Family Program Leaders Define Top Concerns

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2007 - Top military family program leaders from across the services gathered here yesterday intent on answering tough questions on how to better work together.

Instead, after a day of discussions, leaders at the 2007 Family Readiness Summit came up with nine issues they will present to senior military leadership.

"Part of our goal was to identify best practices, lessons learned, challenges and requirements, and what we found was that regardless of which group and which questions they were working on, everyone came up with essentially the same list," said James L. Scott III, the director of individual and family policy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Each of the issues will be defined and will include recommendations by the group. The findings will be attached to a letter from Assistant Defense Secretary Thomas F. Hall to the service secretaries and reserve-component chiefs asking for their support in implementation.

Topping the list as a challenge was defining, and possibly renaming, family assistance centers across the services. The group noted that family programs have many different names across the services, and all have different meanings and provide different services.

"It's so confusing to our families -- even the military members," Scott said. "How do we get to one label?"

Army Col. Anthony E. Baker, chief of family programs for the National Guard Bureau, said the family assistance center is clearly defined in DoD regulations, but that it applies to an installation-level organization and does not mean the same thing for the reserve component, which has centers in geographically dispersed areas.

Members of the group expressed concerns that some family members do not go to the centers because of a possible negative connotation of the word "assistance."

"Nobody wants a handout," Scott said.

Funding also topped the list as a challenge. The group said more money is needed for more full-time personnel. More funds would help avoid burnout for the full-time staff and volunteers. Scott said there needs to be a balance. "We can't buy everything. We can't expect people to donate everything," he said.

Some participants expressed concern that current funding is tied to current operations and that those funds will not always be available. Funding should be consistent and not tied to specific operations, some said.

Also, the group said there should be one policy across the services on whether funds can be used for family member travel for training. Not all services will pay for family member travel for support-related training.

Use of emerging technologies was listed as a best practice and a challenge. Technology makes it easier to push some services down to the individual who is computer savvy, but the range of capabilities is so diverse among family members that new technology cannot be solely relied upon as a delivery system.

Partnering made the list of best practices. Partnering with the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to help make contacts with local businesses was cited as a good example of partnering.

Also the development of the Web site was seen as a best practice. The group members said they would like to see it further developed to include more tailoring to the individual services.

The group listed volunteers as a best practice, citing volunteerism as an integral part of a successful program.

The group also said there needs to be a focus on single soldiers' family needs, as well as the reintegration process after returning from deployment.

The summit's purpose was for group members to brainstorm ways to break down interservice bureaucratic barriers that sometimes prevent military family members from getting the help they need. This is the third such summit since 2001.

"I was very, very pleased. The response was much better than I expected it to be," Scott said. "It was a wonderful and powerful networking opportunity. I had a number of people come up to me and say 'We need to continue this.'"

Editor's Note: Military families can also avail themselves of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which highlights home front groups across the nation that are providing a variety of services and support to troops and their families. A listing of these groups and information about their efforts is available at

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