When a military member is diagnosed with an Operational Stress Injury (OSI), it impacts the entire family. But how does a parent connect with their child in a time like this? How do they explain to their five-year-old what an invisible injury is?
Keeping questions like these in mind, the Edmonton MFRC developed a program to give children support and coping tools when living with a parent who has an OSI, entitled Individual Success Through Empowering Peers (iSTEP).
Using the developmental and resiliency theory, iStep is designed as a 10-week program for children between the ages of five and 17. After school, children attend the sessions that provide them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings in a confidential environment, feel empowered to know they’re not alone and develop coping tools.
Each session tackles a different topic relating to life with a parent who has an OSI, but the activities and discussions surrounding the topic are moderated according to the age group.
“For example, the first session is called ‘invisible injury.’ That’s the session that we discuss with the children about the difference between invisible and visible injuries and what that looks like, from a child’s perspective,” said Jerris Popik, facilitator, coordinator and co-designer of the iSTEP program.
A crucial part of the program is peer support, which helps to reduce any sense of isolation a child may feel.
Activities include hands-on art like painting and clay work to help the children express their emotions and feelings to learn problem-solving techniques, coping tools and resiliency.
“It recognizes their [the child’s] role in the family system and helps families understand that everyone has a role in whether a family can be healthy and how people can move in a positive direction. Even if the child is five they still have ability to come up with even something as simple as a coping tool for when they’re angry and just being able to bring that forward in a situation is a great life skill, in general , but for some families it can really be the first step in a direction to achieve their goals,” noted Popik.
From April 2014 to March 2015, 25 children have successfully gone through the iSTEP program.
The Edmonton MFRC is currently the only MFRC that provides the 10- week program. However, all MFRCs across Canada have staff members trained in the program and have a condensed version available for individual children.
In summer 2015, the program was condensed to a two-day pilot summer camp. Each day was broken into two topics. Day one focused on understanding OSIs and understanding feelings while day two looked at anger and building self-esteem.
The camp was attended by 18 children and youth who participated in various activities including animal assisted therapy for the session on anger.
“The camp introduces support on a non-traditional level. It introduces support to children on their level and makes the family realize that this is a simple, easy way to get support,” said Popik.
Plans for an iSTEP summer camp for 2016 have not yet been finalized.
The MFRC is currently running its first 10-week session of the year. Many of the children who attended the two-day summer camp returned for the 10-week iSTEP session.
“For me that’s success when kids want to come back to do something that means they enjoyed it,” noted Popik.
** Photo courtesy of the Edmonton MFRC**