by Dr. Karen Shirer
Most transitions in the course of one’s family and military life can be predicted and planned. However, sometimes due to the unique nature of military service, a family may become overwhelmed and seek out community services for assistance. In addition, family readiness services may be overtaxed by the requests for help due to the complex nature of the problems and their own reduction in resources to provide services. So what can be done?
The webinar, Building Community Partnerships to Meet Transitioning Service Member and Family Needs, provides important solutions to these complex problems. Strong community partnerships provide invaluable capacity and resources as you work with military service providers to meet the transitioning needs of service members and their families. However, partnerships don’t just happen; they are created and developed over time with intention. Here are three key takeaways from the webinar that will help strengthen your partnership ability.
- Military service members and their families are diverse and possess unique strengths and challenges. This fact seems obvious but is crucial to keep in the forefront. Just like non-military families, military families have changed dramatically over the last 30 years. They are headed by single parents, unmarried parents, married parents, and step-parents. Some are grandparents raising grandchildren. Some parents are same sexed and others are heterosexual. In addition, those who serve in the military have become more diverse, not just culturally, but where they live and how they serve. More serve in the guard and reserves where the military is not their first job. And their families may not see themselves as military and live far from military installations. Yet they also experience both normative and difficult transitions without the formal military family support system.
- No organization or provider can meet all the transition needs of military families. Families, whether they are military or civilian, live within communities, and to thrive need both formal systems of support, like Family Readiness Services and other community supports, and informal networks, like their family and friends. Ideally, formal systems of support complement informal networks. Most families prefer asking for help from their informal networks. However, at times a family’s informal network is weakened due to a transition or crisis as well as separation from their support system. Formal systems may need to be accessed to provide critical support until informal networks can be rebuilt.
- Building community partnerships takes knowledge, skill and experience to be done effectively. Most professional who work with families did receive training and education on effectively developing community partnerships. Yet, capacity to work effectively with formal organizations and informal networks in the community are critical for effectively helping military families through transitions. The webinar provides a number of high quality and credible training resources and materials on partnership, much of it available on the Internet. You can also surf the Internet yourself and find toolkits that will support your partnership building efforts. I have found the best way to learn how to build partnerships is “just do it” as a famous athletic shoe maker promotes. Training gives you the initial confidence to try partnership building but doing it, learning from mistakes and going back to it will build your capacity even more.
In summary, to effectively serve military families through transitions engage organizations in formal community networks and find ways to help family members better use their informal supports. Families will become more resilient and thrive.
Karen Shirer is a member of the Military Families Learning Network Family Transitions Team and the Associate Dean with the University of Minnesota, Extension Center for Family Development. Karen is also the parent of two adult daughters, a grandmother, a spouse, and a cancer survivor.