Helping CF Youth Cope with Parent’s Operational Stress
By Jill Kruse
The pilot program to help youth learn about and better cope with parents who’ve experienced operational trauma is a success and the creators plan to offer the program nationally and eventually internationally.
Jennifer Fairbank, Program Administrator for Youth of Parents Who’ve Experienced Trauma (YPET), says the program is for youth ages 12-18 who are looking for help in coping with the parent in distress.
“Most of our youth are dealing with the loss of the parent they knew,” says Fairbank. “The parent they knew went away on deployment, and another (who had been traumatized) came home.”
YPET helps youth understand why their parent is behaving differently by explaining the symptoms or behaviours of the different operational stress injuries (OSI's).
“Once these young people understand that it is not their fault, that they haven't done or not done anything to cause their parent to get angry or withdraw or overreact, a huge weight is lifted from their shoulders,” she explains. “We offer them a safe, confidential place to learn and share.”
YPET was initiated by the Operational Stress Injury Social Support (OSISS) Family Peer Support Coordinator at Base Gagetown in 2007. It was further developed and facilitated in partnership with the Fredericton Veteran Affairs Canada Operational Stress Injury Clinic, Base Gagetown Military Family Resource Centre, a local psychologist and University of New Brunswick/St. Thomas University students in New Brunswick over the past four years.
Fairbank says the program is based on family member feedback that living with a soldier/veteran with an operational stress injury takes a toll on family members, particularly children. The developers did a needs assessment with impacted youth and incorporated current research and literature. Initial modules were developed with the assistance of social work students from St. Thomas University and later refined and expanded through local partnerships.
The program has run successfully as a pilot and, upon completion of final editing and translation, it will be offered on an ongoing basis locally and nationally.
Generally, the youth come because their parents (usually Mom) tell them they have to attend. Fairbank says many showed up the first night saying "I'm only here because my Mom made me come". When the program was over most of the kids had shared with the facilitators that they were really glad they had come, that they had learned a lot, and how great it was to meet other youth experiencing similar home situations.
YPET consists of eight modules under the following headings: OSI's and Trauma, PTSD/Anger, Anxiety Disorders and Depression, Addictions, Are My Feelings Normal/Self-care/Recovery Plan, Supporting Your Parents/Family Support Roles, Self Esteem, Developing Your Own Support Network (and Community Resources).
Participants attend 10 weekly sessions (includes welcome/ice breaker night and wrap-up activity/graduation night). Three parent sessions will also be held separately from the youth sessions, running pre-commencement, mid-way, and post program to ensure clear expectations/understanding of commitment involved, to address parental questions or concerns and to allow for feedback.
Feedback from Kids
Fairbank says the youth who participated in the pilot were really surprised by how much they enjoyed learning and sharing in the group setting. The thing that they had anticipated not liking the most was what they enjoyed the most.
These are some comments shared by participants:
"You knew you could talk about your life without being judged."
"You could talk to people who understood."
"I liked learning new things about PTSD."
"We got more insight into OSI's-it's easier to recognize (them) and we realize that we aren't the only ones facing the same problems."
"I really liked how we talked a lot."
The completed program was sent out nationally this fall through the OSISS Program, the MFRC's and Veterans's Affairs. It is in the process of being translated into French.
“We hope to be able to send out the translated version early in the next year,” says Fairbank.
Families can get more information nationally through OSISS Family Peer Support Coordinators, MFRC Family Liaison Officers or through Veterans Affairs Operational Stress Injury Clinics. They can also contact Jennifer Fairbank at 506-357-5932 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested families in the Gagetown area are now being sought, as the second YPET session is planned for 2012.
“The program needs a minimum of eight youth to run, and we currently have four youth registered,” says Fairbank. “We hope to be able to have enough youth registered to run YPET here in the new year.”
The majority of the funding for YPET has come through the Department of National Defence and the MFRC. The goal is that there be “no cost” to the families for this program.