By Shelley Kimball, Ph.D., research director, Military Family Advisory Network.
We know that when military families are healthy and functioning well, active duty members’ contributions to service are that much more effective. Now we have another way of understanding the indicators for evaluating family readiness.
Recent research from the Department of Defense’s Research Facilitation Laboratory shows that after analyzing 10 years of research from many outlets (nearly 400 individual studies), there were 16 categories to evaluate the level of military family readiness.
This research is important because it distills the results of what many of us have been working on for many years separately and shows what we are finding together.
Here at the Military Family Advisory Network, we specialize in researching the programming needs of military families in all forms. We know others in this space are also doing great work centering on military spouse employment, the affects of deployments, or how our special needs and exceptional family members are faring.
As researchers, we often focus on our own study areas. We are looking at the trees, but this research lifts us up and shows us the forest.
Stacy Hawkins, Ph.D. will be presenting this research at a Family Forum panel session of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting. During this conversation, Dr. Hawkins will explain her results, and then the conversation will turn toward what these indicators mean to those of us living the military family life. (Watch the conversation live on Monday, Oct. 8, from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
The indicators were divided into categories covering adults, children, spouses, parents, and couples, as well as deployment experiences, finances, accessibility of services and military life experiences. By culling the categories from existing data, most researchers in the military family field will find a fit with their own work.
As a researcher, showing similar results from different methods is an important validator. MFAN’s most recent study covered many of these same categories. Because it is a qualitative look at families’ experiences, our participants were able to tell us their thoughts from their perspectives, making the results that much more applicable to reality.
For example, the 16 indicators showed that frequent moves, service members’ absences and child care challenges, as well as hiring biases were major factors in military spouse unemployment. Participants in MFAN’s survey said the same thing.
Both studies showed also showed alignment in the area of finances. The 16 indicators showed that up to 30% of military families experience financial stress, and that stress is exacerbated by relocations, and spouse employment status. MFAN’s study also showed that military families are struggling with financial stress that is aggravated by relocations and spouses’ difficulty finding work, and that stress is detrimental to mental health and family relationships.
The 16 indicators showed that some military families are having trouble making ends meet — MFAN found the same thing. These overlays mean that more of us will find the root of the problem and find creative ways to help. For example, MFAN developed MilCents as a direct response to research participants asking for more financial education.
Ultimately, that is the key. Figuring out exactly what is happening with our families and how we can best assist them to thrive in military life.