Programs & Services

Strongest Families Institute reaching out to assist military families

The Strongest Families Institute (SFI) is a not-for-profit registered organization committed to providing services to families and children with behavioral and mental health issues via distance coaching. This convenient over-the-phone approach makes the SFI an ideal solution for military families faced with mental health concerns.

Founded by Drs. Patrick J. McGrath, Chair of the Board, and Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie, the SFI provides evidence-based services and is designed to remove barriers to care.

“We harness the advantages of technology and our innovation for our service delivery is based on using highly trained, highly skilled people to deliver our evidence-based mental health programming to families and children from a distance. What that enables us to do is provide a cost-effective solution that will break the geographical divide so that they can get high-quality services in a timely manner, regardless of where they reside,” said Dr. Pottie, President, and CEO of SFI.

This model of service delivery is ideal for military members and their families. Often, multiple postings can aggravate any behavioral or anxiety concerns in a child. SFI’s skill-based approach provides children with the skills that can help them overcome particular issues.

The SFI’s programs are for children between the ages of three and seventeen and focus on issues such behavioral difficulties (inattention, hyperactive, defiance, aggression, anger outbursts);  anxiety issues (separation, specific fears, performance, generalized); and nighttime bedwetting.

“We’re committed to measuring outcomes. So, every family will have pre and post measurements. We use validated tools and what that tells us when we help military families, not only does it help children that are presenting problems, we have a strong impact on improving family relationships but also a very positive impact on parent stress and depression,” stated Pottie.

After contacting the institute, families interested in SFI services must complete an initial evaluation. After the initial evaluation, families are matched with a coach and are provided with materials including a skill demonstration videos and written information. This information package can be sent as a hardcopy or through SFI’s secure smart website.

Families have telephone-based sessions with their coach once a week and pick the day and time that suits them best. Dr. Pottie explains that her staff works until 2 a.m. AST for the convenience of those living on the west coast.

Typically working with SFI staff for 17 telephone sessions.

“The goal is to make sure they’re mastering the skills that help overcome the problem. It is customized to meet the particular needs of the family and children,” noted Pottie.

For example, according to an SFI case study, one military family was seeking services for their nine-year-old boy who suffered from anxiety and had fears of the dark, of others getting hurt and seeing army uniforms. He had difficulty sleeping in his own bed at night and cried at bedtime. After his sessions with the SFI, and learning relaxation skills, his anxieties and fears greatly decreased, and he was able to sleep on his own.

“..it helped us to work as a family not just mom getting mad at [him], or [him] being stressed out or anxious. It made us really realize that and work together. And then for [him], he’s nine so aside from regular everyday anxiety and worries, his were far beyond. Little things like taking a deep breath before you get on your bike and ride down the street, just a little thing like that, knowing to take a deep breath and do it. We would have never have thought to do something so simple before. Now it’s part of our everyday life. So our son is able to do so much more. He’s independent, he’s confident. Whereas before he was very timid and shy. He had friends but he would never stick his neck out for anyone or for anything. And now he’s just really confident and brave,” said the child’s mother in an SFI interview.

Families remain connected to their coach no matter where they get posted. SFI works closely with the family to assist them with difficult transitions related to posting, deployment or reintegration. Using the program skills during such transitions can help military, veterans and their families’ better deal with stressful family situations.

“When you think about deployments and the anxieties that go with that, we’re able to connect the family with the deployed member, so the deployed member doesn’t get left out. So, it doesn’t matter where in the world people are we can still make that connection and help them learn and maintain the skills,” explained Pottie.

According to Dr. Pottie, the success rate is better than 85 per cent and the drop out rate is less than 10 per cent. Last year alone SFI helped close to 3,300 children, both military and civilian.

SFI has been nationally recognized by the Mental Health Commission of Canada Social Innovation Award (2012) and the Ernest C. Manning Principal Encana Innovation Award (2013).

Currently, most of SFI’s programs are geared towards children. However, the institute is looking into grants to create a web-based app for those that suffer from Operational Stress Injuries.

To book your consultation with the Strongest Families Institute visit their website or call 1-866-470-7111.

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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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