Academic journal article Family Relations

Promoting the Adaptation of Military Families: An Empirical Test of a Community Practice Model

Academic journal article Family Relations

Promoting the Adaptation of Military Families: An Empirical Test of a Community Practice Model

Article excerpt

Promoting the Adaptation of Military Families: An Empirical Test of a Community Practice Model*

This study used structural equation modeling to examine a strengths-based, community practice model to explore the relationship between formal and informal community-based social networks and family adaptation in military communities. "Sense of community" was examined as a critical mediating variable. Results provide support for the practice model. Several important insights were revealed about the strength and nature of pathways between components in the model. Results suggest that communities (including the workplace) can be important sources of tangible information and expressive support. Other important implications for community practice and research are discussed.

Since the publication of Wilson's (1987) The Truly Disadvantaged, human service professionals have shown a renewed interest in community-building activities (see as examples Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001; Gittell & Vidal, 1998; Sviridoff & Ryan, 1997). Turner (1998) remarked recently that human service professionals today increasingly search for "the holy grail of community and neighborhood" in an attempt to strengthen the effectiveness of their interventions (p. ix).

Parallel to community development efforts in many civilian communities, the U.S. Air Force Family Advocacy Division recently revised its program standards to strengthen families through community-based prevention efforts (Bowen, Martin, & Nelson, 2002). A community practice model that embraces families within their social context has emerged that augments current Air Force (AF) treatment efforts for offenders and victims of family violence. This practice model has been the focus of earlier reviews (Bowen, Martin, Mancini, & Nelson, 2000) and focuses on the nexus between formal and informal networks of social care as a target for intervention efforts to support the adaptation of members and their families.

From the perspective of this model, the ability of families to adapt to the duty and career demands of an AF lifestyle is partly influenced by how successfully formal and informal networks operate and interact as components of community social organization. Formal networks reflect the policies and systems operating under military authority as instruments of socialization, support, and social control. Informal networks are voluntary and less hierarchical networks of personal and collective relationships and group associations.

Rather than offering formative guidance for policy and program development, research examining the relationship between formal and informal networks and family adaptation has not kept pace with actual policy and program initiatives. This investigation attempts to fill this void, in part, by examining several pathways that underlie the community practice model. It results from a partnership between academic researchers and AF policy makers and program staff.


The focus of this investigation is consistent with the tenets of evidence-based practice (Gambrill, 1999); the increasing calls to test theories of change as guides to practice (Connell & Kubisch, 2001); and the new forms of collaboration that have developed between academic researchers and community practitioners in designing and evaluating community-building efforts (Doherty, 2000; Naparstek & Dooley, 1997). AF policy and program leaders are looking for evidence that the targets of their community-based interventions have empirical linkages to desired results for military members and their families. As a result of such evidence, resources and training can be directed toward designing interventions to influence the operation of these networks. If the model or theory for the community intervention is flawed or weak, even the most carefully designed and executed interventions will have limited influence on outcomes for the military members and families that comprise the AF community. …

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