ARCHIVED - Shoulder To Shoulder Program

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Backgrounder / October 24, 2011 / Project number: BG-11.023

The welfare of Canadian military families is important to all members of the Canadian Forces (CF). Indeed, while the members are the ones who volunteer to join, their families are often the ones who enable them to serve. It is in fact in large part due to their respective family’s enduring support that our members can perform their duties with a focus on the mission both at home and abroad. Military families are truly an integral part of the CF and the Department of National Defence (DND) family. This is why the CF and the DND have created the Shoulder to Shoulder initiative, a program that will help care for our own in their time of greatest need.

The Shoulder to Shoulder initiative is a new program that builds upon existing services and increases current support. It links the families of CF personnel who have died while serving, regardless of the circumstances of death, with the many resources and compassionate support services developed to meet their unique needs. It provides families with administrative, professional and peer support, for as long as they may need it.

When administrative support is needed

The administrative and organizational structure of the CF can be complex and confusing to families during this difficult time. Several organizations will work seamlessly together to ensure families get the support, information and services they need, when they need them.

The Integrated Personnel Support Centres will ensure prompt attention is paid to the family’s needs and assume responsibility for ensuring direct support is made available to families as long as they wish, allowing the loved one’s unit or Regiment to focus on maintaining a social connection and affiliation with the family. 

When professional support is needed

Shoulder to Shoulder provides several avenues for professional support:

  • Information, support and child care services offered through local Military Family Resource Centres;
  • Perpetual access to bereavement counselling and grief therapy from a trained counsellor in the family’s community;
  • Confidential, bilingual information, referrals and supportive counselling from the Family Information Line (1-800-866-4546); and,
  • Spiritual and religious support and counselling by the CF Chaplains Branch.

When connecting with people who understand is important

Many grieving family members benefit from connecting with other military families who have lost loved ones. Being able to share their feelings and receive the support and understanding from people who have gone through similar experiences can sometimes provide a unique source of comfort.

Shoulder to Shoulder can connect families with:

  • HOPE (Helping Others by Providing Empathy), a bereavement network which connects the families of deceased CF personnel and veterans. HOPE provides confidential peer support by trained volunteers to military families during their time of need. HOPE peer support groups are moderated by trained volunteers, who draw on their own experiences to assist in re-establishing hope for others;
  • Self-help groups with other CF families, facilitated by the local Military Family Resource Centre;
  • A virtual discussion board on to connect families who want to share their experiences of loss and healing, and who want their questions answered by a trained Family Information Line counsellor.

The organizations within the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces contributing services and support to the Shoulder to Shoulder initiative are:

Chaplain General
The Chaplain General is the principle religious advisor to the Chief of Defence Staff and is responsible to provide the requisite spiritual and pastoral care for all CF military personnel and their families. Programs of pastoral care are provided on bases/wings/formations in Canada or wherever Canadian military personnel are assigned.

Director Casualty Support Management and Joint Personnel Support Unit
The Director of Casualty Support Management (DCSM) is a national organization that provides oversight and coordination leading to standardized and harmonized application of policies and delivery of multi-faceted programs to ensure support for the CF community, serving and retired.

The Joint Personnel Support Unit (JPSU) is the unit within DCSM that provides direct service and support to the CF community, through its 24 Integrated Personnel Support Centres located across the country.

HOPE (Helping Others by Providing Empathy)
HOPE is a peer support program for military families who have lost a loved one who served in the CF. The volunteers draw on their own grief experiences to assist and provide confidential peer support to the families.

Director Military Family Services
Director Military Family Services (DMFS) manages and funds the Military Family Services Program (MFSP) on behalf of the CF and DND.

The MFSP is delivered locally by 32 Canadian/Military Family Resource Centres (C/MFRCs) located across Canada, five throughout the United States, and six overseas. These centres also provide outreach and virtual services to ensure that the Program is available and accountable to all CF families across the country and around the world. 

DMFS provides the services of the Family Information Line, a 1-800 line which provides supportive counselling and useful information to all CF families, and, an online portal connecting military families with their local C/MFRC and other available services. 

Points of Contact for Families

Joint Personnel Support Unit / Director Casualty Support Management
Tel: 1-800-883-6094
Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm EST

HOPE (Helping Others by Providing Empathy)
Tel: 1-800-883-6094

CF Member Assistance Program
Tel: 1-800-268-7708

CF Chaplain Branch
Tel: 1-866-502-2203

Family Information Line
Tel: 1-800-866-4546
Monday-Friday, 8am-midnight EST

Military Family Resource Centres

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