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New Local Project Will Help Military Families Under Stress

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As First Lady Michele Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, undertake a nationwide campaign in support of military families, a new initiative in Riverside County is focusing on helping those families deal with the stress they experience when their loved ones return from deployment.

The Military Families Initiative is a new program being created under a grant from the Blue Shield Foundation to develop effective family counseling services for the large military population that lives in Riverside County and develop a blueprint that other communities around the country might use to start similar programs of their own.

The initiative is being developed by Alternatives to Domestic Violence (ADV), a nonprofit family services agency serving the nearly 2 million residents of western Riverside County.

Although not part of the campaign by the First Lady and Dr. Biden, the ADV initiative reflects a growing national awareness of the need for programs to serve the unique needs of military families on the home front.

According to ADV Executive Director Eliza Daniely-Woolfolk, the Military Families Initiative evolved out of problems her agency has observed among military spouses who request help from ADV.

“We’ve had an increasing number of women coming to us for help after their husbands return home from deployment,” she explained. “Their issues include not only domestic violence, but also such things as substance abuse or the impact of their spouse’s multiple deployments or post-traumatic stress disorder on the rest of the family.

“We knew we needed to find a way to deal with issues faced by the families of returning military personnel and veterans. Military families give so much to us.

They deserve the very best help we can deliver to them.” So, in 2008, ADV signed a memorandum of understanding with March Air Reserve Base near the city of Riverside to handle referrals for families of active and reserve military personnel and provide counseling to help them deal with post-deployment issues. The services are provided through ADV’s fee-based Corona Counseling Center. In 2010, the counseling center’s services were approved for coverage under the Military Health Plan, TRICARE.

About the same time, Blue Shield of California Foundation, which was looking at issues likely to impact public health, asked ADV to develop a concept paper discussing how to build, fund and evaluate special counseling services for military families.

“They asked ADV because no other agency like ours in California was working on this,” Daniely-Woolfolk explained.

Ultimately, Blue Shield of California Foundation awarded a $180,000 two-year grant to design a complete program that would not only serve Riverside County military families, but also could be copied by agencies in other communities. The grant rolled out on Jan. 1, 2011.

“We knew we needed to design a program that was based on solid data about what works and what doesn’t work,” Daniely-Woolfolk noted, “and we wanted to develop a list of best practices that others could use in their own programs. So we signed up two of the best consulting firms in the country to help us.”

Social Solutions was engaged to develop the software that will be used to gather the project data.

Social Solutions is a leading provider of performance management software for human services and has specifically developed software and online reporting environments for domestic violence and family services agencies across the country.

“Their software will help us track, assess and evaluate our counseling services,” Daniely- Woolfolk explained.

To analyze the data and help shape the final report and blueprint that others may use, ADV engaged Harder & Company, a national firm based in California that specializes in needs assessments, program evaluations, strategic planning and organizational consulting for nonprofits and government agencies.

“They will help us develop the best practices model and create training materials and webinars so others can learn from our experience,” Daniely-Woolfolk said.

The final phase of the project, she said, will be to establish counseling centers geared for military personnel and their families at key locations around Riverside County, including Hemet and Temecula. Then ADV will roll out the tools so the services can be replicated elsewhere.

“Building our initiative in this methodical manner will allow us to have a strong clinical program for families that is both effective and sustainable. This is uncharted territory for agencies like ours. We want to get it right,” said Daniely-Woolfolks.

“ADV has more than two decades of experience working with all types of family problems. We believe we can leverage that expertise to help military families.

“Our emphasis will be on the family as a whole,” she concluded, “because spouses and children often don’t get as much attention after a deployment ends.”

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