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Accessing service family supports and needs

Queen’s graduate researchers investigate needed support for families of Canadian public safety and military personnel.

Baby's hands on adults' hands.
PhD students at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy are bridging the gaps on research-based solutions to adequately support families of Canadian Armed Force members and public safety personnel. (Unsplash/ Liv Bruce)

Canadian Armed Forces members and public safety personnel, such as police officers and firefighters, are some of the professionals in our society whose occupations involve risking their lives. The unique demands of their careers can lead to physical and emotional stress, and their family members can be equally affected by the uncertain and stressful nature of these lines of work.

There is currently little research on the experiences and needs of families of these individuals, and adequate support initiatives are required. Uncovering what the needs of these families are and developing research-based solutions will benefit the family members, these professionals, and society.

Aiming to fill these gaps are Queen’s PhD candidates Rachel Richmond and Shannon Hill, both at the School of Rehabilitation Therapy under the supervision of Dr. Heidi Cramm. Dr. Cramm is the lead of the Families Matter Research Group , an interdisciplinary initiative that produces research, builds capacity, and engages with families and stakeholders of military, Veteran, and public safety personnel.

Stressors experienced by loved ones

Richmond’s research looks at the challenges experienced by families of public safety personnel in Canada. She is currently conducting interviews with significant others of police officers, firefighters, paramedics, correctional officers, and 911 dispatchers.

Rachel Richmond
Rachel Richmond

While families feel may find meaning in supporting the work of their loved ones, they worry about safety and the unpredictable nature of these occupations.

Additionally, as many of these professionals have unconventionally long shifts, their significant others often carry the responsibility of childcare and housework, resulting in additional stress.

Richmond has relatives in the military and has seen the support resources available for their families, including mental health resources and programs through Military Family Resource Centres (MFRC). However, there are currently no evidence-based supports, resources, or systems of support in Canada for public safety personnel families.

“My family always emphasized that we had to serve however we could. For my brother, it was the military. For me, it’s to shed light on those families that ensure we’re able to live safely in our communities and provide them with the resources and support they need to keep going,” she says.

Richmond’s preliminary findings are already informing the development of a Public Safety Personnel Families Wellbeing Hub in collaboration with the University of Regina.

Adolescents can face challenges when frequently relocating and changing schools

Hill’s research aims to understand and support the school transition experiences of adolescents living in Canadian military families. Though military families across Canada can access supportive resources like those from MFRCs, policies, and practices to help ease the school transition experience for military-connected students are limited.

Shannon Hill
Shannon Hill

Military members often relocate multiple times throughout their careers, meaning that their children must change schools frequently. While this affords children the experience of travelling and meeting new people, they can also face challenges such as curricular gaps or redundancies, disruptions to friendships, and missing out on opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities. For adolescents, these challenges can become particularly amplified. Additionally, the above challenges can be added onto the difficulties that military families may be experiencing when trying to access healthcare services for children with special needs.

As a certified teacher and having grown up in a military family, Hill has witnessed the impact that limited policy and practice can have on military-connected students and hopes to improve their transitional experiences through her own novel research.

“Given that my study is the first to look broadly at the school transition experiences of Canadian military-connected adolescents, it will make significant contributions across military, education, and academic domains,” she believes.

Currently, the knowledge base on the educational experiences of military-connected students is based on American studies. Hill believes her research fills a gap because it specifically looks at the Canadian sector, where little is known about the educational experiences of military-connected students.

In phase one of her study, Hill collected data from adolescents, parents, and educators. The second phase will aim to develop policy and practice recommendations related to the school transition experiences of military-connected adolescents across Canada. Potential recommendations could include increasing education for teachers about the military lifestyle and the unique set of challenges it can present for military-connected students.

As individuals with close personal connections to military members, Richmond and Hill have a first-hand understanding of the challenges that families of those who serve face and their need for more resources and support. Hill and Richmond’s projects will shed light on these issues, hopefully leading to the creation of supportive resources and policy changes that will greatly improve the lives of thousands of Canadians.

For updates, visit the Families Matter Research Group website. This platform provides families with evidence-based information, emerging research and resources, and opportunities to get involved in the community.