The following post was written by Kirsten Woodward, MSW, LCSW – YA-03, director of Family Programs Division, Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, and first appeared on DoDLive’s Medical Monday blog.
Having served as a mental health care provider for servicemembers and their families throughout the last several years, I have seen firsthand the challenges families face with the effects of combat, multiple deployments and high operational tempos. Children who were once able to cope just fine, become anxious or withdrawn; parents who used to function at the highest levels, now feel overwhelmed to the point that just putting food on the table can be a nearly insurmountable task; and deployed parents returning home find that their kids no longer even speak to them. The confusion, frustration and at times, devastation these situations can cause has been a growing concern for me personally and the Navy as whole.
There are many wonderful providers who care very much about helping these families. However, with Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) filled to capacity, community providers with lengthy waiting lists, and Family Service Centers already going above and beyond the call of duty to serve these families, it soon became clear to me and the Navy that these services weren’t enough to address the growing needs of our military families.
In 2007, Navy Medicine answered the call. Clearly there was a gap for these families. The providers and Family Service Center staff needed a bridge, but most of all, the families needed help.
Project FOCUS (Families Over Coming Under Stress) is a prevention service designed to help families address the stressors related to deployment. The program includes the entire family and is customized to suit its specific needs. FOCUS is offered in several formats: family consultations, family level training, small group training, and workshops. FOCUS builds strong connections with other military family providers to support a network of care for families.
Deployments affect both the servicemember and the family. During wartime, routines and roles are disrupted. Deployments and reintegration may cause stress for children and spouses. FOCUS is based on programs that show positive outcomes for families facing multiple challenges and the program has demonstrated a positive impact on the emotional health of parents and children.
In FOCUS, families develop a shared understanding of how their own deployment experience creates a unique story to enhance resiliency and prepare for the next deployment. FOCUS helps a family tell its own story. It teaches family members how to talk together and assists with problem solving and goal setting. Family members learn how to support each other and prepare for future challenges.
This past June, FOCUS was praised as a best practice program by the Office of the Secretary of Defense Child and Family Policy. The FOCUS team was asked to provide support in the expansion of our program to select Army and Air Force sites. We are thrilled to continue to extend and expand these services to military families and I personally could not be more proud to be a part of it.
Thank you to all those who’ve supported FOCUS throughout our development and initial success—we look forward to continuing to support you.