Charity helps Defence families strengthen bonds and stay connected
The Family Ties program looks for ways to help serving soldiers and veterans connect with their families. (Supplied: Soldier On)
Family support is vital for many people, but what happens if that network starts falling apart?
The pressures of working in the Australian Defence Force have seen many current and former members struggle with their relationships.
Sarah (surname withheld for privacy reasons) was medically discharged from the ADF in 2014 with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
She said her condition had affected her family, including her two daughters.
“The girls have experienced ups and downs through my mental health issues,” she said.
“As a mum, I’m less tolerant than most and [we] have a few little things that we’ve had to work on as a family.”
Sarah has received help, but struggled to find a service that could assist the whole family.
Soldier On Psychology services director Shane Greentree said her experience was all too familiar with former ADF members.
“Once they’ve left the service and the support isn’t there, then it can have a real strain on the families,” he said.
The program includes a three-day outdoor adventure for the whole family. (Supplied: Soldier On)
As a result, the charity established a new program called Family Ties, that focuses on strengthening family bonds and providing tools to stay connected.
“Our focus is really around connection,” Mr Greentree said.
“So we really want to support families in terms of developing their relationships with each other but also to connect [them] with other families that might have gone through similar experiences.”
Shane Van Duren, who suffers from PTSD, said he felt isolated when he left the ADF and the program helped him establish a new family network.
“It’s very good for me to be in this environment. Just to see children playing, uncles, cousins. I mean they’re not my uncles, cousins, but they are as close as I have to family,” he said.
The program ran over an eight-month period, with the families spending three weekends away from home.
The first weekend was adults only, where couples focused on their relationships and learnt relaxation techniques, the second weekend was a three-day outdoor adventure for the whole family and the third weekend included more techniques about how to work together as a family.
Sarah said the program had been beneficial for her family.
“It has given us, and particularly our daughters, [a chance to be] more involved in decision making and working as a family and listening to each other, it’s really helped,” she said.
Veterans who are part of the Soldier On Family Ties program take part in a yoga class together. (Supplied: Soldier On)
Mr Van Duren is not working at the moment due to his struggles with PTSD.
He said aside from the program helping him and his wife, he was grateful for the opportunity to stay in a hotel with his children.
“Soldier On have put us in a hotel where they’ve got their own rooms,” he said.
“I’m not able to provide that, but with Soldier On’s help I’ve provided a comfortable place for the weekend and so that’s good the children felt affluent for a day,” he said.
The program isn’t just aimed at veterans, with one serving defence force member also signing up.
Eme Onyike said he saw it as a chance to strengthen his relationship with his wife and children.
“To connect the whole family together, to give the opportunity for the family in a safe environment to just all communicate and do things together,” he said.
The pilot program was funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and is now under an independent evaluation.
Soldier On is hopeful of finding more financial assistance to continue the program and extend it to other families.