Over the course of their service, military families may experience events that can disrupt family functioning. For example, it is common for military families to experience long separations due to deployments or military training, as well as moving, on average, every two to three years (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2022). Frequently finding themselves in new, fast-changing situations, military families can rely on resources, such as a parenting program, to help them successfully adjust to their surroundings. This piece will discuss the importance of using credible resources and identify some common barriers to resource utilization.
A study on community resource adequacy explained that having access to resources and feeling satisfied after using them can help Service members and spouses maintain emotional and physical wellbeing (Hobfoll & Lilly, 1993). In another study, the wellbeing of spouses and their satisfaction with resources was found to be the most important factor for staying in the military (Segal & Harris, 1993). Knowing that resource availability can influence family wellbeing and retention, it is important to figure out which resources are best. It is useful to know if resources are evidence-based or not, because this is a reliable way to understand causality.
Resources created by institutions, like the U.S. Military or universities, are typically created based on need and supported by empirical research. Let’s dive into an example: The Department of Defense (DoD) recently learned from a survey that many Service members feel disconnected from their units, so they decide to implement a program to improve unit cohesion. After reviewing many programs, or developing a new one, the DOD decides to implement a relationship-building program to increase unit cohesion among the members. Finally, after the program has been implemented, it is studied to determine if it is achieving its goal.
The example involves a lengthy, but essential, process! Resource evaluation can exist in different forms and is done at different time points in a program’s creation or implementation. But what makes empirically-based resources any different from those that aren’t? Well, they are supported by research. One way that evidence-based programs are differentiated from those that aren’t is through the methodology used for evaluation. For example, the Clearinghouse for Family Readiness categorizes programs by their use of a randomized control trial or quasi-experimental design, two methods that test the efficacy of interventions. Without these methods, it is difficult to determine the causality of an intervention. That is, how can we determine what caused the outcome of increased unit cohesion? Using the example above, an evidence-based method to test the efficacy of the relationship-building program will be able to determine if the program itself increased unit cohesion among members, rather than another variable such as leadership support.
Navigating resources and deciphering which to use can be a balancing act, as there are so many. Knowing what to look for can make choosing one a little easier. As previously mentioned, using empirically-based resources can help military communities understand which programs have been proven to address a specific outcome. Creating a valid resource is only the first step, though. The program should address a need as well as be accessible. I had the opportunity to discuss this complex issue with Auburn University’s Extension Veterans Outreach Coordinator, Curtis Pippin. Though Curtis didn’t have the final answer, he did have some words of wisdom. “Bridging the gap [between resources and people using them] starts with giving [people] a voice.”
Trying to untangle the issue of why some people don’t use available resources is difficult. There may be several reasons – some may be environmental (e.g., not having reliable transportation), psychological (e.g., viewing getting help as a weakness), or simply because they do not address the need of the individual. The multi-layered reasons can make it difficult to determine the best solution because an approach may address one barrier but not another.
For example, in the case of accessing mental health services after deployment, some of the barriers Service members may experience include stigma, military culture, general attitudes about treatment, and logistical concerns (e.g., long wait times, far distances to medical facilities) (Institute of Medicine of The National Academies, 2013). When resources are set up to target singular problems (e.g., housing) then all the person’s other needs end up not being met (Trail et al., 2017). Therefore, looking for a holistic resource that offers multiple types of assistance (e.g., housing, mental health services, childcare assistance) may be a better option for Service members who are experiencing a multi-faceted circumstance, such as deployment and reintegration (Trail et al., 2017).
While resources are not one-size-fits-all, it is important for researchers to consider the needs being met, the efficacy of the intervention, and the accessibility of the final product. Creating accessible, useful, and evidence-based resources for military families can go a long way in terms of wellbeing, family functioning, and retention. To learn more about empirically-based, military-focused programs, visit Clearing House for Military Family Readiness, a research team that evaluates program effectiveness. Additionally, our team at Military REACH also helps identify and evaluate research, including that on empirically-based programs, and we even developed a study to evaluate the effectiveness of our research summaries!