Pilot program helps Army families cope with deployments

| March 5, 2010 | 0 Comments

Bill Mossman
News Editor

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Army families have been learning valuable training and coping strategies to help combat stress and separation anxieties caused by deployments — thanks to a pilot program that’s been in operation, here, since last fall.

“Families Over Coming Under Stress” is a program designed to build resiliency among military families dealing with combat-operational stress.

Co-developed by the UCLA Center for Community Health and the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, the prevention program provides useful tools specifically for at-risk families with children.

“Basically, we help families look at their strengths and find ways to making their strengths stronger,” said program site coordinator Devin Price. “We’re a prevention, proactive-type program, teaching families to prevent conflict and stress, and stay ahead of their problems.”

According to Price, about 1.2 million children in the United States today have an active duty military parent. Since deployments have a way of taking a toll on both Soldiers and their family members, FOCUS offers many of these families the necessary training to develop core resiliency skills such as communication and family growth during times of war.

Parents are taught to recognize operational stress levels and develop what Price calls “a family narrative,” all while learning to acknowledge each other’s perspective.

Meanwhile, children who may be dealing with anger issues due to a parent’s deployment, are taught to manage stress levels and feelings, as well as effectively communicate and problem solve.

“We don’t work on what’s wrong with the family,” Price explained. “We work on what’s right, in the hope of making it more right.”

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery initially implemented the program for the Navy and the Marine Corps, according to Price. Following the program’s success with those military branches, the Office of the Secretary of Defense decided to open FOCUS up to the Army and Air Force, as well.

The OSD began providing limited funding in early 2009 for Army pilot programs in a few select locations, including right here in Hawaii.

The Wheeler-based program officially kicked off Sept. 11, 2009.

Since then, five Army families have been participating in FOCUS sessions, Price said. Assisting those Army families are two resiliency trainers, with a full-time administrative coordinator expected to be hired shortly.

Within the next few weeks, the Wheeler location will be occupied by a full staff, Monday through Friday, and an open house is tentatively scheduled for June.

Aside from skill-building classes that are held monthly, FOCUS participants immerse themselves in family resiliency training.

“This is where families come in to see us individually, and develop skills to help them better deal with the challenges of living in the military, specifically around wartime deployment,” Price said.

She added that one of the benefits of the program is that it’s adaptable to each family’s needs.

“We work in family friendly hours, including the evenings and weekends,” Price explained. “If the family has a precocious 2-year-old, for example, we’ll work with that kind of family even though it’s not the typical age range. Ideally, we only work with children between 4 and 18, but we’ll rarely say no if the family makes such a request.

“We also work with families during deployment and after deployment to help with re-integration. So our program is really applicable at any point in the deployment cycle,” Price added.

Anyone may sign up for the program, she said, “I think everyone is appropriate for the program, with a few caveats.

“One, if there is active domestic violence or child abuse in the home, we would not be the right program. Two, we only work with families with children. And three, we do not counsel families or put them under any type of therapy.”







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