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Modern Family Finances: Military and Veteran Families in Canada

Canada’s military and Veteran families are diverse, resilient and strong, and they make significant contributions to society as they manage their work and family responsibilities.

Research shows that military and Veteran families share many of the same financial stressors as civilian families, including changes in family income and/or employment, disruptions or unexpected expenditures (e.g. out-of-pocket medical expenses, foreclosures) and major life events (e.g. marriage, divorce, childbirth).

However, employment with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) brings with it the realities of military life, including a greater degree of mobility, separation and risk. These factors contribute to the uniqueness of military family life, and they can have a positive impact on family finances (e.g. benefits, relatively stable full-time employment and income), as well as negative impacts (e.g. costs associated with relocation and deployments, career sacrifices for partners of serving CAF members, difficulties for Veterans transitioning to civilian life and the civilian workforce).

This edition of Modern Family Finances explores military and Veteran families in Canada, focusing on the unique realities and experiences that impact their income and expenditures, savings and debt, and wealth and net worth.

Highlights include:

  • In 2018, more than four in 10 CAF members (43%) reported having some financial problems, with 10% citing this as the most significant problem they faced in the past year.
  • In 2018, among CAF members who had been posted to a new location, nearly six in 10 (57%) said that their financial situation had worsened, with a change in the cost of living cited as the main reason.
  • In 2016, the Veteran population in Canada was less likely to be in the paid labour force (28%) than civilians (20%).
  • In transitioning to civilian life, research shows that female Veterans experience a significantly higher average decline in income (a decline of 21% between their pre-release year and the first three years afterwards) than male Veterans (a decline of 1%).
  • Research shows that in the workplace, Veterans are nearly three times more likely than the general working population to report having long-term physical or mental health conditions or a health-related activity limitation at work (35% and 13%, respectively).

Research by Gaby Novoa and Nathan Battams

Source information available on the PDF version of this resource.

The Impact of Post-Traumatic Stress on Canadian Armed Forces, First Responders and Their Families

Supporting Families of Serving and Retired Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and First Responders Living with Post-Traumatic Stress is a report based on a roundtable convened by Medavie between Wounded Warriors Canada, the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Vanier Institute of the Family that took place in February 2019. The report explores the challenges faced by families impacted by post-traumatic stress (PTS) experienced by first responders and serving or retired members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Though there is a growing awareness of the risk of PTS and the potential of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), families often lack the support they need to both help their loved one and address the impact on their own health and their daily lives.

While PTSD is most often used in public discussion, categorizing it as a disorder means it is a clinically diagnosed condition. During the roundtable, and subsequently throughout this report, the concept of PTS is the focus, as it includes those who experience symptoms but may not have a formal diagnosis.

Families are often the first source of support an individual living with PTS will turn to and they can play a key role in ensuring their loved one receives care. Family members who may feel the impact of PTS on their lives include adult children, parents, siblings and spouses. They may need to adjust, adapt and respond to expanding and/or evolving roles at home and/or changing behaviours, moods and attitudes exhibited by their loved one. Individuals and families need tools to help them communicate their experiences, emotions and feelings with each other to address the impact that PTS is having on their lives.

Access to resources for mental health support across military and first responder communities varies, with more funding for programs aimed solely at the individual experiencing PTS. CAF has been developing nationally accessible programs for serving and retired members and, to an increasing degree, their families.

Download the report Supporting Families of Serving and Retired Members of the Canadian Armed Forces and First Responders Living with Post-Traumatic Stress

Download the media release

 


Published on August 27, 2019

Research Recap: Caregiving in Military and Veteran Families

Alla Skomorovsky, Jennifer Lee and Lisa Williams

While research has shown that Canadian Veterans who transition to civilian life due to illness and/or injury often experience difficulties adjusting to their new context, a growing body of academic literature has found that the “strength behind the uniform” – the military and Veteran families providing care to these people – can also be affected by the well-being and transition experiences of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member.1, 2

Depending on the severity of the illness and/or injury sustained, military members may require assistance with daily life activities (e.g., grounds maintenance, meal preparation, cleaning services) and family members are often the first to provide, arrange and/or pay for this care, which can range in intensity, duration and frequency. As the ill/injured military or Veteran family member adjusts and adapts to the limitations of the illness and/or injury itself, and to their new civilian lifestyle, they can experience strain and tension in their family relationships.

In military families, spouses of military members are often the primary caregivers, and providing this care can have a negative impact on their own health, well-being and careers. Moreover, research shows that caring for military personnel with psychological illnesses can be particularly taxing for caregivers and increase the risk or extent of their own psychological distress due to the military member’s increased reliance on them for cognitive and/or emotional tasks and support.

Limited research has examined the unique experiences, perceptions and impacts of transition to civilian life on the families of CAF personnel or Veterans, particularly those who have been medically released due to illness and/or injuries. However, a past pilot study conducted in 2014–2015 among CAF families transitioning to civilian life suggested that the cumulative effects of illness or injury of a military member combined with their transition to civilian life can have a significant impact on various domains of family functioning.3

Following the lines of the literature reviewed above, Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) conducted a study in 2017–2018 in order to explore and enhance our understanding of the experiences of families of ill and/or injured CAF members or Veterans at various stages of the medical release process regarding their transition from military to civilian life through a series of semi-structured interviews.4

Illness and injury affects family well-being and relationships

Consistent with the literature, interviews indicated that the CAF members/Veterans’ health directly impacts their family members’ well-being, particularly when family members play a caregiving role for the member/Veteran.

[As reported by the parents of a member/Veteran]: Because we struggled really, back then it was a real struggle. When he first came home from the very first tour was a huge struggle. I mean, he’s lost two relationships. He’s had two family breakdowns because of his PTSD.

The members/Veterans could also see the impact on their family members, including the children.

My daughter, [who] is 21, has been probably impacted the most by me, like from what she’s seen me go through. And it’s been really hard on her… because of my anxiety and my depression and everything, she now has anxiety and depression.

Most spouses related the strain on their familial, social and personal well-being primarily to the members/Veterans’ illness/injury, rather than the transition itself.

I think it’s all relative to the whole process… you have a member that’s dealing with their own mental health issues, but not seeking active treatment for himself, and they think that… you know, like, their depression, or their anxiety, their PTSD. And the other partner picks up the slack in the household. It’s difficult to carry that all the time.

Family members reported experiencing strain in their relationship with the CAF member/Veteran. In particular, many family members, who were also spouses, reported a lack of satisfaction and intimacy in their relationship with the CAF member/Veteran, as well as experiencing an emotional disconnect and/or resentment.

He’s got absolutely no interest in sex, that’s a huge impact in our relationship. Yeah, so… as a couple, that’s a difficult one to work through… to lose that intimacy with your partner.

So kind of emotionally distant, on an intimate level, absolutely more distant. It’s kind of like on the outside looking in.

I’m doing more than my share. And actually, if I go back and think about that, there is sometimes that…. Then at times, because I would like him to be more engaged in his care than I am. So yeah, there’s a bit of resentment there if I’m totally honest with myself. 

Caregiving intersects and interacts with other family responsibilities

Family members providing care to the ill or injured military members/Veterans – predominantly spouses – indicated that caregiver burden was a major contributing factor toward their reduced physical health and/or psychological well-being. Examples include the additional cognitive and physical demands placed on the caregivers, such as ongoing monitoring of the CAF member/Veteran, physically assisting CAF members/Veterans to complete their daily activities and taking over previously shared tasks (e.g., gardening, cooking, cleaning).

He is not able to physically do what he has done in the past before he was hurt, and so I took on the task of, well, everything – physical mainly – around the house. And I ended up hurting my back because of it. Somebody needs to do it, and uh… so I ended up hurting my back and now I can’t even work because of this.

Some spousal caregivers also noted that they felt emotionally and mentally drained due to the increased responsibilities and the lack of time they had for self-care. Other consequences they experienced as a result of caregiving include negative health outcomes and work repercussions.

I think it’s really isolating for a caregiver. Like, I wanted to be there for my husband and my spouse. I want to take care of him, do whatever he needs, but then… not that it’s anybody else’s fault, but where’s my break?

I feel like I’m not supported, so I just deal with that on my own, you know. I feel like I bear the brunt of the… of the housework… I feel like I have to get things done on my own. So I feel like I’m sacrificing my own health.

In comparison with spouses providing care, parents providing care typically reported that the members/Veterans’ illnesses and/or injuries did not affect their own personal lives or health. However, this might have been due to the lesser proximity and frequency with which they provided assistance.

Communication between partners can mitigate the impact of caregiving

Despite the reported negative impacts that caregiving, the transition experience and the illness/injury had on their spousal relationship, many spousal caregivers also reported growth in their relationship. According to study participants, the quality and clarity of communication in their relationship was an important factor that appeared to influence the severity of negative impacts. As a result of their shared transition experience and communication, many spousal caregivers reported feeling closer to the CAF member/Veteran as well as becoming a better team. Thus, it is possible that having effective communication bolsters spouses’ tolerance for the additional caregiving responsibilities and burden.

We’ve grown more into a team than a… than a couple almost. Like, what do we have to get done? Okay, how are we going to do it? So yeah, our lives focus mostly on that.

Communication is the key there, especially in a relationship.

Lessons learned and the way forward

This study helped to shed light on the experiences of CAF families during military to civilian transition. Results demonstrate that the transition experience does not solely affect the member/Veteran – it affects their family members and caregivers as well. The majority of family members and, especially, caregivers reported feelings of distress and unease during the transition process, but most reports of the decline in physical, psychological and social well-being were attributed to consequences of the illness and/or injury.

Some important methodological limitations of the present study should be considered when interpreting the results. First of all, the study was designed with an assumption that all ill and injured CAF members/Veterans who participated in the study would have caregiving needs and access to a caregiver (e.g., spouse, sibling, parent) because they had been medically released, and this influenced the development of questions used during the interview process. However, it became clear throughout the interviews that some releasing CAF members/Veterans did not have a caregiver, nor did they necessarily perceive themselves as requiring care, despite suffering from various limitations as a result of their illness and/or injury. Second, although a sizable number of CAF members/Veterans participated in the study, they were in varying stages of transition. Due to the length of the interview, it was not possible to include detailed questions regarding each stage of the transition process. Finally, given the qualitative methodology used in the study, the results are not representative of the population as a whole.

To address these limitations and build on this research, DGMPRA has developed a comprehensive research program related to military families, collaborating extensively with other government agencies – Veterans Affairs Canada and Statistics Canada. This body of research seeks to enhance the lives of military personnel, Veterans and their families across the country.

Through its exploration of the challenges experienced by families of ill and injured CAF members/Veterans, this study provides directions for enhancing the transition experience of military families and maintaining their overall well-being. With the trend for medical releases on the rise since 2013,5 this is an issue of growing importance for Veterans, their families and Canadian society as a whole. It is important to continue developing the expert knowledge necessary to support these families and to find ways to ensure their individual and family well-being.

Alla Skomorovsky, PhD, is a research psychologist at Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA), where she is a member of the Social Policy and Family Support Programs team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of resilience, stress, coping, personality and well-being of military families.

Jennifer Lee, PhD, is Chair of The Technical Cooperation Program (TTCP) Human Resources and Performance Group (HUM) Technical Panel 21 on Resilience and Acting Director of Research on Personnel and Family Support at DGMPRA, where she has been overseeing her team’s work on a range of topics, including sexual misconduct; diversity and inclusion; military, Veteran and family health; and, more recently, the implications of the legalization of cannabis on Canadian Armed Forces personnel.

Lisa Williams, MA, is a researcher at DGMPRA, where she is a member of the Social Policy and Family Support Programs team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of military, Veteran and family well-being.


Notes

  1. Jim Thompson, MD, et al., “Survey on Transition to Civilian Life: Report on Regular Force Veterans,” Veterans Affairs Canada (2011). Link: .
  2. Learn more in A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada (November 2018 update). Link: .
  3. Alla Skomorovsky et al., Pilot Study on the Well-Being of Ill or Injured Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Members and Their Families: Well-Being Model Development (2019). Scientific Report. DRDC-RDDC-2017-R203.
  4. A total of 72 semi-structured interviews were conducted, 16 of which were omitted from further analysis due to ineligibility (e.g., non-medical release, over 5 years since release). Of the remaining 56 interviews, there were 31 individual interviews with CAF members or Veterans, 11 individual interviews with primary caregivers and 14 combined interviews. Participants consisted of CAF Veterans who were medically released within the past 5 years or members who were expecting to be medically released within the near future (i.e., within 24 months of the study) due to a psychological or physical illness and/or injury. Their primary caregivers, operationally defined as the individual who provides the majority of care and/or support (physical or psychological) to the CAF member/Veteran, were also included in the interview process. Primary caregivers were typically a family member (e.g., sibling, parent) and, in the vast majority of cases, the spouse. Eligible participants were interviewed either in person or by phone at a time of their choice.
  5. Linda Van Til et al., “Well-Being of Canadian Regular Force Veterans, Findings from LASS 2016 Survey,” Veterans Affairs Canada – Research Directorate Technical Report (June 23, 2017). Link:.

Published on July 25, 2019

2018 UPDATE: A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada

Canada’s military and Veteran families are diverse, resilient and strong, and they are a source of pride for the country. They engage with – and play important roles in – their workplaces, communities and society as a whole.

The “military journey” is often characterized by mobility, absence and the risk of illness, injury or death. Professionals and practitioners can benefit from “military literacy” – an understanding of the unique experiences and lifestyle characteristics of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel, Veterans and their families. To enhance understanding of these families and their experiences, the Vanier Institute of the Family is highlighting new research and data1 on military and Veteran families in Canada with a 2018 update of .

Military families experience high mobility and frequent periods of separation

  • Every year in Canada, an estimated 10,000 military families are relocated due to postings (8,000 of whom move to new provinces), which accounts for one-quarter of all Regular Forces personnel in Canada.
  • In 2018, among surveyed CAF Regular Force members, nearly three in 10 (29%) reported that they had relocated at least four times due to military postings throughout their career.
  • In 2017, two-thirds of Regular Forces personnel reported experiencing extended absences from their family.

Military children are affected by relocations, but they are resilient and most adjust quickly

  • Research shows that while most military children do find relocation stressful, they are resilient, and this stress typically diminishes within a half-year after moving.
  • In 2016, among surveyed CAF parents, only one in 10 (10%) reported that their child(ren) “had trouble adjusting after moving/relocation,” while nearly half (47%) did not experience any issues.

The majority of Veterans and their families do not experience difficulties in transition to civilian life

  • In 2016, Veterans were more likely to report that the transition to civilian life was easy compared with those who said it was difficult for themselves and their families.
    • 52% said the transition was “easy” for themselves, 32% said it was “difficult.”
    • 57% said the transition was “easy” for their partners, 28% said it was “difficult.”
    • 60% said the transition was “easy” for their children, 17% said it was “difficult.”
  • Nearly nine in 10 Veterans reported being satisfied/very satisfied with life (86%) and their family (88%).

Note


  1. Source information can be found in the document.

What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean?

Download What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries (PDF)

Defining “family” is important for family research and the provision of services, benefits and programs to Canadians and their loved ones. The same is true for military families, who have unique experiences that warrant focused attention from policy-makers and health officials, such as a higher degree of family mobility, separation and risk.1

In recent years, there has been significant growth in the body of research on military families – facilitated by organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) – that reveals significant variation between countries in how they determine who is included in their definition. This can have a significant impact on our understanding of military families, since the definitions used in research (and therefore the nature and subject of the research itself) often vary. It can also have a direct impact on these families, since definitions can control access to services and benefits through eligibility criteria.

Research shows that families play a crucial role in supporting the health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel and, in turn, their contributions support CAF operational readiness – realities that have been highlighted by the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman.2 However, definitions of “military family” used in international research vary, and much of the Canadian research adheres to “traditional” ideals of family structure despite the evolution and increasing diversification of families over the years.3

In 2017, the Vanier Institute of the Family partnered with CIMVHR and a variety of researchers from Canada and abroad to compare the different definitions of “military family” being used by researchers and policy-makers in other allied countries (United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada). The resulting report, What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries, explores the impact of these definitions on research and access to services.

Download What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries (PDF)


Published on August 1, 2018

 

Notes

  1. Learn more in A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada. Link: .
  2. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium (November 2013). Link: .
  3. Learn more in A Snapshot of Family Diversity in Canada. Link: .

Research Recap: School Experiences of Children in Military Families

Emily Beckett

There are more than 64,000 children growing up in military families in Canada.1 Many of these children experience high mobility, as studies show that military families move three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts.2 While most military families are highly adaptive and resilient during relocations, a growing body of research has found that these frequent moves can have an impact on family well-being.3

Nearly three in 10 surveyed military spouses (27%) report they have been relocated at least four times due to military postings.4

While frequent moves can affect multiple aspects of family life, some research suggests that the greatest disruption on youth is related to school and school-related activities.5 Parents in military families are aware of these disruptions, with more than half (54%) of surveyed military spouses agreeing that “military children are at a disadvantage because civilian public schools do not understand military life.”6 However, research also shows that a child’s school environment can facilitate the transition and have a positive impact on the well-being of youth in military families.

In recent review of available literature, School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review, Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), explored existing research on how transition affects the well-being of children and youth in military families with regard to school participation. Through an examination of 112 academic articles, they found that experiences common in military families, such as separation from a deployed parent, relocation, parental deployment in dangerous conflict situations and changes to family dynamics during and after deployments, can all shape the quality and quantity of children’s participation in school-related activities. While the vast majority of the articles in the literature review are based on U.S. data, military families in Canada seem to share many of the same experiences and concerns, as reflected in data from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results report.7

Resettling into a new community takes time

While starting at a new school doesn’t necessarily mean a child from a military family will experience academic difficulties, research in the literature review suggested that it takes students approximately four to six months to academically re-establish themselves each time they move. Though this period is temporary, these disruptions can have a long-term effect on opportunities later in life, specifically in regard to a child’s willingness to take risks or pursue challenges.

Based on the predominantly American research, Cramm and Tam-Seto noted that difficulties in transition among students were found to be associated with the duration of deployments (total number of months that the child’s parents are away on deployment), the mental health of the non-deployed parent and decreasing resiliency. Research also acknowledges the potentially difficult period of reintegration of a military member into family structures and routines after their deployment. Given that there is some evidence that the accumulation of months deployed is associated with these types of negative effects, it will be critical to determine what the experience is for military families in Canada.

Academic experiences and access to supports can be impacted by military life

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that students in the research, who were primarily from U.S. military families, can experience negative impacts on their academic performance (e.g., academic gaps and redundancies) when they move across jurisdictional boundaries: factors such as standards, credit requirements and the age of kindergarten can change from region to region. They also found that stress at home during deployment and reintegration can often affect in-school behaviour and class dynamics, as these students may act out emotionally and experience difficulties with concentration, anxiety and conflicts with peers. Though the survey doesn’t specify whether the problems exhibited in the children of the respondents to the CAF Community Needs Assessment were associated solely with mobility, 13% of respondents reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year. Further research is needed to provide a greater understanding and focus on military families in Canada.

In 2016, more than 1 in 7 surveyed CAF members (13%) reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year.

Studies found an association between behavioural and emotional adjustment and academic performance (e.g., conduct, attendance, attitudes toward school and approaches to learning). The difficulties associated with transitioning to a new school can be compounded when a student requires access to special education resources.8 Many of the 8.2% of surveyed CAF families who report having children with special needs9 require access to resources and supports, and the process of accessing them can be disrupted with every move.

Like any family with a member with special needs, many military parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can face difficulties navigating health care and education systems, not only to acquire appropriate resources but to secure assessments and diagnoses as well.10 Obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult as families can spend months or even years on a wait-list, which can result in military families relocating before they receive care or services.

Many special education resources cannot be accessed without a diagnosis, and Cramm and Tam-Seto found that schools may delay providing resources based on the assumption that a student’s academic struggles are related solely to military life or a temporary reaction to a deployed parent. Alternatively, special education resources are occasionally provided rather than taking the larger step of addressing gaps in education due to relocation. Many U.S. school staff report that they feel unable to appropriately identify students in military families for clinical referrals.

Building community in the face of high mobility

Research shows that in the context of high mobility, military students can experience difficulties initiating and maintaining meaningful personal relationships and building social circles with children their age. Many civilian peers may not understand or be able to empathize with parental deployment or frequent moves, which can have an impact on relationships with military children. Social connections between military and civilian youth are common, since 85% of military families in Canada now live off-base in civilian communities, compared with only 20% in the mid-1990s.11

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that children of military families living in U.S. civilian communities are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness – important measures, since the connection between strong social networks and well-being has been well established in research.12 Conversely, research shows that a sense of community belonging can be a factor in protecting mental health and enhancing resiliency.13

Participation in extracurricular activities can be affected by mobility among youth in military families. For example, opportunities for a child in a military family to sign up for a soccer team may have passed by the time they move, as the tryouts may have already been held and the team was set before the beginning of the academic year. Higher levels of sports teams or leadership programs may pass over military students to avoid complications that could arise if the student needs to relocate again.

The 2016 CAF Community Needs Assessment report found that among respondents who cited their child’s well-being as the most significant problem in the past year, nearly three in 10 (29%) reported requiring help with activities (e.g., bolstering fitness, stress relief, family bonding) to aid in the child’s well-being. Circumstances may not allow a parent to organize transportation to extracurricular activities or manage without the student’s support at home due to increased child care responsibilities during parental deployment, as 23% of all respondents reported experiencing issues with child care, such as quality, distance, expense and hours of availability.

Educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions

Research suggests that teachers, counsellors and other educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions for military youth. American research in the review suggested that the school environment can act as a protective factor during relocation, and that educators can support students in military families by strengthening the child’s resiliency and adaptive coping skills.

Due to the inherently disruptive nature of relocation and the potential loss of stability and routine in their lives, military families and students can be particularly reliant on school personnel and structure for social and emotional support. Among surveyed CAF parents who selected child well-being issues to be the most significant problem in the past year, more than one-third (34%) reported requiring emotional or social support. When families are able to get involved in their child’s schools, studies suggest it can enhance school engagement, academic success and their likelihood of graduating and pursuing post-secondary education.

However, Cramm and Tam-Seto also found that many U.S. educational staff report feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of their students’ needs and struggle to deal with military family-specific issues, such as repeated transitions, parental deployment, fear of death or injury of a deployed parent, and how to meet those needs and communicate effectively with military families.

While many of the studies and research explored and cited by Cramm and Tam-Seto were from abroad, the findings are important in better understanding military families in Canada, who share many of the same “military life stressors” as their American counterparts – in particular, high mobility, frequent periods of separation and risk.14 The research in this scoping review study suggests that schools and educational professionals with a high degree of military literacy (awareness of these stressors and military family experiences) can play a major role in facilitating transitions among youth. Canadian-specific research with school communities will be important in the coming years.

Resources and information facilitate support for military youth

Enhancing military literacy among educational professionals can play an important role in supporting military youth and their families, and many have expressed a desire for resources to help them with this goal. Resources such as School Counsellors Working with Military and Veteran Families, published in 2017 in collaboration with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, can play an important role in creating and strengthening “military-literate” teams of school counsellors (and their colleagues) in schools across Canada by providing information about the military and Veteran lifestyle and sharing tailored resources.

Military and Veteran families are strong, diverse and resilient, and they make unique and valuable contributions to communities across the country. Many experience high mobility, which affects the well-being of military-connected children and youth, and, in turn, on the well-being and operational effectiveness of serving CAF members.15 Enhancing understanding of their experiences and the “military lifestyle” among educational professionals and others who study, serve and support families will be key to ensuring that communities and workplaces are inclusive environments in which these families can thrive.

 

Read the full study:

Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), “School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review,” Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention (March 1, 2018). Link: .

 


 

Emily Beckett is a professional writer living in Ottawa, Ontario.

Published on May 22, 2018

This article was reviewed by Col. (retd) Russ Mann, Special Advisor to the Vanier Institute of the Family and former Director of Military Family Services, as well as Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C).

Notes

  1. Heidi Cramm et al., “The Current State of Military Family Research,” Transition (January 19, 2016).
  2. Kerry Sudom, “Quality of Life among Military Families: Results from the 2008/2009 Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (August 2010). Link: .
  3. Learn more with A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada.
  4. Sudom, 2010.
  5. Pamela Arnold et al., “Needs of Military-Connected School Divisions in South-Eastern Virginia,” Old Dominion University Center for Educational Partnerships (September 2011), link:; Angela J. Huebner et al., “Parental Deployment and Youth in Military Families: Exploring Uncertainty and Ambiguous Loss,” Family Relations 56(2) (April 2007), link:; and Kristin N. Mmari et al., “Exploring the Role of Social Connectedness among Military Youth: Perceptions from Youth, Parents, and School Personnel,” Child and Youth Care Forum, 39(5) (October 2010), link:.
  6. Sanela Dursun and Kerry Sudom, “Impacts of Military Life on Families: Results from the Perstempo Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (November 2009). Link:.
  7. Prairies Research Associates, CAF Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results (September 2017).
  8. Cramm, 2016.
  9. Heidi Cramm, “Health Care Experiences of Military Families of Children with Autism,” Transition (November 6, 2017).
  10. Cramm, 2017.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Maire Sinha, “Canadians’ Connections with Family and Friends,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated November 30, 2015). Link:.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Community Belonging,” Healthy People, Healthy Places, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-229-X (January 2010). Link:.
  14. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, “On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium,” Special Report to the Minister of National Defence (November 2013). Link: https://bit.ly/2q6hi2a.
  15. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, 2013.

 

A Snapshot of Family Diversity in Canada (February 2018)


For more than 50 years, the Vanier Institute of the Family has monitored, studied and discussed trends in families and family life in Canada. From the beginning, the evidence has consistently made one thing clear: there is no single story to tell, because families are as diverse as the people who comprise them.

This has always been the case, whether one examines family structures, family identities, family living arrangements, family lifestyles, family experiences or whether one looks at the individual traits of family members, such as their ethnocultural background, immigration status, sexual orientation or their diverse abilities.

Building on our recent infographic, Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update), our new Statistical Snapshot publication provides an expanded and more detailed portrait of modern families in Canada, as well as some of the trends that have shaped our vibrant and evolving family landscape over the years. Based on current data and trend analysis, this overview shows that diversity is, was and will continue to be a key characteristic of family life for generations to come – a reality that contributes to Canada’s dynamic and evolving society.

Highlights include:

  • According to Statistics Canada, there were 9.8 million Census families living across Canada in 2016.
  • 66% of families in Canada include a married couple, 18% are living common-law and 16% are lone-parent families – diverse family structures that continuously evolve.
  • Among Canada’s provinces, people in Quebec stand out with regard to couple/relationship formation, with a greater share living common-law than the rest of Canada (40% vs. 16%, respectively) and fewer married couples (60% vs. 84%, respectively) in 2016.
  • In 2016, 1.7 million people in Canada reported having an Aboriginal identity: 58% First Nations, 35% Métis, 3.9% Inuk (Inuit), 1.4% other Aboriginal identity and 1.3% with more than one Aboriginal identity.
  • In 2016, 22% of people in Canada reported that they were born outside the country – up from 16% in 1961.
  • In 2016, more than 1 in 5 people in Canada (22%) reported belonging to a visible minority group, 3 in 10 of whom were born in Canada.
  • 73,000 same-sex couples were counted in the 2016 Census, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • In 2016, there were nearly 404,000 multi-generational households in Canada – the fastest-growing household type since 2001 (+38%).
  • In 2011, 22% of Inuk (Inuit) grandparents, 14% of First Nations grandparents and 5% of Métis grandparents lived with their grandchildren, compared with 3.9% of among non-Indigenous grandparents.
  • In 2014, 1 in 5 Canadians aged 25 to 64 reported living with at least one disability. Disability rates were higher for women (23%) than men (18%).
  • More than one-quarter (27%) of Canadians surveyed in 2014 said religion is “very important” in their lives.
  • One-quarter of Canadians reported “no religious affiliation” in the 2011 Census (most recent data available), up from 17% in 2001.

 

Health Care Experiences of Military Families of Children with Autism


Heidi Cramm, Ph.D.

Military families in Canada are highly mobile, relocating three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts.1 This mobility has been found to complicate access to health care for these families, most of whom live off-base (85%, compared with only 20% in the mid-1990s) and rely on provincial and territorial civilian health care systems. This has an acute impact on the 8.2% of military families who have children with special needs, including those living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).2

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 68 children. While this condition primarily affects social communication, often making it difficult for people living with ASD to share enjoyment or emotional experiences with others, it has a range of symptoms and associated behaviours:

  • Approximately 25% of people living with ASD are non-verbal, unable to use or respond to non-verbal communication (or are otherwise delayed in its use), such as pointing, gesturing and so forth, especially to indicate something of interest.
  • People with ASD often have difficulties understanding abstract language/communication such as metaphors, sarcasm, colloquialisms and jokes.
  • Repetitive behaviours, such as rocking, hand-flapping, finger movements and so forth, are common among people with ASD.
  • People living with ASD are often highly sensitive to change, and they are “creatures of habit.”
  • Most people with ASD have a range of sensory dysfunctions that vary widely (e.g., extreme sensitivities to noise, touch, smells, tastes, etc.) while many also exhibit a high pain threshold.
  • Some children with ASD have exceptional abilities in music, visual and academic skills.
  • In addition, up to 90% of children with ASD will have a co-existing medical and/or psycho-behavioural disorder, such as ADHD, anxiety, sleep disorders, feeding disorders, seizures, intellectual disability and gastro-intestinal disorders.

Early Intervention Supports Treatment for Children with ASD

Research suggests that early intervention is most impactful to the prognosis of ASD,3 and it can enhance the development of learning, communication and social skills for people living with the condition. Autism is typically diagnosed in early childhood, even as early as 18 to 24 months of age.

In many provinces, families experience long waiting times when seeking early diagnosis and/or intervention due to a “bottlenecking” of access to appropriate diagnostic centres – delays that can sometimes exceed two years.

Between 21% and 27% of military families do not have a family doctor, compared with 15% among the general population.4 Since many health services and treatments are accessed through family doctors, this discrepancy means that military families can have a harder time accessing services for children with special needs, including those with ASD. With each move, families who are moving toward the top of wait-lists for services find themselves back at the bottom.

Since many health services and treatments are accessed through family doctors, this discrepancy means that military families can have a harder time accessing services for children with special needs.

Exploring the Experiences of Military Families of Children with ASD

In a recent qualitative study, military families who have a child with ASD were interviewed to explore and describe their experiences navigating health care systems on behalf of their children.5

Many of these families reported that they had a hard time getting their child’s condition noticed, validated and medically diagnosed. Families generally found it difficult to get the assessment for ASD, and this delay in assessment and subsequent diagnosis meant that, for many, their access to intervention services was held up significantly.

One parent explained that their family experienced delays in accessing care for their son after moving because many of the programs available in their new community were for people living with autism who have a diagnosis. Since the family didn’t realize that they would need to have the diagnosis in hand when they sought care in their new neighbourhood, they went ahead and moved without having one, only to find that their son couldn’t access these programs as a result. Access to care for their child was delayed by months.

Difficulties accessing care can have an impact on family finances. Frustrated with wait-lists and the implications of delayed services for their child’s long-term development, many families opted instead to pay directly for private assessment services. One participant described making the decision to seek out private assessment and intervention because the wait-lists would exceed their posting tenure: “We paid privately… because the wait-list was too long. Once we had that diagnosis, [a community organization] put us on a wait-list for [Applied Behaviour Analysis] therapy. That wait-list is two years long. So we were never going to see the end of that wait-list either. So… we started paying privately for him.”

Frustrated with wait-lists and the implications of delayed services for their child’s long-term development, many families opted instead to pay directly for private assessment services.

At times, families waiting for care said they wound up moving again before their child’s name made it to the top of the local wait-list. For some families, service access was within sight, and then another posting forced them to move and start all over again. One participant shared that after waiting for some time for their child to get into a program, they finally received confirmation from their intervention team that the child would be able to start in September – which was of little help to them at that point, since they were going to be moving again in July.

With services varying widely from province to province (along with the corresponding eligibility and funding), some families reported consternation over losing services that they had previously had access to but were simply not available in their new location. One participant described this experience, “We realized the school [in the current province] didn’t offer the same things that they do in [the previous province]… there was nothing they could do…”

These variations also exist from region to region within the same province. For example, another participant described having to remove her child from a highly beneficial education program because they were moving, but then found they were unable to place him in a similar program in the new city because the program didn’t exist there (even though they were in the same province). Families in several other provinces described similar circumstances when moving interprovincially or intraprovincially.

Ongoing Pursuit of Health Care Affects Family Well-Being

While military families are highly resilient, difficulty accessing health care services for their children with ASD can have an impact on their own and their family’s well-being. Participants in the study commonly described frustration and confusion over the daunting tasks of sorting out how to get their children whatever services were possible. One participant described “bursting into tears” after finally getting to the top of a wait-list for intervention only to find the service did not meet expectations.

Some participants described having to draw on support from extended family to help care for their children. One participant said her parents retired and moved to the family’s current posting to assist because “they knew [our son] needed more help and we needed a break.” Others lamented the fact that extended family were too far away to really provide any assistance and were “just not able to be there.” Participants’ experiences with Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) were diverse, as the available services varied from base to base.

Parents often experienced strain on their relationships with their spouse or partner as their efforts to find caregiver supports and develop local networks can be complicated by training exercises, deployments and postings. As a result, hard choices are sometimes made related to whether or not a new posting, which comes with career opportunity, is feasible given the health care implications for the child with ASD.

Parents often experienced strain on their relationships with their spouse or partner as their efforts to find caregiver supports and develop local networks can be complicated by training exercises, deployments and postings.

Some participants described the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) member making career decisions such as changing trades or requesting a specific posting for the benefit of the child, even though it could have an impact on their career trajectory and, by extension, the family as a whole. One participant said their family would consider living apart (i.e., imposed restriction) if it meant the child would receive the services needed, even though this would create a protracted separation that could have a significantly negative impact on the family as a whole.

In some military families, a civilian spouse may need to limit their involvement in the paid labour force to offset the caregiving requirements of the child. Such “trade-offs” are common in military families, with more than half (51%) of surveyed CAF spouses reporting that they have made some career sacrifices because of their partner’s military service, according to a 2009 study from the Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA). This limited workforce involvement can further constrain family finances that may be needed to pay for private services for their children. This can have a greater impact on dual-service families (families with two serving CAF members).

Military Families Express Desire for Navigation Support

Some military family members identified a few ways that could be considered to enhance the support for other military families who have children with ASD. Many expressed the desire to connect with other military families who are already at the new location to help map out options for how to access ASD-related services; some wanted this to be a formalized opportunity whereas others felt it would be important that it happen outside of official channels.

Many [families] expressed the desire to connect with other military families who are already at the new location to help map out options for how to access ASD-related services.

Opportunities to provide augmented and current information for families were also discussed, with some expressing a desire for a single point person who can help them navigate across school, community and health services. However, one participant indicated this type of formalized approach could result in parents receiving “filtered information” without any indication of how effective the services really are.

This qualitative study raised some important issues, but there is much left to learn. How might some of these opportunities be realized within existing formal and informal networks for incoming families? How could the disruptions and delays to health care access that military families report be reduced across provinces? What, if any, kinds of options might there be to offset the financial implications for parents when publicly funded services are absent or inaccessible? Are the differences for those who move within provinces similar to those who move across provinces? Exploring these questions through further research – with the insights and participation of families – will be key in supporting Canada’s diverse military families.

 

Dr. Heidi Cramm is the Interim Co-Scientific Director at the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) and recipient of the 2016 Colonel Russell Mann Military Family Health Research Award.

 

Notes


  1. Heidi Cramm et al., “Making Military Families in Canada A Research Priority,” Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health 1:2 (November 2015). Link: http://bit.ly/2zx46G1.
  2. Learn more with A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada. Link: https://bit.ly/2fM3xmP.
  3. Geraldine Dawson, “Early Behavioral Intervention, Brain Plasticity, and the Prevention of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Development and Psychopathology 20:03 (July 7, 2008). Link: 
  4. Nathan Battams, “A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada,” Statistical Snapshots (November 2016). Link: https://bit.ly/2fM3xmP.
  5. Most of the families who participated in the study were married, and one-third of them had both parents serving in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Most of the families represented serving members in the Regular Forces, primarily in the Army.

Infographic: Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update)

Download the infographic


 

The Vanier Institute of the Family has now been exploring families and family life in Canada for more than 50 years. Throughout this half-century of studying, discussing and engaging with families from coast to coast to coast, one thing has been clear from the outset: families in Canada are as diverse as the people who comprise them.

This has always been the case, whether one examines family structures, family identities, family living arrangements, family lifestyles, family experiences or whether one looks at the individual traits of family members such as their ethnocultural background, immigration status, sexual orientation or their diverse abilities.

These parents, children, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours all make unique and valuable contributions to our lives, our workplaces and our communities. As former Governor General of Canada, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, said at the Families in Canada Conference 2015, “Families, no matter their background or their makeup, bring new and special patterns to our diverse Canadian tapestry.”

Using new data from the 2016 Census, the Vanier Institute has published an infographic on family diversity in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • 66% of families in Canada include a married couple, 18% are living common-law, and 16% are lone-parent families – diverse family structures that continuously evolve.
  • 518,000 stepfamilies live across the country, accounting for 12% of couples with children under age 25.
  • 404,000 households in Canada are multi-generational,1 and nearly 33,000 children live in skip-generation households.2
  • 1.7M people in Canada reported having an Aboriginal identity (58.4% First Nations, 35.1% Métis, 3.9% Inuit, 1.4% other Aboriginal identity, 1.3% more than one Aboriginal identity).
  • 360,000 couples in Canada are mixed unions,3 accounting for 4.6% of all married and common-law couples.
  • 73,000 same-sex couples were counted in the 2016 Census, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • 54,000 military families live in Canada, including 40,000 Regular Force military families and 14,000 Reserve force military families.

 

Download the infographic.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and will be updated periodically as new data emerges (older versions are available upon request). Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

 

Notes


  1. Containing three or more generations.
  2. Living with grandparent(s) with no middle (i.e. parent) generation present.
  3. Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as “a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups.” Link: .

 

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.1

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.2

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.3 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.4 Research has shown that distance coaching can result in significant diagnosis decreases among children with disruptive behaviour or anxiety conditions.5

“[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.

 

Notes

  1. Ann Douglas, Parenting Through the Storm (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2015).
  2. Heidi Cramm et al., “The Current State of Military Family Research,” Transition (January 19, 2016).
  3. Sharanjit Uppal, “Employment Patterns of Families with Children,” Insights on Canadian Society (June 24, 2015), Statistics Canada catalogue no. 75-006-X, .
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Building Inclusive Communities for Canada’s Military and Veteran Families

Col (ret) Russell Mann, OMM, MSM, CD, MBA, PMP

A few decades ago, military families in Canada lived apart from the rest of society. They went to military schools. They practised their faith behind the barbed wire fences of military installations. In many ways, they were a mystery to most Canadians.

But all of that has changed. Whereas 20 years ago, 80% of military families lived on a base, today 85% live off base. Military and Veteran children now attend schools, practise their faith and go shopping alongside civilian families in Canada. They seek health care from the same doctors, family health teams, clinics and hospitals.

For most Canadians, the transition among military and Veteran families from bases to civilian communities has gone largely unnoticed. Now living in civilian communities, these families are neither in the enclave they once knew, nor fully included in the rest of society. Professionals who study, serve and/or support them sometimes fail to understand the impact that mobility, separation and risk have on military and Veteran families.

The transition from military bases to civilian communities is a significant shift for military and Veteran families. It means that the people now serving and supporting them need to be versed in military literacy; it also requires a thorough understanding of their unique lifestyle, perspectives and needs in order to provide these families with effective and equitable programs and services.

Communities rallying to support military and Veteran families

In 2015, the Canadian Armed Forces and the Vanier Institute of the Family partnered to bring government, business and community leaders together to form the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle. The Leadership Circle is unique, and its members are prominent and diverse, including organizations such as the Canadian Child Care Federation, Autism Speaks Canada, Environics Communications, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Accenture and many more.

This collaboration has a single purpose: to strengthen the community of support for Canada’s military and Veteran families through knowledge mobilization, relationship-building and the coordination of existing and emerging projects and services. By leveraging the skills, talents and expertise of key community leaders, the Leadership Circle is building awareness, capacity, competency and community regarding military and Veteran families in Canada.

“The Leadership Circle has a single purpose: to strengthen the community of support for Canada’s military and Veteran families through knowledge mobilization, relationship-building and the coordination of existing and emerging projects and services.”

The Leadership Circle’s inaugural, first-of-its-kind meeting was held in 2015 to develop a strategy for collaboration, cooperation and communication across the many organizations interested in enhancing programs and services for military and Veteran families, and to develop a shared strategic plan for implementation over the next two to five years.

Discussion at the inaugural meeting focused on sharing individual and collective plans and priorities, goals and objectives, strengths and capabilities, and tools and resources. By the end of that first meeting, participants had a clear understanding of the unique activities and approaches being taken to support military and Veteran families, how they could leverage their collective resources to maximize the outcomes of each individual effort, and how they planned to communicate their progress as the initiative progresses.

During its second annual meeting in 2016, Leadership Circle members committed to creating Military and Veteran Families in Canada: Collaborations and Partnerships – a perpetual, bilingual and free resource that profiles initiatives from diverse organizations across the country. This compendium informs organizations about partnerships and projects, inspires engagement, facilitates resource-sharing and helps coordinate activities to strengthen support for military and Veteran families.

“Organizations profiled in the compendium have incorporated military literacy into their environments, programs and services that serve military and Veteran families.”

One of the goals of the Leadership Circle and the compendium is to enhance military literacy in Canada – awareness of the experiences of military and Veteran families and the unique life stressors (such as mobility, separation and risk) that have an impact on their family life. Organizations profiled in the compendium have incorporated military literacy into their environments, programs and services that serve military and Veteran families exclusively, majorly or occasionally.

Thinking across boundaries facilitates strong networks of support

The Leadership Circle and compendium initiatives have shown us that we can accomplish more and extend our reach by working together. Thinking across organizations and institutional boundaries allows us to see the bigger picture and to mobilize community support across the country. Leadership Circle members are passionate and diverse, and we will continue to discover interconnections and interdependency among stakeholders, service providers and family members; it’s about relationships, and we look forward to helping these relationships grow.

 

Download .

 

 

Colonel (ret) Russell Mann is a former director of Military Family Services. Though recently retired, he continues to champion military and Veteran families.

Work–Family Conflict Among Single Parents in the Canadian Armed Forces

Alla Skomorovsky, PhD

The demands of military life can be particularly stressful for military families due to deployments, relocations, foreign residency, periodic family separations, risk of injury or death of the military member, and long and unpredictable duty hours.

Although military families can usually manage demands individually, research has shown that competing and intersecting demands leave some feeling overwhelmed. This can be particularly true for single parents in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), who often manage these multiple roles with fewer resources. This could help explain why enlisted single parents (men and women) have been shown in previous research to be less satisfied with military life than their married counterparts.

Work–family conflict occurs when demands in the work domain are incompatible with demands in the family domain. Despite growing evidence that work–family conflict could be a considerable problem in Canada’s military families, the number of studies examining this topic is relatively small. In a recent qualitative study, the majority of single CAF parents reported that they were able to balance work and family life, but they admitted it was a challenge, primarily because many single parents are often the sole caregivers and financial providers for their families. As one study participant put it,

“So far, the balance between my professional life and my personal life has been quite good. But it’s difficult of course when it’s just me – having to stay late, for example, and still having to work on my phone. I have to have a BlackBerry because I can’t stay late – not as late as I used to anyway. But pretty good, overall.”

Little research exists about work–family conflict in Canada’s military families

Single CAF parents may face multiple deployments and must deal with being separated from their children and not being able to care for them. Caregiver arrangements may be more complicated in these families, as, for example, the children may have to relocate to another city to live with grandparents when their mother or father leaves for a mission. In addition, single parents who experience frequent relocations may find it challenging to establish or re-establish local social networks, which are often a valuable source of support.

A few studies have suggested that single-parent military families have unique military life-related challenges and substantial work–family conflict, but there isn’t much research about this topic in a Canadian context. Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA) conducted a study to address this gap and explore the main concerns of single CAF parents. An electronic survey was distributed to a random sample of Regular Force CAF members who had children 19 years of age or younger and were single, divorced, separated or widowed. In total, the results were available for 552 single parents.

Single parents identified financial strain as a top concern; this is consistent with previous research showing that economic hardship is a leading cause of stress for single parents, both military and civilian. The second challenge for single parents was the worry about their child’s health and well-being. Although it has not been previously identified in research of civilian single parents, it is possible that this type of strain was high due to frequent parental absences related to deployment, training, unpredictable/inconsistent hours of work or overtime, common aspects of a military lifestyle. More than 60% of respondents identified financial strain and worry about health and well-being to be of considerable or extreme concern for them (see Figure 1). A large number of these parents (over 50%) were also concerned about dealing with adolescent years, doing the right thing for their children and their heavy demands and responsibilities.

 

Single-CAF-Parents_Chart1

Managing parental and work responsibilities is not impossible, but it is hard

Single parents were asked to rate the extent to which their responsibilities as a service member and as a parent are in conflict. Most do not find it impossible to meet both parental and work responsibilities (see Figure 2). However, about 55% of respondents believe that it is not easy to be both a good parent and service member and feel divided between work and family responsibilities. About 44% of these parents believe it is hard to balance military and parental roles. This is consistent with previous research showing that single military parents are susceptible to experiencing work and family conflict.

 

Single-CAF-Parents_Chart2

 

Further, participants were asked two questions about family life challenges due to occupational demands. When asked about the influence of work on family life, the vast majority of single military parents reported that work interferes with family life to at least some extent (see Figure 3). Approximately 70% of respondents noted that occupational demands sometimes conflicted with their family life, and 64% disclosed that they had missed family events due to occupational requirements.

In order to examine organizational support available to single parents in greater detail, single parents were asked whether they were aware of CAF programs and policies that could assist them in managing family and work demands. The results demonstrate that many single CAF parents are not aware of services available to them. For example, less than 10% of the participants mentioned that they were aware of Military Family Resource Centre services available to single military parents. This feeling was shared by a participant in the previously-mentioned qualitative study:

“Not everything is well advertised; you need to go and ask. If you are moving to the larger city, look for housing close to a [Military Family Resource Centre].”

Single-CAF-Parents_Chart3

 

Single CAF parents would benefit from work–family supports and greater awareness

Many single CAF parents are thriving, but the work–family conflict remains a considerable concern for some. A qualitative study participant expressed:

“I’m mainly concerned that being in the Canadian Forces may throw something unexpected at me, where I will be left in a position to choose between my career or my children.”

Single CAF parents could benefit from an increased awareness of, and access to, family assistance programs (e.g., Family Care Plans) and other programs, including counselling services. Furthermore, increasing awareness among managers and leaders about the work–family conflict challenges of single CAF parents could foster a more flexible and accommodating work environment. Finally, the ability of these parents to manage work and family responsibilities could be enhanced by tailoring programs and services to single parents (e.g., support groups) in order to increase emotional and instrumental support.

Although this research examines the main challenges and work–family conflict among single-parent CAF families, this is only a first step toward a full understanding of their well-being and unique needs. To further address the current gaps in knowledge, DGMPRA has developed a comprehensive research program related to military families, collaborating extensively with academia (e.g., via Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research). This body of research seeks to enhance the lives of Canadian military personnel, Veterans and their families. Supporting families is codified in the Canadian Forces Family Covenant, which acknowledges the immutable relationship between the state of military families and the CAF operational capacity.

 

We recognize the important role families play in enabling the operational effectiveness of the Canadian Forces and we acknowledge the unique nature of military life. We honour the inherent resilience of families and we pay tribute to the sacrifices of families made in support of Canada…

Canadian Forces Family Covenant

 

Consistent with the Family Covenant, it is important to continue developing the expert knowledge necessary to care for these families and to find ways to best meet their unique needs and ensure their individual and family well-being.

 


Dr. Alla Skomorovsky is a research psychologist at Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA), where she is a leader of the Military Families Research team. She conducts quantitative and qualitative research in the areas of resilience, stress, coping, personality and well-being of military families.

Dr. Skomorovsky received the inaugural Colonel Russell Mann Award for her research on work–family conflict and well-being among CAF parents at Forum 2015 – an event hosted by the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research.

 

Suggested Reading

T. Allen, D. Herst, E. Bruck and M. Sutton, “Consequences Associated with Work-to-Family Conflict: A Review and Agenda for Future Research,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5(2), 278–308 (2000).

G.L. Bowen, D.K. Orthner and L. Zimmerman, “Family Adaptation of Single Parents in the United States Army: An Empirical Analysis of Work Stressors and Adaptive Resources,” Family Relations, 42, 293–304 (1993).

A.L. Day and T. Chamberlain, “Committing to Your Work, Spouse, and Children: Implications for Work–Family Conflict,” Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(1), 116–130 (2006).

A. Skomorovsky and A. Bullock, The Impact of Military Life on Single-Parent Military Families: Well-Being and Resilience (Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis Technical Report DRDC-RDDC-2015-R099), Ottawa, ON: Defence Research and Development Canada (2015).

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 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. . “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. . “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. . 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.”