Traditionally, and out of necessity, the military and its support units have operated in a climate of protocols and chain of command. Outside of this culture, non-military personnel have struggled to find ways to adapt their own organizational objectives to fully meet the needs of military families. In the past two decades, Canada has moved from a mainly peacekeeping role to one of combat with a concomitant increase in deployment related injuries. As well, most Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) families today live away from a garrison, in civilian communities; a shift that has substantively altered access to networks of support associated with shared experiences of the challenges of military life. In the context of these trends, those on the margins of the military community (family, service providers, and researchers) have experienced an unexpected and unprecedented openness on the part of the CAF to engage in partnerships outside its organizational parameters with a view to establishing best practices in support of the health and well-being of military families. This presents a unique opportunity for Memorial University to profile its public engagement commitments as outlined in the framework.
In that spirit, I applied to Memorial’s Conference Fund and to the Office of Public Engagement for support to convene an Atlantic Regional Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle meeting held in the Fall of 2016. The meeting brought civilian and CAF providers of health and social services together with researchers from a range of disciplines – medicine, community health, psychology, social work, sociology, education – to discuss ways in which services and programs might be adapted or initiated to meet the complex needs of military personnel, Veterans, and their families.
Personnel from relevant organizations and institutions from across the Atlantic Provinces were invited to attend a one-day meeting held at the St. John’s campus of Memorial University on October 28, 2016. 45 participants attended (attendance was kept at an intentionally manageable number to facilitate the interactive and participatory nature of the meeting). The focus of the meeting was to engage community and government participants in a discussion of their organization’s role or potential role in the promotion of best practices in support of military families. Informed by this discussion, academic participants will address ways in which their particular research expertise and interests might contribute to knowledge building to advance and/or evaluate best practices.
A Memorial hosted community engaged alliance positions NL researchers and service providers to contribute to, and benefit from, established and emerging national and regional research initiatives. In addition, it facilitates the contextualization of existing research to the demographic, geographic and economic realities of our province and the wider Atlantic region.
This initiative builds on a national model developed and led by the Vanier Institute of the Family. In 2015 Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute, in collaboration with personnel from Military Family Services (CAF Morale and Welfare Services) established the Military and Veteran Families in Canada Initiative. The goal of that collaboration was:
• To increase awareness throughout Canada of military and Veteran families and their unique experiences, expectations and perspectives, with the aim of ensuring military and Veteran families have equitable access to services and programs in their communities.
• To leverage the skills, talents and expertise of key community leaders to ensure the effective development and delivery of services and programs for military and Veteran families throughout communities across Canada.
Ms. Spinks has expressed her full support for a Memorial led regional “hub” of the Vanier Institute’s leadership circle and is willing to lend her expertise to its planning and implementation.
Memorial University is also a member of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR). The vision of CIMVHR is to facilitate “world-class research results in evidence-informed practices, policies and programs” through its pan-Canadian university consortium. Dr. Alice Aiken, the Director of CIMVHR, has provided in-kind support to the proposed Atlantic Regional Leadership Circle through the participation of Dr. Heidi Cramm, head of knowledge translation for CIMVHR. Dr. Cramm was keynote speaker at the meeting.
Using the Vanier Institute’s leadership circle model, this meeting was an opportunity:
• To enhance our collective understanding of the ways in which individuals and organizations are supporting military and Veteran families.
• To foster collaboration amongst government, community, and university constituents that will spark creative adjustments and innovations in policies and practices for the benefit of military and Veteran families.
• To profile Memorial’s public engagement goals of “contributing the university community’s expertise, knowledge and resources to public opportunities and needs”; and “to be enriched and advanced by the practical perspective, knowledge and experience gained” (http://www.mun.ca/publicengagement/memorial/what.php).
• To create a concrete plan, including an organizational structure, to leverage our collective resources as a regional hub of the Military and Veteran Families in Canada Initiative.
Memorial University was established as a “living memorial” to the fallen of the Great Wars and has articulated its special obligation to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador in the context of local, national, and international collaborations. In a year filled with commemorations recognizing the significant anniversaries of WW I events, it is especially timely to have provided an opportunity for a Memorial led alliance with community and government sectors dedicated to the well-being of military and Veteran personnel and their families in the Atlantic Region and beyond.