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