Strengthening the research ecosystem for defence and public safety families

Research funding

Strengthening the research ecosystem for defence and public safety families

A $2.5 million Partnership Grant brings the families of defence and public safety personnel squarely into view.

By Communications staff

June 10, 2024


A police officer laughs with her children

The Garnet Families Network research initiative is focused on the importance of families in defence and public safety sectors and recently received important funding support.

Defence and public safety personnel and their families often face greater logistical hurdles and demands than most, such as unpredictable schedules, navigating complex identities within the broader community, frequent relocations, and an increased risk of illness and injury for their loved ones.

Thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Queen’s University researchers Heidi Cramm (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Alyson Mahar (School of Nursing) will work to address these challenges and transform the research landscape for defence and public safety families by identifying gaps, setting strategic priorities, and enhancing policies and programs to foster their health and well-being as a family unit.

Highlighting the role of families

These families include but are not limited to current and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as well as public safety personnel such as dispatchers, correctional workers, firefighters, paramedics, police, border services, and search and rescue workers.

Historically, federal and provincial policies have focused on the individuals serving in high-risk occupations, often overlooking the needs of the families. Established in January 2022 and led by Dr. Cramm, the Families Matter Research Group (FMRG) is dedicated to changing this narrative. The FMRG emphasizes that families matter, unequivocally, in their own right, separate from the needs and experiences of those who serve.

Dr. Heidi Cramm and Dr. Alyson Mahar

Heidi Cramm (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) and Alyson Mahar (School of Nursing) are the director and co-director of the Garnet Families Network.

With the support of the Medavie Foundation and a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant, the FMRG launched the Garnet Families Network, led by Occupational Therapist, Lisa Delaney (School of Rehabilitation Therapy) to enhance visibility for families in these sectors. Garnets, gems symbolizing love, loyalty, and safe return to family, serve as the ideal emblem for this community and reflect the shared lifestyle of Garnet families. This network plays a crucial role in mobilizing and uniting the community within the broader partnership.

Understanding unique demands

Dr. Cramm’s research group has developed an evidence-based framework to address the four key lifestyle dimensions impacting defence and public safety families: risk, identities, logistics, and mobility. These dimensions shape the daily lives and overall well-being of these families, who must manage complex logistical challenges that exacerbate work-family conflicts endemic in jobs that require 24/7 duties.

“The partnership marks a fundamental shift in discourse around families in these occupational sectors,” says Dr. Cramm, the project’s director. “These families need assurance that we understand their challenges and are actively working to address their needs. As a longtime member of a Garnet family myself, my goal is to ensure that families like mine have pathways for services and supports, across the family life course.”

The research aims to fill gaps in support and understanding for Garnet families by creating a robust research ecosystem tailored to their specific needs.

“Not all families experience the same benefits and harms of a defence and public safety career,” says Dr. Mahar, the project’s co-director. “The Garnet Families Partnership centers and champions equity in all its operations and activities, working to redress structural discrimination within the sectors.”

A unified vision

With the SSHRC Partnership Grant, Dr. Cramm and Dr. Mahar will lead this collaborative initiative supported by nearly 100 academic institutions, researchers, knowledge mobilization hubs, occupational sector groups, service providers, and other collaborators from around the world. This enterprise aims to create a community centered on the experiences of family members, leveraging collective expertise to generate new knowledge, inform policy and program development, and enhance cross-sectoral communication. 

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