Family Advocacy Program – Building better military families

By Denise CaskeyNovember 4, 2022

PX Oct. 7
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Family Advocacy Program set up a table Oct. 7 in the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Exchange to tell people about the program and answer questions. (Photo by Kaitlin Mitchell) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
Fairfax PD K9 Krawl 5K Oct. 15
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Family Advocacy Program set up a table at Fairfax Police Department K9 Krawl 5K Oct. 15 in Fairfax, Virginia. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and FAP participated in several outreach events to raise awareness about the issue and answer questions about the program. (Photo by Kaitlin Mitchell) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL
K9 Krawl
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Three young women attending the Fairfax Police Department K9 Krawl Oct. 15 in Fairfax, Virginia put the swag bag from The Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Family Advocacy Program to good use. FAP participates in several outreach events throughout the year in an effort to inform local communities about the program. (Photo by Kaitlin Mitchell) (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

One thing a Soldier can count on is change and the stress that comes with it.

Between deployments and changing of duty stations, a Soldier will typically move every two or three years. Being in a new place and not knowing what resources are available or where to go to find help, all bring a certain amount of stress.

For a Soldier with a family who is also going through these changes, the stress can get overwhelming, and sometimes it can boil over into a domestic violence situation.

The Family Advocacy Program at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall wants to help before it reaches that point, and if there is an incident, with the recovery.

What is the Family Advocacy Program?

“The Family Advocacy Program is a domestic violence and child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment program,” said Lisa Barber, director of FAP. “We address domestic violence, child abuse and neglect and problematic sexual behavior in children. In the Army it’s divided into two different facilities. We [prevention and intervention] are part of Army Community Services, and then the treatment is part of the [U.S. Army Andrew] Rader [Health] Clinic.”

FAP victim advocate Kaitlin Mitchell said FAP is sometimes called the “career ender” in military circles but emphasized that could not be further from the truth.

“We’re all about healthy, happy relationships,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to make military families feel healthy, safe, secure, confident, comfortable and as resilient as possible given everything they go through. We want them to understand what healthy relationships are, and if they don’t feel healthy and they don’t feel safe, here is what we can do to help.”

If an incident does occur, it is referred to clinicians at the Rader Clinic who will conduct a comprehensive assessment through interviews with both the victim and alleged abuser and information from others with knowledge of the incident. Following the assessment, intervention and treatment plans are created and recommendations for support services are provided to the family.

“The goal is to engage families in treatment to eliminate risk and address safety concerns,” said Lt. Cmdr. with the U.S. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps Vickie Ellis, clinician and chief of FAP at the Rader Clinic. “Appropriate referrals are made for additional services such as behavioral health, new parent support, and educational classes. Treatment plans may include individual counseling, couples counseling and domestic violence groups.

“Studies show that families engaging in treatment are less likely to repeat domestic violent incidents due to developing healthy coping and communication skills,” she added.

JBM-HH FAP faces a unique set of challenges because of where it’s located and who the base serves.

“In our purview, we’re responsible for Fort Myer, Fort McNair, the Pentagon, the White House and the National Guard,” said Barber.

“There’s a lot of connection,” said Prevention Education Advocate Donna Frye. “When you’re talking about JBM-HH, FAP overall is a unique program, but here it’s unique because we have so many outreaches and so many connections. If you go to Fort Bragg, Camp Pendleton, or any of those other places, it’s all contained. They know where their Soldiers are. They live on base and that’s pretty much what it is. Here, they’re everywhere. There’s really no definition. You can’t define and you can’t contain where JBM-HH is, so that makes it unique.”

Skills to deal with stress

With practice in skills like anger management and active listening, most incidents of domestic violence can be avoided. As the prevention education advocate, Frye offers a variety of classes, usually two or three a month, that are open to anyone carrying a government ID card.

“On the prevention side, what we’re trying to do is teach people skills, tools and methods, so if situations come up, it doesn’t turn into something that has to go to the Victim Advocacy Program,” said Frye.

The classes are offered through Microsoft Teams, and Frye said they have been successful. So successful, in fact, that she has had to specify the time zone in which the classes are being held.

However, Frye added, she does wish she could get more engagement from Soldiers on the Fort Myer and Fort McNair campuses.

The classes are also open to Marines from the Henderson Hall campus.

“We collaborate [with Henderson Hall] on activities, outreach and community engagement,” said Mitchell, but she pointed out that if there was a case of domestic violence reported, the victim advocate at Henderson Hall would need to get involved.

“We can also offer troop trainings about healthy relationships,” Barber added. “We seldom get any takers for that, but we do offer it to the units. We’d like to do more of that.”

New Parent Support Program

Through FAP, parents of children ages zero to three can connect with licensed professionals who will support them every step of the way.

Army families expecting a new baby can request a home visit and through the visit, Jennifer Johnson, a NPSP home visitor and registered nurse, can assess the strengths and needs of the growing family.

“Home visits are guided by the parents and what they are interested in learning about or needing help with,” said Johnson. “For example, many times we provide information on growth and development pertaining to their child’s current age, how to begin potty training, and safety in the home. We work with parents to set achievable goals in order to help them with feelings of isolation and to promote self-care and positive parenting.”

Johnson has organized a playgroup for parents of infants and young children which meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month at the JBM-HH library and is open to families with children up to age five. The playgroup offers enriching activities for the children, and it also provides parents with an opportunity to meet and connect with other military parents, helping them build connections and grow their support system, as well as ease feelings of isolation.

“A lot of these young soldiers don’t have a parent nearby to guide them along the way, and the new parent support program kind of does that,” said Frye. “It kind of guides them for three years. How awesome is that? [Jennifer] is an unbelievable source for someone who is brand new at this.”

Victim Advocacy Program

Through FAP’s 24-hour hotline, victims of domestic abuse can connect with Mitchell or Jennifer Marsh who can help with reporting or creating a safety plan.

“I would say safety planning is 70 percent of what we do,” said Mitchell. “If someone’s calling, it’s a safety plan. It’s talking about the what ifs. If they’re safe, that’s great, but let’s talk about if the situation becomes unsafe. ‘How can we plan for that? What can you set aside? Who do you have in your circle that you can connect with?’ Things like that.”

If a violent incident occurs, using VAP is optional. Mitchell said if someone goes through a traumatic event, they should not feel like they need a victim advocate, but she and Marsh are always happy to help and be there for support.

“We want them to feel like they have military support,” she said. “We’ll get them connected to civilian victim advocates too because you can never have enough people who care about how you’re doing. We want to encourage people and we want them to know that they can talk to us.

“Ideally, they never have to talk to Jenny and me,” said Mitchell, but she stressed that she and Marsh are always there if someone needs help.

Transition Compensation Program for Abuse Dependents

If someone finds themselves the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a military spouse, they may be able to get financial assistance through the Transition Compensation Program for Abuse Dependents.

Compensation is an option when the offender is being released from the Army because of the domestic violence. Their separation orders must specify domestic violence as the reason for their separation.

The benefit offers financial compensation and covers the healthcare of the family for up to three years. It also includes access to the exchange and commissary.

If the offender simply changes their duty station, victims will not qualify for compensation.

The application is lengthy and can take several months to complete. There are also no guarantees that compensation will be approved.

“If it’s something that someone qualifies for, it can be tremendously life changing in terms of helping them get on their feet and feeling secure, comfortable and safe,” said Mitchell.

Change is the common thread that binds all military life together. The uncertainty of change will impact people in a variety of ways, and FAP is available to offer support and help navigate the rough waters of change so that, in the end, it doesn’t turn into a domestic violence situation.

If you are in a situation and you feel you need help, contact the 24-hour hotline at (703) 919-1611.