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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A new support program is helping Marine and Navy families deal with the emotional effects of long-term deployments and the strains of war.

FOCUS, or Families OverComing Under Stress, provides coping and problem-solving skills to help servicemembers and their families during and after deployments.

For military families, confronting and expressing emotion can be difficult, said Lisa LaPorte, a FOCUS trainer.

Children can feel uncomfortable sharing feelings of sadness or anger out of fear they may upset or offend a parent, she said, and servicemembers may be apprehensive about seeking help because they don’t want to be seen as weak in a system that promotes strength and force.

"Everybody’s protecting each other," LaPorte said. "You don’t want to say anything because you might make Mom cry or you have a teen who is against the war but has a parent who is a servicemember and has been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan."

LaPorte said FOCUS teaches effective communications.

"We give everyone a voice to express themselves and to be able to hear everyone’s opinions," she said.

During a series of sessions, families receive "resiliency training," in which they identify challenges and develop ways to address them.

Participation in the program is voluntary and confidential, LaPorte said.

Unlike therapy or counseling that provide ongoing treatment, FOCUS aims to equip families with resources to handle stresses before they become overwhelming.

"It’s prevention. We want to reach families before they need counseling and advocacy, or mental health [services]," said Fallon Sims, resiliency training coordinator.

Families will typically meet with a FOCUS team for eight sessions, which include separate meetings for children and parents, Sims said. Sessions can be expanded if needed.

Sims said trainers have been seeing families since August. She declined to say how many families have been involved but said interest has been growing.

The U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and the U.S. Marine Corps implemented FOCUS in response to concerns about military mental health and combat stress.

The UCLA Center for Community Health and the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress developed the program, which was piloted at Camp Pendleton in 2004 and 2005.

Last spring, six stateside military bases began offering FOCUS. Camp Foster is the only overseas base offering the program.

The Department of Defense has funded up to $5 million for FOCUS for fiscal years 2008 and 2009, said Kristen Woodward, a project manager with the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Camp Foster’s program was adjusted to accommodate families with children 3 and older because of need, Sims said.

"People could be apprehensive before they get here," Sims said. "But then they get here and really realize how strong a family they are."

For more information, call Sims at DSN 645-6077.

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