USA — Navy Program Puts ‘FOCUS’ on Military Families

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2011 — A Navy pro­gram is equip­ping ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies with the skills they need to weath­er the psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges bred by a decade of war.
Project FOCUS, or Fam­i­lies Over­Com­ing Under Stress, bol­sters com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cop­ing skills among fam­i­lies impact­ed by mul­ti­ple deploy­ments and the vis­i­ble and invis­i­ble wounds of war.

“Fam­i­lies make such sac­ri­fices to sup­port ser­vice mem­bers and their coun­try,” said Kirsten Wood­ward, fam­i­ly pro­grams divi­sion direc­tor for the Navy Bureau of Med­i­cine and Surgery. “It’s impor­tant for us to sup­port fam­i­lies in the same man­ner in which they are sacrificing.” 

Navy offi­cials cre­at­ed the pro­gram in March 2008 after observ­ing the grow­ing effects of wartime stress on fam­i­ly mem­bers’ psy­cho­log­i­cal health. Lit­tle research had been con­duct­ed on the impact of war on fam­i­lies up to that point, Wood­ward not­ed, but what they could find indi­cat­ed a grow­ing need. 

“Back in 2007, we start­ed notic­ing the effects, and knew it was impor­tant to take a look at pre­vent­ing fam­i­lies from going into health cri­sis,” she said. “We want­ed to devel­op some­thing that would be mean­ing­ful and build resilience and health.” 

Offi­cials designed the pro­gram to address the fam­i­ly as a whole, tak­ing into account the com­mu­ni­ty they live in and the mil­i­tary sup­port sys­tems at their fin­ger­tips. As a result, the pro­gram com­pris­es three parts: an out­er and inner tier and a bull’s‑eye.

The out­er tier, Wood­ward explained, focus­es on pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion and aware­ness to the com­mu­ni­ties in which mil­i­tary fam­i­lies live and work. The pro­gram edu­cates com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers –- includ­ing social ser­vices, fam­i­ly ser­vice providers, med­ical ser­vices and schools — on the stres­sors mil­i­tary fam­i­lies con­front and how the com­mu­ni­ty can best sup­port them. 

The inner tier is cen­tered on edu­cat­ing and build­ing cop­ing skills among ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies, Wood­ward said. The pro­gram pro­vides infor­ma­tion on poten­tial stress fac­tors and the skills that can mit­i­gate the impact of mul­ti­ple deployments. 

The program’s cen­ter, or bull’s‑eye, is the inter­ven­tion piece, she said. In this seg­ment, fam­i­lies need­ing extra care under­go eight to 10 indi­vid­ual train­ing ses­sions aimed at help­ing them work through issues. The process starts when a fam­i­ly comes in seek­ing help. 

“It can be a kid act­ing out or a mom or dad act­ing dis­en­gaged,” Wood­ward said. “We get every­one on a shared lan­guage and shared under­stand­ing.” Experts take the fam­i­ly through the deploy­ment time­line to iden­ti­fy when issues arose, and to “get every­one on the same page,” she explained. They look at fam­i­ly his­to­ry, the source of fam­i­ly dis­tress and areas of poten­tial change. 

Fam­i­lies are taught emo­tion­al reg­u­la­tion so they can bet­ter under­stand their emo­tions and how to com­mu­ni­cate them, active lis­ten­ing, prob­lem-solv­ing, goal-set­ting and how to man­age deploy­ment and com­bat stress reminders. 

The col­or-cod­ed stress con­tin­u­um is a pop­u­lar pro­gram tool used to aid com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Wood­ward said. Fam­i­ly mem­bers learn to describe how they’re feel­ing in terms such as green, orange and red. 

“A child may not be sure how to say, ‘I’m scared,’ or ‘I’m miss­ing dad or mom,’ but may be more com­fort­able say­ing, ‘I’m in the red,’ ” Wood­ward explained. “It’s a lan­guage they can plug into.” 

Or, a mom who is hav­ing a bad day at work can say she’s feel­ing orange when she comes home, Wood­ward said. By doing so, the chil­dren will know that mom isn’t mad at them, but sim­ply needs some decom­pres­sion time. “It’s a great skill-set to quick­ly and read­i­ly use,” she said. 

The pro­gram takes all facets of health into account, Wood­ward said. Experts may ask chap­lains to step in to help a fam­i­ly in spir­i­tu­al dis­tress. Or, they can refer fam­i­ly mem­bers to ser­vices that address phys­i­cal or psy­cho­log­i­cal fitness. 

The goal is to pro­vide fam­i­lies with the tools need­ed to address issues long after they leave the pro­gram, Wood­ward said. 

To reach the broad­est base of fam­i­lies pos­si­ble, offi­cials offer onsite and online pro­gram options. 

The pro­gram was insti­tut­ed two years ago with sev­en sites and has grown expo­nen­tial­ly since, Wood­ward said. It expand­ed to 14 sites with­in the first year and has now reached 23 sites mil­i­tary­wide. Each site includes about three to five experts — includ­ing psy­chol­o­gists, social work­ers and ther­a­pists — as well as a site direc­tor, and are col­lo­cat­ed on bases and in fam­i­ly friend­ly envi­ron­ments, such as fam­i­ly ser­vice cen­ters or chap­lains’ offices. 

For the online option, mil­i­tary fam­i­lies can vis­it the project’s web­site at, Wood­ward said. In a Web-based train­ing appli­ca­tion called “Focus World,” peo­ple can cre­ate an avatar fam­i­ly and go through the program’s com­po­nents vir­tu­al­ly. This vir­tu­al appli­ca­tion is par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful for reserve or geo­graph­i­cal­ly sep­a­rat­ed mil­i­tary fam­i­lies, she added. 

The pro­gram is open to Navy and Marine Corps fam­i­lies, as well as fam­i­lies of the Army and Air Force, both active and reserve. 

The feed­back from par­tic­i­pants so far has been pos­i­tive, Wood­ward said, with par­ents report­ing a greater under­stand­ing of their children’s needs, increased resilience and a greater sense of support. 

“Fam­i­lies are what we come home to at the end of the day,” she said. “It’s impor­tant for us to look at our fam­i­lies, our chil­dren, and make sure they’re being sup­port­ed in every way we can.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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