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Slashing Slacker Military Family Programs?

I’m a slasher. I’m a burner. When it comes to family programs, I think the base commander ought to be able to walk into a place, smell a slacker program, and shut that puppy down.

This is why I am not in charge of the military. Instead the Department of Defense is currently in the process of assessing family programs, making recommendations, establishing forums, following forms.

This irritates me. So when I attended the most recent DoD Military Family Readiness Council, my first thought was that their deliberation was taking much too long. There seemed to be a lot of assessing the programs that needed to be assessed by assessors who would assess them.

Far better to slash now. Burn now. Replant tomorrow, right?

Then David White, the program portfolio manager from the Army’s Heatlh Promotion Risk Reduction Portfolio, told the council and the members of the public more about the process of getting our money’s worth out of family programs.

White said that one of the things they have found is that the Army is really good about accounting for input and output. The providers keep good track of their staff and their equipment and their technologies.

They know how many people are using the program and how many times it was offered and where it was advertised and how much everything cost. Which is good.  But not good enough.

“We want to change from a culture of input and output to a culture of understanding outcomes,” White told the council. “We need to change to a culture of accountability.”

That sounded like what I wanted, too — worthwhile programs that help military families.

When I talked to White later, he said that when we talk about ‘outcomes,’ we are talking about whether a program really works. Does it do the thing it set out to do?

Programs are meant to actually teach people something. They are meant to help people change their behaviors. Over time, these programs we pay for are set up to ultimately change the conditions military members and their families live under.

White and his team are looking at helping these programs figure out whether they are doing the work they were assigned to do.

Does the program actually relieve the stress of transition? Does this educational piece actually reduce illnesses or high-risk behaviors or the stigma toward getting mental health care?

Programs also need to be understood in terms of how they work with other programs on post. “I see more gaps than redundancies,” said White.

So how do you figure that out? How do you figure out which programs to cut  and when and in what amount?

“Scientifically rigorous research,” White said.

Which does not mean passing around a satisfaction survey at the end of an event.

Instead “rigorous” means collecting actual data. Was there a reduction in suicides? Is the leadership really educated? Do couples use what you taught them so that they will fight less?

This approach requires time, money, efficient measures. I don’t know if I am that patient. The problems military families experience are happening right now. I want things fixed right now.

Yet I would bet that a better approach is closer to David White’s end of the scale than my own. I just want to see all that rigorous research put on fast forward status.

The DoD’s Family Readiness Council’s next meeting will take place in August.  You can find out more about them at their new website at Familyreadiness.council@osd.mil.

About Jacey Eckhart

Jacey Eckhart is the Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom.