Study aims to give military families a voice

For the last four years, the University of Calgary’s Social Development Research Team has been working on a study to give a voice to military families and highlight the strengths of these families.

The team is currently looking to recruit more military families to give this diverse group an even stronger voice.

“We want to give a voice to family members in military-connected families who have only been kind of referenced by the members themselves. So, this is a really unique opportunity for a member’s family to participate and contribute,” said Dr. Kelly Schwartz, an associate professor at the School and Applied Child Psychology program in the Werklund School of Education, and a primary investigator on the study.

The study began four years ago because of Andrea Stelnicki’s, a Ph.D. Candidate at the School and Applied Child Psychology program, interest in the military community. Wanting to take a closer look at military families as part of her dissertation, Stelnicki found that there wasn’t a great deal of material on the topic.

“Everything was very American-based. There was no Canadian literature looking at families when we started this project,” said Stelnicki.

Over the years, the study has evolved to include more graduate students and look at the topic with a wider yet more detailed perspective.

The Strengths in Military Families study differs from similar studies because although it does cover some of the challenges military families face, the study overall looks at “quantitate measures of strength” of military families and looks, especially, to profile child and youth resiliency measures.

“We want to figure out is there anything these kids already have or these families already have, that might suffer any impact of those unique military challenges.

“I hope that we can highlight there are families that are doing well and we want their voices to still be heard too,” noted Stelnicki.

When the team initially began the study, they spoke to military families, many of whom said they were doing well and yet no one asks them to share their story.

“That really was the inspiration to create a study that looks at the reality of life, including looking at the health of the military member as well as the mental and physical health of the spouse, but then we balance that by looking at the strengths that are out there too. So we’re hoping to get a really balanced picture of the family unit,” explained Schwartz.

Another unique aspect of the study is that it takes into account the social development aspect. The study examines the meaningful personal and social ecologies, or relationships, that help in a child’s development from media to school to parents to peers.

The goal of the study is to assess what is working for military families and how they are positively managing their situations and bring that information to Military Family Resource Centre programming and community clinics. The hope is that families can be supported before a challenge develops.

So far, Schwartz and Stelnicki have connected with 55 families, meaning close to 100 surveys of spouses, members and children have been completed and the team is still looking for more families.

Anyone military family who has school-aged children, from the ages of six to 18, is encouraged to take part. Those interested in participating will complete a series of brief questionnaires about their family, their well-being and their children’s well-being.

Additionally, children ages eight and up are also welcome to take part in the study. The survey for children looks more towards their relationships, friendships, support and leisure activities.

According to Schwartz, the team “wants to create a profile of the Canadian military-connected child” and demonstrate how these children are really just children before anything else.

Participation in the Strengths in Military Families study is anonymous and completely voluntary.

Those who chose to take part will receive a $10 gift card as a thank you.

If you are interested in taking part or have questions email [email protected].

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Mishall Rehman

Originally from Atlanta, GA, Mishall is a freelance journalist pursuing her passion for writing in her new homeland Canada. She currently lives in Trenton, ON with her husband.

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