Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, honourable members of the committee, ladies and gentlemen. Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs.
I want to begin by thanking you for your invitation to appear today in order to bring some insight into Military Family Services. Most importantly, however, I'd like to thank you for the work you do on behalf of Canadian Armed Forces personnel and their families, especially the ill and injured and their families.
As the Military Family Services director, managing a division of the Morale and Welfare Services organization of the Canadian Armed Forces, I oversee quality of life issues and administer two major programs: the Military Family Services program, largely delivered by third-party, non-profit organizations known as military family resource centres; and the dependant education program, which manages the education, compensation, and benefits requirements of military members with dependent children.
My 34 years of service to our country have involved more than 20 moves from coast to coast, the United States, and Europe, as well as deployments to mission areas in the Middle East and Central America. I appreciate and understand many of the realities of the Canadian Armed Forces lifestyle and what that means for families who proudly choose to become a part of that lifestyle.
The Military Family Services program is delivered by 32 military family resource centres located on bases and wings across Canada, as well as by seven sites in the United States and four sites in Europe.
Services and programs are delivered to the military family population and aim to provide support at times when families are transitioning to new communities due to frequent moves or when families are separated or reunited due to deployments, training, or other operational requirements. We also provide direct support to families through a family information line, 1-800-866-4546. This service, which as of April 1 offers a 24/7 response, provides bilingual, confidential information and referral to families by trained counsellors who know how to navigate the oftentimes complicated Canadian Armed Forces federal, provincial, and municipal infrastructures.
To complement services provided by the centres and the 1-800 service, we also manage a central online source of information for military families at www.familyforce.ca. This portal allows families to access all military family resource centres as well as national information and resources relevant to all military families.
That said, the business of supporting military families has changed and evolved over the years. The new reality is that 80% of families are now living off base, compared to only a few years ago when the same number lived on base. As well, we now have a population of military personnel facing significant physical and mental health stresses and injuries. As such, effectively supporting Canadian Armed Forces personnel, including the ill and injured, means we have to make sure families standing behind them are resilient and strong.
Support to families following illness, injury, or death of a Canadian Armed Forces member has indeed evolved over the past several years, and the difficult experiences of families have influenced the Canadian Armed Forces way of reaching out to families of the ill, injured, and fallen.
Since 2010, these families have been able to access provisions for 168 hours of casualty support child care, and in recognition of the key role families play in a Canadian Armed Forces member's recovery, family liaison officers have been established as core staff of the MFRCs and are co-located with integrated personnel support centres as a means of providing additional mental health support. They provide support services that include short-term individual and group support, referrals to mental health services, facilitated access to community-based programs, and outreach support.
While these services are in place, we also acknowledge that families' needs continue to grow over time and that no two families will likely experience a recovery or grief in the same way. For this reason, we are committed to continue to evolve our program model and philosophical foundation to reflect a family focused approach that continues to bolster resilience in military families and places mental health as the key priority.
Equally important, ladies and gentlemen, support to military personnel and their families also means increasing awareness and understanding of the unique conditions of service beyond the Canadian Armed Forces community, since many of the care providers come from communities in which our families live. Today, military families are living in Canadian, American, and European communities at large, creating a need for greater stakeholder engagement and community awareness.
We know military families have distinct needs that tend to arise largely as a result of three unique factors: transitions, particularly mobility and relocation; operational tempo; and personnel tempo.
Such issues as spousal employment, access to health care, child care, education credit equivalencies from province to province, housing requirements, mental health support, and special needs of loved ones can become real stressors for military personnel and their families. These issues have been there for as long as I can remember.
While these stressors are present in the lives of other Canadians, the unique circumstances surrounding the military lifestyle amplify the frequency and the gravity of these stressors, affecting the resilience of today's military families.
Although Military Family Services maintains that direct services are extremely important in building resiliency in families, it has also identified stakeholder engagement and bolstering of community awareness with the larger Canadian community and with municipal and provincial governments as a priority.
Honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, I could go on at length, but I realize that I must be brief and as concise as possible in my address to you. I have given you an overview, but there is much more I could say.
I'd be more than happy to respond to any questions or comments you may have for me.
Again, I want to thank you for the time you have allocated to me today.