming One of the Largest Prisons in the World. New Delhi: Stirling Paperbacks, 2006.))((Women’s Prison Association, “Mothers, Infants and Imprisonment: A National Look at Prison Nurseries and Community-Based Alternatives,” Institute on Women & Criminal Justice (May 2009), http://bit.ly/2hwPK0L.))

One of the reasons for keeping incarcerated mothers with their newborn babies is that it facilitates breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization reports has health benefits for the infant and new mother.((World Health Organization, “Infant and Young Child Feeding,” Fact Sheet (September 2016), http://bit.ly/1o6MEg8.)) According to international health experts, babies should be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old if possible, and then continue to be breastfed on demand until they are two years of age. Babies who are not breastfed may be at increased risk for diabetes, allergies and gastrointestinal and respiratory infections.((Health Canada, “Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months,” A joint statement of Health Canada, Canadian Paediatric Society, Dietitians of Canada, and Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (2013), http://bit.ly/LTH03C.))

In addition to the well-known health and nutritional benefits, some research has shown that breastfeeding can contribute to psychosocial development((Grace S. Marquis, “Breastfeeding and Its Impact on Child Psychosocial and Emotional Development,” Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development (March 2008), http://bit.ly/1cESBkC.)) – the associated physical contact, eye contact and the quality of feeding promote mother–child attachment. However, establishing and maintaining breastfeeding on demand is not possible unless mothers and babies can be housed together with 24-hour contact.

Typically, mothers who return to prison without their babies after giving birth are prescribed milk-binding pills and are often prescribed antidepressants. In this situation, many mothers experience profound grief and debilitating guilt, despair and hopelessness. Many resort to substance use as a coping strategy. 

Mother–child unit developed to support well-being of incarcerated mothers and their babies

In 2005, Brenda asked Ruth, “As the prison physician, what is your opinion about the idea of incarcerated women who deliver babies in hospital being able to return here with their babies?” Ruth felt it was the most sensible idea she had heard in years, and she then expanded her prison medical practice to perform new roles, such as newborn examinations, breastfeeding coaching and addressing medical questions about newborns.

Through collaboration and partnership with several other ministries and community agencies, a mother–child unit was developed at ACCW based on the best interests of the child. With the support of Corrections Branch Headquarters, the ACCW health care team, correctional staff (both managers and frontline staff) and other provincial ministry personnel, it was decided ACCW could facilitate the return of mothers and babies to ACCW when recommended by BC Women’s Hospital and agreed to by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), who had final authority over the placement of the child.

The decisions to place the mother and child together at the correctional facility were made by an interdisciplinary team consisting of the key staff from BC Women’s Hospital, ACCW health care, ACCW administration and the MCFD. If the mother was Indigenous, the pertinent Indigenous communities were consulted, when applicable. The mother and her family were included in all stages of this process. The support and services that Fir Square offered the mother before and after the birth fostered the mother’s confidence in parenting and in participating in the planning of her future and that of her baby. All checks and balances were put in place to ensure that ACCW was a safe and positive environment for the mothers and babies, with the cooperation of the mothers, other incarcerated women and correctional staff.

Incarcerated women who gave birth and who were deemed by MCFD able and willing to provide appropriate parental care were allowed to keep their infants in their care while in prison. During the initiative’s duration (2005–2007), 13 babies were born to incarcerated mothers, nine of whom lived in prison with their mothers and stayed there until their mother’s release. Eight babies were breastfed for the duration of their mother’s prison stay. Fifteen months was the longest stay of any infant in prison. The babies’ health and development was monitored by the community public health nurses, ACCW health care providers and MCFD social workers.

Release planning for the majority of the mothers and babies included placement at a residential supportive residence for women with substance use histories of the Fraser Health Authority, which took mothers and their young infants. The residential placement staff aimed to facilitate the transition of these women into the community.

Being involved in the initiative with BC Women’s Hospital had a profound positive effect on the women directly involved, the correctional staff and other incarcerated women, and the ministries and community agencies who partnered with ACCW.

Mother–child unit facilitates maternal involvement

Initially, other agencies and ministries were surprised and cautious regarding the proposal of the newborn babies returning to the facility with their mothers. The team at ACCW and BC Women’s Hospital took the time and facilitated many discussions and held meetings for all stakeholders to contribute to the program’s success.

Initially, the rights of the infant to be with the mother for attachment, bonding and breastfeeding was overshadowed for some by the feeling that this “privilege” should not be afforded to incarcerated mothers. As the initiative continued, the attitudes of many began to shift from cautious and guarded to comfortable and supportive. Community agencies were willing to provide supportive services to the children and mothers within the correctional facility. The collaboration reduced the need for ACCW to develop programs and services specific to the incarcerated population.

The mothers involved expressed great joy and were grateful that they could continue to breastfeed and nurture their babies at the correctional facility. They participated in parenting classes provided by a community agency through visits by the public health nurses and the MCFD worker. They also participated in health examinations by the ACCW physician to ensure the safety and health of their babies. Several of the mothers were permitted to go out into the community on escorted passes, both before and after the birth of their babies, to participate in various programs offered by community agencies that welcomed their participation.

Other women who did not have the opportunity to be with their children had to deal with the reminder of the pain they suffered as a result of being away from their own children. Seeing the babies at ACCW triggered feelings of loss, but a general feeling of hope permeated the entire population and the atmosphere at the facility was more positive in many ways. Incarcerated women wrote about their experiences as part of a prison participatory health research project, and their writing was later published in a book titled Arresting Hope.((Ruth Elwood Martin, Mo Korchinski, Lyn Fels and Carl Leggo, eds., Arresting Hope: Women Taking Action in Prison Health Inside Out. Inanna Publications, 2014.))

Seeing other ministries and agencies support this initiative had an impact on many of the incarcerated women. Most had very little trust in government agencies due to previous negative interactions. Seeing the agencies working together to ensure the babies stay with their mothers gave them a different perspective from which to view these groups. Some voiced a new interest to work with agencies to initiate contact with their own children with whom they had lost contact, or to work to improve their own lives to make a better life for their children.

For many, seeing the mothers and babies thrive at the facility and be released into the community together continued to reinforce the feeling that this initiative was not only the child’s right but also the right thing to do for the child.

Mother–child unit upheld by BC Supreme Court

In 2008, Brenda retired from ACCW and the BC Corrections Branch Headquarters shut down the prison mother–child unit. Amanda Inglis and Patricia Block, whose babies were born after the unit had closed, became appellants in a five-year legal case that led to a BC Supreme Court hearing in May 2013. During the women’s compelling testimony, Patricia told the court that there were as many as five different people caring for her daughter while they were separated. She tried to continue to breastfeed her baby while in prison, she said, but had difficulties in doing so.

At one point, her daughter’s foster mother stopped using the breast milk that Patricia had pumped because she worried it “wasn’t good milk.” Patricia had to inform the MCFD, who then ordered the foster mother to provide the breast milk to her baby. Patricia said that pumping milk in her prison cell for her newborn baby, who was then staying with relatives, gave new meaning to the phrase “crying over spilt milk.”

In December 2013, Honourable Judge Carol Ross ruled in Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety) that the cancellation of the mother–child unit infringed the Charter right to security of the person (section 7) of the mothers and babies affected by the decision, and that the infringements were not in accord with the principles of fundamental justice. The ruling also held that the cancellation constituted discrimination and violated section 15(1) of the Charter, the right to equality of the members of the affected groups, namely provincially incarcerated mothers who wished to have their baby remain with them while they serve their sentence and the babies of those mothers.

The judge directed the government of British Columbia to administer the Correction Act Regulation in relation to this issue in a manner consistent with the requirements of sections 7 and 15(1), and she gave six months to provide an opportunity for the government to correct the unconstitutionality of the present situation and comply with the Court’s direction.((Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2013 BCSC 2309 (SC), H.M.J. Ross, http://bit.ly/2jiUVk0.))

Guidelines developed to facilitate program adoption across Canada

The Collaborating Centre for Prison Health and Education (CCPHE) hosted a two-day working meeting in March 2014 at the University of British Columbia to generate best practice evidence-based guidelines to inform the implementation of mother–child units across Canada. Experts were invited to present during four panel discussions entitled “The Rights of the Child,” “The Correctional Context,” “Pathways and Programs” and “Evaluation.”

Thirty stakeholder organizations were invited to contribute to the writing of the guidelines by selecting delegate representative(s) to participate in the working meeting. Delegates included those from BC Corrections Branch, Correctional Service Canada, New Zealand Corrections and Women in2 Healing (formerly incarcerated mothers).

The CCPHE contracted Sarah Payne to write an initial guideline framework based on her analysis of the meeting proceedings. A “content analysis” method was used to ensure that all themes developing from the meeting data were captured in the emergent guidelines. As a final stage, international resources and research publications, which had been presented by experts as evidence during the working meeting, were reviewed.

The resulting Guidelines describe 16 guiding principles and best practices required for optimal child and maternal health inside a correctional facility, including the correctional context, pregnancy, birth, education, correctional and medical care, discharge planning and community partner engagement. Delegates from BC Corrections Branch and Correctional Service Canada, who attended the writing meeting, incorporated the Guidelines’ principles and best practices into their respective organizations’ policies and procedures.

Follow-up evaluations of the mother–child unit currently under way

The ACCW mother–child unit was established on the principle that babies should accompany their mothers back to the ACCW, which was supported by the 2013 BC Supreme Court ruling that deemed it unconstitutional to separate the two. Currently, the “new” BC provincial program and the federal program (as well as programs in the U.S.) are based on the principle that it is a privilege for the incarcerated mother rather than a right: incarcerated pregnant women have to submit an application and go through a difficult, stressful and protracted approval process.

Some infants now currently reside with their mothers in federal women’s correctional facilities across Canada. However, bringing babies to live with their mothers inside provincial correctional facilities has been slow, even though a refurbished mother–child unit opened in July 2014 at ACCW. More education and understanding about the cultural, epigenetic, legal and permanent health impacts of a decision to remove a baby at birth can help support maternal and infant health in prisons across Canada.

A 10-year follow-up evaluation of the ACCW mother–child unit that ran from 2005 to 2007 is currently under way. Through in-depth interviews with mothers whose infants lived at ACCW, this evaluation is exploring their experiences and the current health and social development of their children.

Each of the mothers interviewed to date have reported that the decision to have her baby live with her in prison transformed her life. Each woman attributed the quality and quantity of time that she spent with her baby in ACCW to making a positive long-term impact on the mother–child relationship, and each reported that she now has an exceptionally close relationship with her child. Each woman also spoke very affectionately about her child’s attributes, with kindness and a caring nature as foremost.

 


Dr. Ruth Elwood Martin is a Clinical Professor in UBC’s School of Population and Public Health and recipient of the 2015 Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case.

Brenda Tole is the former warden at the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women from the time it opened in 2004 until her retirement in 2008.

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Published on February 7, 2017




The Canadian Debate on Spanking and Violence Against Children

Kathy Lynn

Just as families have evolved across generations, so too have our ideas about parenting, children and the social norms regarding discipline. While there is always diversity in what people feel is appropriate, there has been a significant shift across generations away from authoritarian parenting styles toward a more compassionate view that treats children as rights-bearing individuals rather than property.

Despite this societal shift, the use of corporal punishment in the form of “spanking”((The term “spanking” is used in this article to include corporal punishment and the use of “corrective” physical force against children.)) is legally protected under section 43 of Canada’s Criminal Code, also known as the “spanking law.” Section 43 reads as follows:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. R.S.C., 1985, c. C-4

This defence first appeared in the Criminal Code in 1892 and has changed little since.((Laura Barnett, “The ‘Spanking’ Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code,” Parliamentary Information and Research Service (June 20, 2008), http://bit.ly/2d3ZvWi.)) Discussions about what to do with section 43 have an interesting and active history stretching back to the 1970s and earlier, but it is still on the books today.

“Spanking” in the Courts

Section 43 has been challenged a number of times over the past 30 years. In 1998, the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law started a rights-based legal action in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of section 43 of the Criminal Code on the basis that it violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The challenge was dismissed by the Ontario Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeal. Despite the dismissal, the government argued that physical force should be discouraged as a normative technique of correction. The case then moved on to the Supreme Court of Canada, but, in its January 2004 decision, the Supreme Court held that section 43 did not infringe on the Charter. It did, however, set out a series of judicial limitations (which do not appear in the Criminal Code) on corporal punishment:

  • Only parents may use reasonable force solely for purposes of correction.
  • Teachers may use reasonable force only to “remove a child from a classroom or secure compliance with instructions, but not merely as corporal punishment.”
  • Corporal punishment cannot be administered to children under two or to teenagers.
  • The use of force on children of any age “incapable of learning from
    [it] because of disability or some other contextual factor” is not protected.
  • Discipline by the use of objects or blows or slaps to the head is unreasonable.
  • Degrading, inhuman or harmful conduct is not protected, including conduct that raises a reasonable prospect of harm.
  • Only minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature may be used.
  • The physical punishment must be “corrective, which rules out conduct stemming from the caregiver’s frustration, loss of temper or abusive personality.”
  • The gravity of the precipitating event is not relevant.
  • The question of what is “reasonable under the circumstances” requires an objective test and must be considered in context and in light of all the circumstances of the case.((“What’s the Law?” Corrine’s Quest, accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/2dwYIJ2.))

The current legal context has led to confusion and conflict due to contradictions between the definitions of assault outlined in criminal law and definitions of child abuse found in provincial and territorial law, as outlined by the Ontario Public Health Association:

“… a provincial or territorial child welfare authority may investigate a report of parental physical abuse of a child, conclude that she is at risk in her family and apprehend her. When this happens, police may lay a charge of assault. However, section 43 provides parents with a legal defence against such a charge. This has led to situations which seem to defy logic, in which the definition of “a child in need of protection” in provincial and territorial law leads to the child’s apprehension, but the protection afforded to parents under section 43 of the Criminal Code leads to their being acquitted of assault.”

There have been many legislative attempts to have section 43 repealed or amended, with 17 private member’s bills being tabled in Parliament since 1994, though none have succeeded. Senator Céline Hervieux-Payette has introduced numerous bills; however, to date, all have died at various stages of reading due to elections and prorogations of Parliament.((Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, “Physical Punishment Update #16,” Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth (March 2016), accessed September 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/1WJKWEN.))

Pressure to repeal section 43 has also mounted from the international stage since Canada signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 2 of the Convention states that signatories “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”((United Nations, “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Treaty Series (November 20, 1989), http://bit.ly/1fGCcXV.))

In response to reports from Canada regarding the action it has taken to meet the requirements of the Convention, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that physical punishment of children in schools and families be prohibited and that section 43 be removed from the Criminal Code. However, no action was taken and the law remains on the books. To date, 51 countries have banned the physical punishment of children in all settings.

Most recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended repealing section 43 as the sixth of its final report’s 94 calls to action. “The Commission believes that corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past,” it reads, “and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”((Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “Canada’s Residential Schools: The Legacy,” The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (December 2015).)) The federal government has since committed to accepting all calls to action outlined in the TRC report.

“…corporal punishment is a relic of a discredited past, and has no place in Canadian schools or homes.”

– Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

 

 

“Spanking” research

A most compelling body of research has been developed around the question of physical punishment of children. In June 2016, Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, Associate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan, published a literature review that includes a wide range of studies on corporal punishment of children. They found that the research has been consistent. Spanking is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to children.((Elizabeth Gershoff and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, “Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses,” Journal of Family Psychology, 30:4 (June 2016), doi:10.1037/fam0000191.))

A series of meta-analyses have demonstrated that in addition to increases in aggressive behaviour in children, spanking has been associated with increases in mental health problems into adulthood, impaired parent–child relationships, delinquent behaviour and criminal behaviour in adulthood.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Corporal Punishment by Parents and Associated Child Behaviors and Experiences: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review,” Psychological Bulletin, 128:4 (July 2002), doi:10.1037//0033-2909.128.4.539.)) There is also research showing that a risk that initial “corrective” spanking can progress to child abuse.((Joan Durrant et al., “Punitive Violence Against Children in Canada,” Centre of Excellence for Child Welfare (March 31, 2006), http://bit.ly/2czf1mO.))

The research shows that hitting children is ineffective – instead of teaching children the reasons their behaviour needs to change, it simply causes the child pain and engenders fear. Studies have shown that children need to internalize reasons for behaving in appropriate ways.((Elizabeth Gershoff, “Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now to Stop Hitting Our Children,” Child Development Perspectives 7:3 (July 10, 2013), doi:10.1111/cdep.12038.)) Spanking teaches them to behave in order to avoid physical punishment. When the threat of physical punishment is gone, children find no reason to behave appropriately. Spanking can lead to some children considering violence toward others as a problem-solver. A violent attitude can also work to reduce family cohesion.

The future of “spanking” in Canada

Evidence shows that children do not learn appropriate behaviour from being physically hurt. While children need to be accountable for their behaviour, modelling positive behaviours and teaching them to self-regulate, communicate their feelings and ask for help are more effective. Parents play an important role in socializing children, teaching how certain actions and behaviours are not acceptable and providing opportunities to develop the skills to function well in society.

For teaching children to grow and mature into responsible, capable and contributing adults, spanking is not the way. Violence against children should be against the law, not defined by it. We know there are more compassionate and effective ways to raise children to be capable young adults.

 

Corinne Robertshaw: A Committed Advocate

Corinne Robertshaw was a lawyer with the federal government in the 1970s. She became concerned about injuries and deaths of children caused by parents. She determined that section 43, which provides legal defence for assault against children, was a factor contributing to these injuries and deaths. She produced a study on child deaths caused by physical punishment (Discussion Paper on Child Protection In Canada, February 1981).

In 1990, she retired and dedicated the rest of her life to seeing the repeal of section 43. She created a national, multidisciplinary committee to mobilize Canadians interested in the issue and to continue to develop evidence and arguments in favour of repeal. She died in January 2013 and Corinne’s Quest: End Physical Punishment of Children was formed to continue her work and honour her legacy.

 


Kathy Lynn is a parenting speaker, author and chair of Corinne’s Quest.

This article was reviewed by Rina Arseneault, C.M., Associate Director of the Muriel McQueen Fergusson Centre for Family Violence Research (MMFC) at the University of New Brunswick.

Published on November 15, 2016




Building Resilience at Home with Distance Coaching

While we all strive to ensure positive mental health and well-being for ourselves and our families, mental health conditions affect most households at some point, directly or indirectly. Children are no exception, with an estimated one in five schoolchildren living with mental health, behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorders.((Ann Douglas, Parenting Through the Storm (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015).))

Both early intervention and quality, evidence-based care are essential to supporting children with these conditions and building their resilience. For some families, however, it isn’t always possible to access face-to-face intervention services. Lengthy clinic wait times, fear and/or experience of stigma and long travel distances can make it challenging to access appropriate services.

This can be particularly true for military families, in which a parent may have unpredictable schedules that often involve a greater amount of travel, separation, routine disruptions, transitions and overall stress than their civilian counterparts. Due to their high mobility and frequent moves, military families also commonly experience difficulties maintaining continuity of care for their children.((Heidi Cramm et al., “The Current State of Military Family Research,” Transition (January 19, 2016), http://bit.ly/23cpyut.))

Flexibility can facilitate mental health care for families

Clinic-based mental health services offer a variety of programs and supports to youth, but many lack the flexibility that families require to support these children while managing other family and work responsibilities. Children’s school schedules often don’t align with available mental health services, and repeated absences due to the need to attend regular appointments at a clinic can have an impact on children’s academic performance and their social relationships with friends and peers.

It may also be difficult or impossible for many parents to take the necessary time off work to bring a child to face-to-face appointments, either because they lack the necessary flexibility at work or because doing so would incur financial hardship. Nearly 7 in 10 couple families with at least one child under 16 have two employed parents, and in three-quarters of these couples, both parents work full-time.((Sharanjit Uppal, “Employment Patterns of Families with Children,” Insights on Canadian Society (June 24, 2015), Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X, http://bit.ly/1Nen7gR.)) For single-parent families, the impact of missing work to accommodate appointments can be particularly difficult. Flexibility can be all the more important when seeking support for their children in military families, which often experience high mobility and deployments.

The Strongest Families Institute provides family-centred mental health care

Founded in 2011, the Strongest Families Institute (SFI) is a not-for-profit corporation designed to provide flexible, evidence-based and stigma-free mental health support to children customized to their needs and family realities. Based on six years of research at the Centre for Research in Family Health at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, SFI programs and modules are now accessible across the country. SFI has been nationally recognized for social benefits by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (2012) and was the recipient of the Ernest C. Manning Encana Principal Award (2013).

SFI programs use a family-centred approach, directly engaging and involving family members throughout the process. Families can play a powerful role in facilitating quality mental health care because of their familiarity with the child’s circumstances. They also have a unique ability to provide valuable feedback to service providers throughout the engagement process.

Developing skills to build resilience… from a distance

SFI programs are focused on skill-based learning that fosters mental health and resilience skills through the use of psychologically informed educational modules that help families manage behavioural conditions or difficulties (e.g. not listening, temper or anger outbursts, aggression, attention deficits or hyperactivity) and anxiety (e.g. separation, generalized, social, specific fears).

SFI employs a unique distance coaching approach, utilizing technology to directly support families over the phone and the Internet in the comfort, privacy and convenience of their own home.((Patricia Lingley-Pottie and Patrick J. McGrath, “Telehealth: A Child-Friendly Approach to Mental Health Care Reform,” Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare 14 (2008): 225–26, doi:10.1258/jtt.2008.008001.)) Research has shown that distance coaching can result in significant diagnosis decreases among children with disruptive behaviour or anxiety conditions.((Patrick J. McGrath et al., “Telephone-Based Mental Health Interventions for Child Disruptive Behavior or Anxiety Disorders: Randomized Trials and Overall Analysis,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 50, no. 11 (2011): 1162–72, doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2011.07.013.))

[My coach] has taught me a lot of skills that I was not aware of – especially in the conditions of the ever-changing military family life situation – and helped us deal with a lot of challenges. [My child] is more patient and approachable now. He knows how to deal with stress when his father is away [deployed]. His grades and behaviour at school have improved as well, he has fewer outbursts and the teachers have noticed the difference as well.”

– Parent of a 9-year-old participant in the Active Child program (Behaviour)

SFI’s Parenting the Active Child Program focuses on child behaviour for ages 3 to 12. In this program, parents and their children work together to create structured plans to help manage specific challenges a child may experience during particular times or activities. For example, parents and children can work together to develop a plan to make outings such as a trip to the grocery store or long trip in the car more enjoyable by using program skills. Through this simple but structured and guided approach, parents together with their children and the coach can work toward and reward good behaviour. By using the family home as a base for learning rather than a clinic setting, many of the issues of stigma are avoided. Families receive a series of written materials and skill demonstration videos, delivered either through handbooks or by smart-website technology, which teach one new skill per week to implement as part of their daily living activities.

The SFI anxiety program for 6- to 17-year-olds, Chase Worries Away, helps family learn life skills to defeat worries such as separation anxiety, performance issues, social anxiety and specific fears that are commonly related to the challenges of military life. SFI also runs a program for children ages 5 to 12 called Dry Nights Ahead, which helps with nighttime bedwetting.

Coaches ensure stability and guidance throughout the program

Children and families are supported and guided throughout the SFI programs by highly trained and monitored coaches. These coaches engage in structured weekly telephone calls that follow protocolized scripts, complementing the material families receive. During each session, the family’s coach reviews the skill that has been developed throughout the week and uses evidence-based strategies, such as role-playing and verbal modelling, to practise the skills and assess progress.

Schedules are flexible and customizable to accommodate families regardless of where they are located or where they move. This flexibility and focus on distance coaching can be particularly valuable for military families, bridging the geographical divide during separations resulting from postings so that the continuum of care is maintained. Moreover, during a posting, coaches help the families plan for the transition and they remain available during and after to encourage the maintenance of skills. This focus on planning supports families during potentially disruptive transitions, such as during a change of school or daycare.

The coach can be a familiar, centralized contact/support for the family, regardless of the move location. Coaches have high military literacy – understanding of the unique experiences of military families and the “military life stressors” that can have an impact on military families, such as high mobility, extended and/or unexpected separation and risk. Care and support is customized to the realities and needs of each family.

“[The program] helped me quite a bit, especially in everything anxiety, I still have other issues, but in terms of anxiety it has become less of a problem for me, socially, being independent, things I wouldn’t have done before, school stress has reduced quite a bit. They were the main things I was focused toward, and this has decreased stress for me.”

– 16-year-old participant in the Chase Worries Away program (Anxiety)

 

Transferable learning: Flexible support for diverse and unique families

SFI programs have demonstrated success, with families reporting high satisfaction. Rigorous testing and randomized trials show positive outcomes, with lasting effects one year later, targeting mild and moderate conditions. Programs have been found to have an 85% or better success rate in overcoming the child’s presenting problems, with an attrition rate of less than 10%. Data shows a strong impact on strengthening family relationships, parental mood/stress scores and child academic performance.

Families and their children are unique, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to manage mental health or behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorders. Flexibility in SFI program design and availability can enhance the use and effectiveness of mental health supports, since families can receive support outside of traditional clinic settings and schedules. By using distance coaching and continued family support through structured calls with coaches, families engaged with SFI can receive care that is flexible, effective and respectful of their experiences and realities.


About the Strongest Families Institute

The Strongest Families Institute (SFI) is a national, not-for-profit organization that delivers distance, evidence-based programs to children and families who face issues impacting mental health and well-being. Founded in 2011, SFI seeks to provide timely delivery of services to families when and where they are needed by using technology, research and highly skilled staff.

Over the years, SFI has formed many partnerships to improve its services. Some of these partnerships have helped them deliver services to military and Veteran families, including Military Family Services – Ottawa, Bell True Patriot Love Foundation (Bell Let’s Talk) and a project collaboration with CIMVHR.

To learn more about the Strongest Families Institute, visit their website or see their page in the Vanier Institute’s Military and Veteran Families in Canada: Collaborations and Partnerships Compendium.

The Strongest Families Institute can be contacted by phone at 1-866-470-7111 or email at info@strongestfamilies.com. They can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Published on Tuesday, September 27, 2016




Sleep and Families

Dr. David B. Posen, M.D.

Sleep is a family affair. When everyone gets what they need, there are benefits for all. When someone is short-changed, it affects everyone else. Research about sleep deprivation is now as compelling as the dangers of smoking 50 years ago, according to Dr. Charles Czeisler, head of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, yet many households in Canada are lacking in this vital family resource. This shortage – fuelled by long working hours, new technologies and a 24/7 culture – not only affects productivity at work, performance at school and overall health, but also has a profound effect on families and family life.

What does sleep do for us?

Sleep has many different functions. Sleep is when we restore our physical energy. It’s a time of deep rest and healing, like a “mini-hibernation.” Stress hormones are shut off, heart rate decreases, blood pressure drops, metabolism rate slows and core body temperature falls. It’s when growth hormones are secreted, important for growing children but also contributing to cell repair and replacement in adults. It’s when our immune system is most active, producing T-lymphocytes that fight infection. It’s when hormones affecting hunger and satiety (leptin and ghrelin) are secreted, affecting appetite, food intake and body weight.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation are also symptoms of stress.

Sleep isn’t just important for our bodies, but our minds as well, since it affects mental function. This is when we do our “mental housekeeping,” processing and organizing our previous day’s experiences while discarding irrelevant information (such as what colour sweater someone was wearing on the subway). It is also when we reinforce memory tracks and consolidate new learning. In fact, research shows we actually increase our learning when we sleep.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation are also symptoms of stress. In other words, sleep deprivation shows up in our bodies as stress, in terms of physiological symptoms. When we don’t get enough sleep, cortisol (the main hormone in chronic stress) stays higher longer and has a damaging effect on the body. When we are sleep-deprived, we are less resilient in dealing with stressful situations, less effective problem solvers, less creative and innovative, less affable and can become difficult to get along with.

How sleep (and lack of sleep) affects families

Our sleeping patterns and family lives share a complex relationship, and deprivation affects not just individuals, but families and family systems as well. To examine the impact, let’s first look at cohabiting couples. This usually involves sleeping together, which leads to a number of interesting dynamics that can affect the quantity and quality of sleep a couple receives. When two people share a bed, there are important factors that can affect their sleep that have to be negotiated (or agreed upon), such as the size of their bed, the firmness of their mattress, the temperature of their bedroom and the presence of electronics. Research has shown that light emitted from TVs, smartphones, tablets or light-emitting e-readers can interfere with a good night’s rest.

The time at which one partner goes to sleep or wakes up in the morning can affect the other partner. If a couple has incompatible schedules, both of their sleeping patterns can be negatively affected by the actions and routines of each other. One person may stay up later than they would like because their partner wants to spend more time with them – thus depriving themselves of sleep. Discussion between sleeping partners is crucial to both getting their required amount of sleep. The decisions and agreements made not only affect whether each partner is getting the sleep that they individually need, but also represent negotiations that can either cause conflict in a relationship or provide opportunities for consideration, respect and compromise.

From the start of a live-in relationship to the later stages of our lives, sleep affects members of every family, both individually and collectively.

These are the conscious decisions affecting the bedroom and sleep. But there are involuntary factors as well. One of the biggest disrupters of sleep is a noisy or restless bed partner. The most common issues are snoring and frequent movement in bed. There are many causes of snoring, some mechanical (e.g. sleeping position) and others physiological (e.g. enlarged tonsils and adenoids, large uvula). What’s fascinating is that some snoring can actually reach industrial-strength decibel levels, rattling windows and even disturbing sleepers in other bedrooms – and yet the snorer sleeps through the racket.

Two of the most common sleep disorders are obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome. With sleep apnea, one of the partners actually stops breathing many times during the night (in fact, many times an hour), often startling themselves awake in order to breathe. Restless legs syndrome causes people to feel discomfort in their legs that is relieved only by continually moving them around, which again can be quite disruptive to the other person in the bed. If this occurs later in life, some couples may decide to move to separate beds or bedrooms to manage their sleep.

A new parent’s life is full of obstacles to sleep

For couples who decide to have children, a whole new variety of factors are brought into the household that affect sleeping patterns and sleep management. This begins with pregnancy. Expectant mothers often have trouble sleeping due to the increasing size of the fetus, the ability to feel the baby moving and increased trips to the bathroom at night. After the baby arrives, disrupted sleep becomes the norm. Babies cry to communicate when they’re hungry, in need of a diaper change or needing to be settled. This can be disruptive to both the new mother (especially if she is breastfeeding) and her partner. This is always a challenging time for getting enough rest, which means it’s an important time for negotiation.

As children get older (around 3 or 4 years of age), they are able to get up and dressed by themselves. Decisions have to be made as to whether a parent gets up with them or whether they train their kids to go to the family room or basement and entertain themselves so their parents can remain in bed. Many parents create a dependency where children expect company and attention from the time they wake up, robbing one or both parents of the extra sleep they need.

Teenagers have a physiological need for more slumber

The next chapter in the parents’ sleep continuum is when children reach early adolescence. This is when something called “phase-shift delay” occurs, where teenagers start to stay up later and then can’t wake up in the morning – a process often misunderstood by parents. Parents often complain that their children are party animals at night (when they won’t go to bed) and then lazy slugs in the morning (when they can’t, or won’t, get up for school). In fact, there’s a biological basis for this. In adults, cortisol levels start to fall at about 10 p.m. and the sleep hormone melatonin is secreted. That’s when we fall asleep. Then, somewhere between 6 and 8 a.m., melatonin secretion stops and we get a surge of cortisol. This allows us to wake up and start our day.

Among teenagers, this whole process is delayed by one or two hours. Cortisol doesn’t shut off and melatonin doesn’t kick in until later in the evening, and the reverse process doesn’t occur until an hour or two later in the morning. Adolescents stay up late because they are not tired yet – it’s physiological. If they don’t wake up in the morning at the same time they used to, it’s likely because their brains are still in “sleep mode” for an extra hour or two. So when they won’t wake up, it’s because they can’t wake up – except with great difficulty.

Teenagers often face a clash between their physiological and academic needs.

Many jurisdictions have moved high school start times to 9 a.m. or even 10 a.m., which is a better biological fit for teenagers. These districts have noticed better attendance at school, improved academic performance and fewer behavioural problems when students are allowed to get the sleep they need in the time frame that corresponds to their physiology. There are also benefits to families from this rescheduling of school hours, as it can reduce morning conflict involved with getting kids up and improve mood and cooperation at home because teens are better rested.

Teenagers often face a clash between their physiological and academic needs. One issue is accomplishing late-night homework and studying for exams. Teenagers are often sleep-deprived (they need nine to 10 hours a night and most are lucky if they get seven), and when you add to that the tendency to stay up well past midnight, finishing assignments or cramming for exams, the problem can become magnified considerably. The more tired they are, the less well they perform on the very tests they stayed up late to study for. Teenagers who also work part-time jobs while going to school face additional challenges, since they must balance school and work with their relatively demanding sleep requirements.

Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychologist at UBC in Vancouver, did a meta-analysis on the effect of sleep deprivation on IQ scores. The results were quite startling. In a newspaper interview, Dr. Coren states that “one hour’s lost sleep out of eight results in a drop of one point of IQ and for every additional hour lost, you drop two points. And it accumulates. So if you cheat on sleep by two hours a night over a five day week, you’ve lost 15 points.”

Functional MRIs show the same thing. With sleep deprivation, electrical activity in the brain decreases. For students who pull all-nighters, by late afternoon the next day, their mental function is significantly impaired and their performance plummets. Even the next morning, their cognitive function is seriously compromised.

Shiftwork creates irregular sleep requirements

Another factor that can have an impact on sleep within families is shift work. I was a family doctor for 17 years, which involved being on call at least once a week, working nights in the ER and being available to deliver babies after midnight. This often involved the phone ringing or my pager going off in the middle of the night, which was disruptive to my wife. The same scenario plays out in families of anyone who has to be available for overnight emergencies – doctors, operating room nurses, hospital technicians, security people or even business owners when there is a security breach at night.

People who work an overnight shift are working against their own physiology.

It also affects people who are regular shift workers, such as police, firefighters, ambulance drivers, paramedics, security guards, factory workers and office cleaners. People who work an overnight shift are actually working against their own physiology. They are being required to be awake at the time when their bodies and brains are biologically programmed for sleeping. After their shift, they go home to try to get some sleep.

This has an effect on everyone in the family, who are then required to maintain as quiet a home environment as possible. This includes everything from limiting or abstaining from radio and TV, phone conversations to spending time indoors with their friends. Any kind of noise might disrupt the sleeping family member who is in desperate need of sleep during the day, when that person’s body is programmed to be awake. The need for other family members to accommodate the irregular sleep requirements of shift work can cause friction, and so discussion, explanation and negotiation are very important.

Sleep requirements change as we age because our bodies change

At the other end of the life-cycle spectrum are circumstances such as menopause for women, where sleep deprivation can be a result of hot flashes or night sweats. As men get older, prostate enlargement often leads to frequent trips to the bathroom at night. People often find it hard to get back to sleep. Many disabilities, which become more prevalent with age, can also affect our sleep, such as shortness of breath due to lung or heart conditions, as well as aches and pains from arthritis, injuries or other musculoskeletal conditions.

Sleep disorders can affect us more as we age. Obstructive sleep apnea becomes more common, especially if a person has gained weight. This is a very underdiagnosed and undertreated condition where sleep deprivation takes a toll. Even though people with sleep apnea may be getting the requisite number of hours in bed and asleep, they are getting the quantity but not the quality of sleep they need. Incidentally, this is where a family member may be an asset: the sleep apnea is often first identified by the partner, not by the patient.

Sleep is a family affair

Sleep is one of the three basic pillars of good health, along with nutrition and exercise. From the start of a live-in relationship to the later stages of our lives, it affects members of every family, both individually and collectively. Awareness of our requirements, and those of other family members, is key to managing our sleep and avoiding the consequences of deprivation. We need to understand sleep so we can talk about and act upon it with serious consideration. Sleep really is a family affair with widespread effects on our physical and mental well-being, and sleep management provides us with opportunities to strengthen our family relationships by being helpful, respectful, understanding and considerate of one another.

 


Dr. David Posen is a bestselling author (Always Change a Losing Game: Winning Strategies for Work, Home and Health and The Little Book of Stress Relief), international keynote speaker and seminar leader who specializes in stress and change management. His latest book, Is Work Killing You?, explores the relationship between work and well-being.

This article was originally published in Transition magazine (Vol. 45, No. 1), and can be downloaded in PDF format by clicking here.




(Still) Eating Together: The Culture of the Family Meal

Paul Fieldhouse

For most Canadians, eating is a daily event so routine, so ordinary that it is taken for granted. But it is also a central part of social relationships and cultural rituals, as well as a symbolic and a material means of coming together. Across cultures and time, food sharing is an almost universal medium for expressing fellowship; it embodies values of hospitality, duty, gratitude, sacrifice and compassion. The shared meal is an opportunity not only to eat, but also to talk, to create and strengthen bonds of attachment and friendship, to teach and learn. Not surprisingly, the family meal is often celebrated as a supremely important component of family life.

The modern family meal

In order to understand “family meals,” it is important to first clarify what the term means. The phrase seems simple enough, but upon examination, the notion of the “family meal” is revealed as convenient shorthand for an idea that may be more imagined than real.

A common image that might come to mind is a happy nuclear family of mom, dad and kids sitting around a nicely laid table enjoying the fruits (and other products) of a largely invisible kitchen production process. Certainly this is an image perpetuated, if not created, by mid-20th-century advertising and popular TV and magazine culture. It has firmly established itself as a cultural ideal, something to be aspired to and emulated – the ultimate symbol of perfect family unity and stability.

It doesn’t take much of a historical read to see that this nuclear concept of the family meal is a fairly modern phenomenon. In Victorian Britain, the children of aristocratic and wealthy families were more likely to eat in the nursery or kitchen with their nanny or the servants, or to eat in communal dining rooms at boarding schools, than to sit at the “family table.” In low-income households, there might not even be a table to sit around.

For young children, “table talk” may be the main source of exposure to family conversation and the expression of thoughts, ideas and emotions.

In North America, “proper” family mealtimes became part of the middle-class consciousness during the second half of the 19th century. During the economic growth and prosperity of the post-war years, the “traditional” idea of the family meal became, perhaps briefly, the norm across social classes.

There are, of course, many types of families and household relationships. What does this mean then for what can be considered a family meal? Does everyone in the family have to be present? Do they have to be eating the same foods? Do they have to be sitting around a table? Does the food have to be prepared from scratch, or at least in the home? Does everyone have to be part of the same household? What if friends or visitors are present – is it still a family meal?

Some attempts to define a family meal include formulas such as at least one adult and one child eating together, two or more people eating together, or members of the same household eating together. Each of these definitions may be necessary but not sufficient to define the family meal and, without common definitions, assessing how common family meals are – and if and how they are changing – becomes very difficult.

The rhythm and role of the family meal

As an everyday ritual, the family meal can be seen as a symbol of shared family life. It organizes the family, regularly bringing family members together and contributing to their physical, mental and social well-being. It provides a rhythm and predictable structure to the day, which can be psychologically reassuring. On the physical or biological level, it is a way to manage the nutritional needs of family members. The extent to which it is successful in so doing depends on a large number of factors, including access to affordable and nutritious food, nutritional knowledge, and food buying and food preparation skills.

The appearance of a meal on the family table represents the outcome of time-consuming and skilled activities that involve both mental decision making and physical work. This work of “deciding and doing,” which applies to all steps of getting a meal, from planning menus to shopping, preparation and serving, is largely invisible and taken for granted.

While this work is still predominantly performed by women, men are increasingly taking on a larger role in family meal preparation than in the past. Cooking a family meal can be an enjoyable and fulfilling task, but it also demands trade-offs in time, money and emotional capital.

With all the work involved, the provision of a family meal is a symbolic demonstration of the care of the meal provider. It may veer more toward love or toward duty, but it always shows commitment to the family group. By sharing meal-related tasks, from shopping to food preparation, table-laying and clearing-up, all family members can participate in this exercise of responsible family solidarity. Failure to do so may be a source of family tension. On the other hand, research has shown that being unable to regularly produce the idealized family meal may provoke feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

Children and teens benefit from family meals

The dinner table is an important place for the socialization of children. The family meal is a prime setting for their introduction to the rules and norms of accepted behaviour and family values and expectations. For toddlers and preschoolers, it teaches what is considered culturally acceptable food and, on a more basic level, what is considered food and non-food.

From a nutritional perspective, family meals provide opportunities for exposing children to a variety of healthy food choices and for modelling healthy eating behaviours, encouraging new tastes and learning to respect appetite as a guide to satiety. But just as healthy choices can be modelled, so can unhealthy ones. If the typical family meal consists of starchy, fatty or high sugar items, with fruit and vegetables making rare appearances, then this pattern will be learned and likely continued.

At family mealtimes, children learn developmental skills, such as holding a cup or manipulating chopsticks, and acquire and develop language and literacy skills through the flow of conversation. For young children especially, “table talk” may be the main source of exposure to family conversation and the expression of thoughts, ideas and emotions.

The lament for the lost family meal may actually be a reaction to perceived or feared change in family structures and arrangements.

Through the exchange of stories, anecdotes and news, children learn about the adult world and the interests and attitudes of their parents, while adults get to learn about the interests and attitudes of their children’s world. At family mealtimes, parents know where their kids are; they can gauge their moods and needs, and uncover and help solve problems.

Research has also suggested that the family meal has a “protective effect.” Children and adolescents who eat more frequently with the family may consume better quality diets and are less likely to be overweight. They have fewer emotional problems and greater academic achievement, and they may be less likely to adopt risky behaviours such as drug and alcohol abuse.

It is not clear what it is about the family meal that is protective. Furthermore, it is difficult to isolate family mealtime from other familial influences. A recent study by two U.S. sociologists suggests that most of the associations between family meals and positive outcomes for youth can be traced to family socio-economic characteristics that make it more likely that they will actually have family meals.

Family meals are changing as families change

Throughout history, the family meal has come to represent the family itself in the public mind, and there is evidence that every generation has lamented its demise. Even in the 1920s, worries were being expressed about how leisure activities and the rise of the car were undermining family mealtimes!

Sociologist Anne Murcott has suggested that the “ideal” is closest to reality among middle-class families, the group that is most anxious about its perceived loss. The family meal represents stability during times of change. The lament for the lost family meal may actually be a reaction to perceived or feared change in family structures and arrangements.

Market research survey polls provide wildly varying data on family meals, making it difficult to draw reliable conclusions. For example, in 2013 a commercial market research company provided a report to their clients that showed eight out of 10 Canadians families had a family meal at least four times a week. In Quebec, this was nine out of 10. In a survey performed for a different client in 2014, the same company reported that only two out of 10 families eat family meals more than twice a week and that 5% of families never had family meals.

While market research data may be contradictory, academic studies and government data on family meals are relatively scarce. Evidence from the U.S., the U.K. and Scandinavia has pointed to family meals happening about half the time. U.S. data for 2003–2013 from the Child Trends Data Bank showed little change in frequency of family meals reported by children, which for six to seven days a week remained at around 55% for 6- to 11-year-olds and 30% for 12- to 17-year-olds. A 2010 U.K. survey suggested that 25% of families ate together nearly every day, while one in 10 families never had an evening meal together and one in five spent less than 10 minutes at the table together.

Instead of mourning the demise of the family meal, we can look for ways to reinvigorate our relationship with food and thus with our families, friends and wider community through intentionally eating together.

Canadian data for the period 1996–2005 showed that workers were spending less time on family activities, including family meals, and were more likely to eat at least one meal alone. The 2010 General Social Survey conducted by Statistics Canada reported that Canadians spent about one-quarter of their waking hours on food-related activities (eating meals at home or at restaurants as well as cooking/washing up), of which 60–70 minutes was devoted to eating meals in the home, with younger people spending the least amount of time on this activity. Another consumer report in 2011 claimed that 55% of Canadians spent 15 minutes or less on preparing a meal.

While this data suggests that time for family meals has diminished, it doesn’t indicate directly whether the number and type of family meals are changing. However, demographic changes in living arrangements are likely to have an impact. In 2011, according to the Canada census, one-person households made up 27.6% of all homes, a threefold increase since 1961 that is especially notable in Quebec.

It is little wonder then that eating alone is becoming common. Recent U.S. polling data suggests that even outside of the home, six out of 10 meals are eaten alone.

What does seem to hold true is that the majority of people still want and value family meals, however they define them. In the U.K. study mentioned above, three-quarters of people wanted to make more effort to sit down together for a family meal. At the same time, many people admit to facing a multitude of barriers in putting this into practice.

Lack of time, work demands, busy social lives, scheduled activities – especially after-school activities for children – and increased opportunities for eating away from home are among the factors militating against the family meal. Lunch has largely disappeared as a family meal, and breakfast may not be far behind as parents report a lack of time to prepare breakfast for their children before school.

People are more inclined to eat when and where they want to in more informal and unstructured ways.

A 2012 workplace consultant report revealed that three in 10 workers don’t take lunch breaks and four in 10 eat alone at their desks. The picture is quite different in France, where the ritual of the shared meal is still a core element of collective everyday life, and in Italy, where three-quarters of the population sit down to lunch in their own homes.

Whereas snacks and mealtimes are spread throughout the day in North America, in France there are three big spikes at morning, noon and night, indicating that traditional meal patterns are strong. At 1 p.m., almost half the French are sitting down to lunch; at 8:15 p.m., more than one-third are having supper. Whether it is a family meal or a meal shared with friends or co-workers, 80% of meals are eaten in the company of others.

Statistics about family meals don’t describe anything about the nature and quality of those events. It is evident that eating patterns are changing in response to changing societal arrangements, including work roles and technology. The concept of set mealtimes to be eaten in the company of specified family members, such as the “three meals a day” pattern familiar to many older people – particularly of European heritage – has largely given way to a less structured, more ad hoc system, aptly described as “grazing.”

At the same time as there are increasing barriers to sit-down, at-home, all-family-members-together meals, food is increasingly available, especially in urban centres, on a 24/7 basis outside the home at restaurants, malls, drive-ins and even non-food outlets, such as big box stores and garden centres. People are more inclined to eat when and where they want to in more informal and unstructured ways.

Future of the family meal

Families may still eat together – though this is often at malls, in fast-food restaurants or in cars en route to the basketball game or dance rehearsal – but to what extent do these constitute family meals? The common elements of food and family are still there, but what may be missing are some of the symbolic and culturally meaningful dimensions of the home-based family meal, some of the cultural learning opportunities and the structure that family mealtimes can bring to the day. When eating in the family car, for example, a parent may not be able to demonstrate the loving and responsible role of provider in the same way, it could be harder for them to teach food manners while in motion and this setting may not invoke the same sense of a refuge from the public sphere or reminder of family unity.

Eating together, whatever and wherever that may be, can help build and strengthen bonds between family members.

Even here, though, care must be taken when making assumptions. Is it not possible to have a conversation about one’s day or to enquire about homework while on the road or sitting around the fast food restaurant table? Some critics have doubted this, yet other studies suggest that when families eat out, they behave in ways very similar to home.

Eating together, whatever and wherever that may be, can help build and strengthen bonds between family members. Perhaps instead of mourning the demise of the family meal, we can look for ways to reinvigorate our relationship with food and thus with our families, friends and wider community through intentionally eating together.

We can take what we believe is good about family meals and put it into practice every time we eat. We can re-envisage mealtimes as a time for conviviality and social bonding. Forsaking the lonely desk lunch and the solo car meal, we can seek out company to share food and community.

 


Paul Fieldhouse is an adjunct professor in the Department of Human Nutritional Sciences at the University of Manitoba and a nutrition policy and research consultant for the Manitoba government. He has an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Food and Religion.

This article is a reprint of (Still) Eating Together: The Culture of the Family Meal, originally published in Transition magazine (Vol. 45 No. 1).




The Current State of Military Family Research

Heidi Cramm, Deborah Norris, Linna Tam-Seto, Maya Eichler, and Kimberley Smith-Evans

Since the 1990s, the nature, frequency, and intensity of military operations have shifted, and these shifts have, in turn, had an impact on the families of Canada’s military personnel. Operational tempo has increased and has been almost continuous, and the roles of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel1 have changed from “peacekeepers to peacemakers to warriors.” In 2013, the Office of the Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces released its seminal report on military family health and well-being, On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium. This report brought into view the contexts, meanings, and consequences associated with recent changes in CAF military operations for members, Veterans, and families.

The Ombudsman’s report noted that mobility, separation, and risk have an impact on most serving military members and their families for much of their military careers.2 Canadian military families relocate three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts, with little input as to where, when, or for how long, disrupting continuity of access to health care services. Frequent relocations also affect children’s participation in school, academic progress, and access to educational accommodations for those with identified disabilities or learning exceptionalities.3 Relocations also disrupt non-military family members’ employment opportunities and the family’s capacity to care for vulnerable family members such as aging parents. Protracted separations from family as a result of training or deployment are not uncommon, and the risk that military personnel face during intensive training and deployment speak to the possibility of permanent injury, illness, or death.4 Although Canadian military families value and take pride in their family member’s military service, mobility and separation, along with the “relentless upheaval of military life,”5 can be highly disruptive to families. Civilian family members interviewed for the report shared their concern that their children were “paying a price for their parent’s service to the nation.”6

“…mobility, separation, and risk have an impact on most serving military members and their families for much of their military careers.”

Although Canadian military family research has been ongoing for approximately 25 years, efforts to develop this body of research were, until recently, hampered by the lack of funding for civilian research and the infrastructure to support collaboration. This has recently changed via the networks established through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. At present, research involving present-day military families focuses overwhelmingly on the US experience. In recent years, this literature has paid greater attention to understanding how military life affects families and how resilience can be enhanced within military families.7 Resilience is defined as “positive adaptation, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health, despite experiencing adversity.”8

“In recent years,

[military family research] has paid greater attention to understanding how military life affects families and how resilience can be enhanced within military families.”

On the whole, the research examining military families has tended to take a risk or problem perspective.9 Very little research has explored the factors, or combination of factors, that support successful and ongoing resilience within military family life.10 Little is known about the mechanisms that foster resilience. Instead, emphasis has been placed on the effects of deployment across mental health, social, academic, and behavioural domains.11–14 For example, the mental health of both the deployed and the at-home parent can affect children at different times. The Children on the Homefront study in the United States, which explored the impact of military operations on children’s well-being, described how the mental health of the non-deployed parent had a significant impact on the number of emotional, social, and academic challenges children experience both during deployment and during the reintegration of the deployed parent.15 A recent report that reviewed the Canadian and international research on the impact of operational stress injury (OSI) on family health and well-being16 suggested that it has a negative impact on family dynamics and the health and well-being of family members. Furthermore, it appears that family members experience more emotional, psychological, behavioural, social, and academic problems and are also more vulnerable to experiences of neglect or abuse than other families.17

“…the mental health of both the deployed and the at-home parent can affect children at different times.”

The extent to which these research findings resonate with the Canadian experience is unclear. Canadian military families, especially those who are not actively serving, express “concern that relatively little is known on the subject from a Canadian context.”18 Although many of the findings may be generalizable to Canada, critical differences require more extensive and intensive knowledge of the unique needs of Canadian military children, spouses, and families.19 For instance, in Canada, unlike in the United States, military families are dependent on the civilian health care system and need to repeatedly navigate access to a family doctor as well as any required specialists, often across provincial jurisdictions in which systems and eligibility for services may differ. Rather than enjoying continuity of care, members of military families find themselves on new wait lists with each move, with limited ability to engage in routine health maintenance with a regular health provider. Many Canadian military families travel back to their physician from their previous posting because they have been unsuccessful in securing one in their current residence. If members of the family have medical needs or disabilities, navigating new health care systems can be onerous and frustrating, with eligibility and reimbursement policies causing considerable stress. This can be complicated if civilian health care providers have “limited understanding of the particularities of military life, which can also impact care quality and continuity.”20

The challenges military families face in navigating the health system can be echoed in the school systems. Twenty years ago, 80% of CAF families lived on base and attended a Department of National Defence school there. Not only does that school system no longer exist, 85% of CAF families now live off base and attend community schools21 in which civilian personnel have little awareness of military life stressors and their impact on spouses and children. Moreover, unlike the United States or the United Kingdom, Canada has no federal government department that provides financial resources to provincial school districts to tailor programming for children in military families transitioning into their schools, experiencing parental deployment, or living with a parent with an OSI.22, 23 If a student has a disability and requires educational accommodations in school, the assessment and resource allotment process begins anew with each school transition, which creates significant stressors for families.24

“…it is critical that unique health issues and needs be carefully defined and understood in a Canadian context.”

Although programming and services have been developed in Canada to target families, including crisis support, peer support, psychoeducation, and counselling services through organizations such as the Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs), offerings vary by location and centre. Canada has also demonstrated leadership in developing family-centred programs and services such as “The Mind’s the Matter” webinar series for adolescents.25 The extent to which most of these programs and services have been based on evidence or rigorously evaluated for efficacy is unclear, however.

To ensure that the spouses and partners of military members and the almost 64,100 Canadian children growing up in military families enjoy the same levels of health as their civilian counterparts, it is critical that unique health issues and needs be carefully defined and understood in a Canadian context. Although clarifying these needs is critical, research must also explore the knowledge and skills that educators, health care practitioners, and community partners require to effectively engage and support military families and ultimately create the foundation for evidence-informed interventions and programming.

 


Authors

Heidi Cramm, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Deborah Norris, Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

Linna Tam-Seto, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Maya Eichler, Department of Political and Canadian Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

Kimberley Smith-Evans, Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

 

This article can be downloaded in PDF format here.

This article is an excerpt from “Making Military Families in Canada a Research Priority,” which includes a discussion about future research priorities. The original article, published online in the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health in November 2015 (Volume 1 No. 2), can be accessed on the journal’s website.

 

REFERENCES

  1. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces. On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium. Ottawa: Office of the Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bradshaw CP, Sudhinaraset M, Mmari K, et al. “School Transitions Among Military Adolescents: A Qualitative Study of Stress and Coping.” School Psych Rev. 2010;39(1):84–105.
  4. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Saltzman WR, Lester P, Beardslee WR, et al. “Mechanisms of Risk and Resilience in Military Families: Theoretical and Empirical Basis of a Family-Focused Resilience Enhancement Program.” Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2011;14(3):213–30.
  8. Herrman H, Stewart DE, Diaz-Granados N, et al. “What Is Resilience?” Can J Psychiatry. 2011;56(5):258–65. Medline: 21586191
  9. Easterbrooks MA, Ginsburg K, Lerner RM. “Resilience Among Military Youth.” Future Child. 2013;23(2):99–120. Medline: 25518694
  10. Palmer C. “A Theory of Risk and Resilience Factors in Military Families.” Mil Psychol. 2008;20(3):205–17.
  11. Aronson KR, Perkins DF. “Challenges Faced by Military Families: Perceptions of United States Marine Corps School Liaisons.” J Child Fam Stud. 2013;22(4):516–25.
  12. Cederbaum JA, Gilreath TD, Benbenishty R, et al. “Well-Being and Suicidal Ideation of Secondary School Students from Military Families.” J Adolesc Health. 2014;54(6):672–7. Medline: 24257031
  13. Cozza SJ. “Children of Military Service Members: Raising National Awareness of the Family Health Consequences of Combat Deployment.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(11):1044–6. Medline: 21727261
  14. Chandra A, Lara-Cinisomo S, Jaycox LH, et al. “Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children from Military Families.” Pediatrics. 2010;125(1):16–25. Medline: 19969612
  15. Ibid.
  16. Norris D, Cramm H, Eichler M, Tam-Seto L, Smith-Evans K. “Operational Stress Injury: The Impact on Family Mental Health and Well-being. A Report to Veterans Affairs Canada.” 2015.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  19. Dursun S, Sudom K. “Impacts of Military Life on Families: Results from the Perstempo Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses.” Ottawa: Defence R&D Canada, 2009.
  20. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  21. Military Family Support Services. Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services; n.d. [cited 2015 Sep 10]. “Debunking Myths: The Canadian Forces Family Lifestyle.”
  22. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  23. National Military Family Association. Department of Defense Support to Civilian Schools Educating Military Children. Alexandria (VA): The Association, 2006.
  24. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  25. Military Family Support Services. Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services; n.d. [cited 2015 Sep 10]. “The Mind’s the Matter: Understanding a Family Member’s OSI.”

 

 




Canada’s Military Families and the Military Family Services Program

Roxanna Gumiela, RECE, BA, MPA

Canadian families have become increasingly diverse, as social, economic and demographic shifts have led to a greater recognition of the many family types that contribute to the fabric of Canadian society. One such family type is the military family, an often overlooked family model that is characterized by a multitude of challenges and unique experiences that require specialized resources and support.

While the Canadian Forces (CF) have received more attention in the past decade due to the war in Afghanistan, the efforts and sacrifices made by the families of CF members are often overlooked or forgotten. Little do we think about the day-to-day lives of CF families who have given up the normalcy of civilian family life so that their loved one can protect and defend that very civilian lifestyle.

History of military family support in Canada

The ability of CF members to do their job is highly dependent on the assurance that their family is cared for while they protect and serve the country. The Government of Canada’s expectation that CF members “place service to country and needs of the CF ahead of personal considerations,”1 as well as its need for a positive image of the CF, requires that we acknowledge the importance of the unpaid work that CF family members perform on a daily basis.

The ability of Canadian Forces members to do their job is highly dependent on the assurance that their family is cared for while they protect and serve the country.

To this end, the Department of National Defence (DND) initiated the Family Support Program Project (FSPP) in April 1987.2 The mandate of the FSPP was to gather information, make recommendations and provide a plan that would make support and resources available to military spouses and family members.3

The findings and recommendations of the FSPP culminated in the creation of the Military Family Support Program (MFSP), which was established to assist spouses and family members in dealing with the challenges associated with the military family. Under the MFSP, Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) were opened as non-profit, stand-alone organizations on military bases, wings and support units across Canada.

At the core of the MFSP is the health and well-being of military families. The MFSP is built on the foundation of community development and involvement that provides the philosophical framework for the Family Resource Program (FRP) in Canada.4 Research on community development has indicated that communities fare better and are more enduring when community members are involved in the work of development and support.5 The MFSP philosophy therefore endorses and promotes volunteer involvement at all levels from the “governance/advisory capacity at the Board of Directors/Advisory Committee level, to the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of services.”6

Unique supports for unique families

It is essential for the well-being of the Canadian Forces that we not only remember the efforts and sacrifices made by CF members and their families, but also that they are provided with adequate institutional supports. Services built upon recognition of the unique needs of CF members, their spouses/partners and their children can be tailored to help in the most effective way possible.

The MFSP and MFRCs act as a service delivery mechanism, helping military families to face these obstacles while assuring CF members that their loved ones are being supported. By recognizing and helping CF families, these institutions are helping bring to life the national commitment of supporting all family types in Canada.

 


Services Provided by Military Family Resource Centres

As outlined in the 2013 ombudsman report On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-Being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium, the primary challenges associated with being a military family member typically relate to relocations, child care, health care, spousal employment, housing and spousal/family support while CF members are away. To help military family members deal with these issues, MFRCs across the country provide the following services:

Personal Development and Community Integration

Provides military families with information about the community they have been posted to. Depending on the location of the base and the specific MFRC, families can find information about education, health, spiritual, recreational and shopping services located in the civilian community, and can also have access to second-language services. MFRCs also provide support for family members regarding job search strategies, resumé writing and support in accessing post-secondary education.

Child and Youth Support and Parenting Development

Includes parent and toddler drop-in programs and formal drop-off child care for parents so they can attend to personal appointments or simply have some well-deserved respite while the military member is away on training or deployed. These programs offer parents the opportunity to connect with others who understand the challenges that come with military life, including those associated with frequent moves and lone parenting. Parent education workshops and groups may also be a component of this program. Support for parents of children who have special needs has also been developed over the past several years.

Prevention, Support and Intervention

Includes mental health support for family members who may be challenged by the military family lifestyle. This program helps to deal with feelings of isolation, loneliness, abuse, deployment and/or reintegration issues for the family, operational stress injury (OSI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) of the military member and the effect on the family member/spouse. Support may come in the form of referral to civilian mental health agencies, individual counselling or support groups.

Family Separation and Reunion

Offers support through something as simple as a mail program for family members to mail care packages to their deployed loved ones to the more intricate pre-deployment, deployment, reintegration and post-deployment information briefings. The information sessions are offered in coordination with information provided from the military unit to the MFRC program coordinator.

 


1 National Defence, “DAOD 5044-1, Families,” Defence Administrative Orders and Directives (February 2002).
2 Thunder Bay Military Family Resource Centre, Military Family Services Program.
3 Military Family Resource Centres,“About Us,” MFRC Suffield (no date).
4 Director Military Family Services (DMFS), “Parameters for Practice,” Military Family Services Program (2004).
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.

This article appeared previously in Transition magazine in fall 2013 (Vol. 43, No. 3).

Roxanna Gumiela, RECE, BA, MPA, offers her services at www.developmentcoach.info, specializing in individual and group organizational coaching, and discovery, creation and delivery of individualized professional development.

 

 




When Cupboards Are Bare: Food Insecurity and Public Health

Nathan Battams

(Updated November 15, 2016)

Food security is an issue that is deeply intertwined with the health and economic well-being of families. It is a serious social, economic and public health concern, felt not only by the estimated 1.1 million households in Canada that reported experiencing food insecurity, but also by the communities in which they live. When families face obstacles in securing the quantity and quality of meals they need to thrive, it becomes all the harder for them to be healthy and live productive, happy lives.

When the Canadian Medical Association consulted Canadians about public health issues in a series of town hall meetings in 2013, food insecurity was identified as one of the main social determinants of health. Without a stable and healthy food supply, people are more likely to develop a range of health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes, stress and even food allergies.

While there are multiple contributing factors to food insecurity, including geographic isolation, food literacy and transportation issues, economic insecurity is at the heart of the matter.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, families have increasingly depended on food banks and other community supports for essential support securing the quantity and quality of food they need. According to Food Banks Canada, the number of people who accessed food banks across the country in March 2016 (863,492) was 28% higher than in 2008, and more than 40% of households receiving food were families with children.

Research from Statistics Canada has suggested that adults experience food insecurity at higher rates than children (8.2% compared with 4.9%) because parents are protecting their youngsters from food insecurity by reducing the variety and quantity of their own meals so their children can eat better. Despite this, children across Canada are affected by food insecurity, with children and youth accounting for 36% of those helped by food banks in March 2016.

Food banks and community supports were never intended to be permanent solutions to food insecurity. Many organizations providing food to families are feeling the pressure resulting from the economic downturn. Faced with increased demand, some food banks have had to reduce the assistance they provide – a reality with serious consequences for the health and well-being of families in Canada.

There are multiple contributing factors to food insecurity, including geographic isolation, food literacy and transportation issues, but economic insecurity is at the heart of the matter. Families can’t eat when they don’t have the power to buy. Rates of food insecurity vary widely across Canada, ranging from 8% of households in Newfoundland and Labrador to 36% in Nunavut. Some people face disproportionately high rates of low income, such as sole-support mothers and Indigenous people, and are therefore also more likely to experience higher levels of food insecurity.

Food bank users typically make do with limited financial resources, which is reflected in patterns of food bank use: nearly half (45%) of households who accessed food banks in March 2016 relied on social assistance as their primary source of income. However, Canadians who earn the majority of their income through paid labour are also accessing food banks, accounting for 15% of those assisted in the same month.

Whether it comes as a result of improving the health or increasing the wealth of Canadians, access to the quality and quantity of food we need is essential for living well and reaching our full potential.


This is an edited and updated version of an article that was originally featured in Transition magazine in spring 2013 (Vol. 43, No. 2).

Nathan Battams is responsible for publications and social media at the Vanier Institute of the Family.