Military Families and Veterans Pilot Prevention Program Final Evaluation Report

CFRP Report | R.016.1017

October 2017  
PDF version

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Background and Overview

The Prevention and Early Intervention (PEI) Division of the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) contracted with the Child and Family Research Partnership (CFRP) at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs to evaluate the Military Families and Veterans Prevention Program (MVP). DFPS designed the MVP program to serve military and veteran families who are at a high risk of family violence and/or abuse and neglect. The MVP program was designed to serve the three largest military communities in Texas: Fort Hood in Bell County; Joint Base San Antonio in Bexar County; and Fort Bliss in El Paso County.

The overarching goal of the MVP program is to prevent child abuse and neglect by building and supporting military families’ protective factors, resulting in stronger families and improved military communities. Communities were given flexibility to concentrate their resources to best fit the challenges in their region. However, each community was required to develop a comprehensive plan that included: evidence-based or promising practice programs to support military families; performance measures that gauge program effectiveness; programs with a focus on children ages 0-17; and an approach focused on the needs of military and veteran families, and the military culture and environment they live in. Communities were also required to develop an official working relationship with the local Family Advocacy Program (a Department of Defense sponsored program for child and domestic abuse prevention and intervention) and provide ancillary services targeted toward needs identified in their Community Needs Assessment.

This report serves as the final evaluation report by CFRP on the MVP program. Three overarching research aims guided the mixed-methods evaluation:

  1. What are the unique needs among military and veteran families, and how do these needs vary among members of military and veteran families?
  2. How do programs serving military and veteran families modify their recruitment strategies, service delivery, or other program elements to most effectively serve these families?
  3. Do the programs increase protective factors among military and veteran families and prevent incidents of child abuse and neglect?

This report reviews the unique context of each military community participating in the program and outlines the structure each community created for their MVP program. At the time of this report, two of the three communities were in their second year of serving families (the third community had a delayed start). This report focuses primarily on implementation findings—identifying the unique needs of military and veteran families and highlighting the ways in which programs adapt to meet the needs of military and veteran families. In addition, this report includes preliminary evidence on communities’ progress toward meeting PEI goals for the MVP programs. We conclude the report with a summary of the lessons learned and policy recommendations to guide future community-based initiatives to support military and veteran families.

Findings

In each of the MVP communities, the programs aimed to match services to the diverse needs of the military population in their area. Programs offered a range of services to these groups, simultaneously meeting the needs of these populations and making efforts to achieve overarching PEI program goals of increasing protective factors and keeping children safe.

The unique needs of military and veteran families stem from the challenging life circumstances faced by these families, characterized by frequent relocations and separations, physical and/or emotional trauma, and high levels of social isolation and stress. These circumstances, combined with a pervasive culture in the military in which military members perceive negative consequences for seeking help, make military and veteran families particularly challenging to serve.

In addition to the needs stemming from the challenging circumstances of military life, somewhat surprising to providers was the breadth and depth of the need for intervention services among military and veteran families in crisis. The most surprising was the number of military families with active-duty members who needed assistance meeting their most basic needs including housing and food.

Importantly, this evaluation highlighted how differently military and veteran life is experienced by each member of the family. Military spouses demonstrated needs different from military-connected youth, which were different from the active-duty member or veteran. Many of the MVP programs seemed better equipped to serve military-connected family members, including spouses or children, rather than the enlisted member, because family members were often the most available for services and they faced less stigma for receiving services.

Most MVP providers did not appear to modify program content to address the specific needs of military populations, primarily using MVP funds to better target outreach and recruitment efforts. MVP providers did report modifying program structure including the number of classes, the length of the classes, and the location of the classes to meet the needs of military families, who often struggled with transportation, child care, and for enlisted members, not having the flexibility to take off a few hours every week for several weeks. Providers also noted that it could be difficult to balance maintaining program fidelity with modifications to program structure.

Recruiting military families into the programs proved challenging. Contractors and subcontractors reported issues of privacy, confidentiality, and stigma preventing military families from seeking help. Military connections were essential to recruitment; buy-in from military and base staff eased challenges to recruitment (especially on base) and military connections of MVP program staff helped build trust and connections with potential clients. Other providers reported not yet having issues with retention, due in part to the hard work of dedicated staff. However, providers reported retention challenges related to work and training schedules of active-duty service members, deployments, frequent moves, and the unmet basic needs of families, especially transportation and child care.

Community collaboration, an important part of the MVP program, was frequently reported as successful between contractors, subcontractors, and a diverse array of organizations within their communities. In contrast, communities found mixed levels of success in collaborating with local military partners, and faced challenges formalizing collaboration efforts. In communities where partnerships with military partners were successfully formed, these relationships were fruitful for recruitment and service delivery.

Problems identified as challenges for recruitment and collaboration reappeared as service delivery challenges reported by providers (e.g., stigma around seeking help, frequent moves of military families, etc.). Providers frequently reported that unmet basic needs of military and veteran families often made it difficult for families to participate in programs and often required providers to focus on intervention, rather than prevention. Providers also reported structural and contractual barriers to service delivery.

To date, the MVP program is on track to meet the PEI goals of improving protective factors and keeping children safe. Nearly 90 percent of the MVP providers for whom complete pre-and post-Protective Factors Survey (PFS) data were available (approximately one-third of the full sample) demonstrated improvement in at least one protective factor. Similarly, less than one percent of MVP clients were identified as a designated perpetrator, despite nearly one-quarter of the sample having a history of child abuse or neglect.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

This evaluation highlighted three overarching lessons learned. A summary of each lesson learned is below along with associated policy recommendations for future implementation efforts.

Lesson Learned #1: Many military families, particularly active-duty members in the lower ranks of the military, and veterans have challenges meeting their most basic needs. These needs often interfered with programs’ efforts to support parenting and increase protective factors. CFRP recommends that programs to support military and veteran families include strategies for crisis management and identifying resources to meet basic needs as central required components of the program (not ancillary or optional components). Furthermore, families need to be linked to services as soon as possible given their transitory nature and linked to additional, ongoing resources and services once participation in MVP programs is over.

Lesson Learned #2: Most programs modified recruitment efforts and program structure to reach and accommodate military families but did not modify program content to meet the unique needs of military families because of issues related to model fidelity. We recommend that to best meet the needs of military families, communities need to identify programs that have an evidence-base for serving military families, or have content specific to military life and culture (examples of which are provided in the report). Additionally, communities and programs need to recognize how needs vary across members of the military and military families (e.g., active-duty, veteran, spouse, youth).

Lesson Learned #3: Privacy, confidentiality, and stigma are major barriers to recruitment, but military connections help. We recommend that the state do more to facilitate and maintain relationships between military leaders and base staff and community-based organizations providing services, especially when military leadership changes. Helping to facilitate these relationships might also help ease the challenges with establishing Memorandums of Understanding between Family Advocacy Program (FAP) and community-based providers.

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