Supporting RCAF families has never been more important than it is now, especially in light of the latest retention survey results. The survey showed that the impact of the military lifestyle on spouses and partners is a leading factor in members intending to release within the next three years, excluding those releasing due to CRA or reaching the end of their terms of service.
This finding is significant and not lost on senior leadership, which is why increased efforts are underway to support our families in whatever ways we can.
More accurate name
In an effort to encourage greater participation and more accurately portray the family support available to our people and their families, the RCAF Family Sponsor Program has been renamed the RCAF Family Connection Program (FCP). This will alleviate the confusion with unit (military) sponsors, who are focused on the military member posted in; whereas the Family Connection Program puts the member’s family front and centre.
This new moniker better reflects the purpose of the program, which is to build community and improve communication and connection at the wing and unit level. It’s designed to ease the stress of relocation and service-related separation by connecting families to each other and to local leadership.
RCAF units work in conjunction with local Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs) to provide the Family Connection Program to any family (who desires it) posted to an RCAF unit. Together they engage, build and maintain a team of volunteer connectors at each Wing. The volunteer connectors pro-actively reach out to families that are newly posted or affected by duty-related separations.
A total of 140 RCAF families participated in the program last year, a slight decrease from 2019 that is likely pandemic-related. However, the program still is not well known across the RCAF. When asked on social media if they are aware of the program, many spouses commented they had never heard of it, and would certainly take advantage if given more information. It is hoped this new name change, and a proactive publicity campaign, will boost numbers of families requesting connection as well as growing the ranks of volunteer connectors.
Proactive publicity campaign
A proactive publicity campaign is underway to re-brand the program and disseminate an updated suite of products to support it. RCAF Command Teams are also being engaged to raise awareness and gain their support for the ever-important unit communication and connection.
The first ever RCAF Families website is also under construction with the aim of providing families with a one-stop-shop source of information on programs and services relating to priorities they themselves have identified; including health care, spousal employment, child care, and housing. The website will also link directly to the Family Connection Program. In the meantime, information on the FCP can be found here: Family Connection Program | Royal Canadian Air Force
It all starts with postings
While moving does create opportunities to start afresh and get to know a new city, town or province, it also means families must uproot and start all over again. When military members are posted, they have an automatic support system (and usually people they already know) available at the new unit or base. Not necessarily so for the families, who might feel isolated and have to create new networks, friends, and support systems every time they move.
Enter the volunteer connector, who serves as a friendly point of contact for a new family, reaching out before the posting and when they arrive; thereby easing the settling-in process for families into their new surroundings. Connectors are a soft place to land, so to speak, and can also facilitate introductions, help direct newcomers to services that are available and how to access them if required, while fostering a greater sense of community.
All in the name of helping make the transition a little easier. Trusted recommendations for the best pizza and hairdresser in town, or the programs for special needs kids can be very comforting and reassuring, not to mention time-saving. This is precisely the aim of the RCAF Family Connection Program – to help families adjust through peer support.
In this pandemic year, where family and social connections have been put under tremendous stress and strain, families are at a higher risk than ever of feeling isolated and alone. Add to this an unrelenting ops tempo that takes members away from home for unpredictable and uncertain periods of time, and you have the potential for impairing family stability. The RCAF Connection Program aims to connect RCAF families together when it matters most, and to enhance engagement between families and the members’ units.
For this reason, as well as retention pressures mentioned above, leadership at the wing and unit levels are asked to share the many benefits of the RCAF Family Connection Program with their people at every possible opportunity such as o-groups, wing councils, ops briefings, town halls and other communication opportunities. We want as many families as possible to take advantage of this outstanding resource.
All RCAF personnel and families are encouraged to participate in the RCAF Family Connection Program through their gaining unit or their local MFRC at their new base or wing. Every attempt will be made to match a newly-posted family with a volunteer connector that shares similar family circumstances (children’s ages, special needs, etc.).
For our RCAF families who are staying put this year – and who would like to welcome another family into their community and share their valuable experience to ease military transitions – they are urged to consider volunteering for the Family Connection Program through their local MFRC.
Volunteers are the heart of this program and more are always needed. Family Connectors receive training from the MFRC to ensure they are well informed about local resources and have access to the most up-to-date community information. But most importantly, volunteers simply need to be themselves to help make the posting process a little friendlier and a little less stressful for another family. Volunteering as a Family Connector is not a big time commitment and it can easily fit it into your schedule, yet it has a big positive impact on other families.
A final thought: families truly are the strength behind the uniform for the RCAF, providing support and stability to our men and women around the clock, so they can operate with confidence and trust that their families are okay. Again, we appreciate the contributions of these invisible crewmembers to our overall quality of life, force readiness and the long-term retention of our people. Together, through the RCAF Family Connection Program, we can help build stronger families, stronger communities and a stronger fighting force today, tomorrow and into the future.
To request a Family Connector for your upcoming move, or to volunteer to share your knowledge and skills as a Family Sponsor, contact your unit or the local Military Family Resource Centre.