Defence Families of Australia (DFA) is the national advocacy body for current Defence families. National Convenor for DFA, Maree Sirois, shares her view on the important work of the organisation.
DefenceLife: What are the most important things that DFA does in support of Defence Force families?
Maree Sirois: Our team consists of 12 partners of current serving ADF members. We are located at key Defence locations around Australia. Our National Delegates provide individual advocacy to ADF families that might need additional assistance navigating Defence life. Our Canberra team look at trending issues across the country such as ADF Partner/Spouse employment, location of housing and children’s education.
DL: Why is it important that DFA continue to advise government on family matters?
MS: The recently released Australian Defence Veterans’ Covenant says: “We acknowledge the unique nature of military service and the sacrifice demanded of all who commit to defend our nation.” Families can also be impacted by this unique service so it’s important that DFA (which is independent of Defence) provides that lived experience to decision making. Our team have developed trusted relationships with local families and regional stakeholders. Defence families themselves are also changing, just as they are in the general community. The need for two incomes is a really good example of that. DFA has therefore been able to raise awareness of the barriers to employment for our partners (such as frequent moving and moving to locations of varying opportunities) and advocate for increased assistance.
DL: If DFA weren’t doing this what would be lost in terms of support for these families?
MS: In the past, DFA has been described as a voice for families. Each year we conduct feedback sessions in our local regions to listen to the concerns of families. We collate this information and present it to the Minister, Defence and the stakeholders that support Defence families. We are the only national independent body who speaks to the families directly and provides this feedback to Defence and government. Our individual family advocacy work relies on the relationships and the connections we have with Defence and local stakeholders, such as Defence Housing Australia (DHA) to help come up with solutions for all parties. Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping families connect with the right people or speaking to the policy makers about the experiences families are having.
DL: Is having an independent, non-governmental organisation critical to families having their concerns heard, and acted upon, within Defence and the federal government generally?
MS: Yes, we feel very strongly about the role we play in advocating for Defence families. We can’t always promise that policies will change, but we will listen to them and advise Defence and government of the unique challenges faced by ADF families.
DL: Does DFA play a part in conversations nationally about serious issues such as the mental health of returned soldiers and, in turn, the effects on family life?
MS: Health and wellbeing are important for all ADF families. Knowing where to get help is critical, particularly in times where the member is absent from home such as on deployment or exercise etc. We want to contribute to the national conversation for supporting good mental health for all, and letting people know it’s ok to reach out for support. We see it as our role to connect with, educate and inform ADF families of services such as Open Arms or Defence Community Organisation that families can contact 24/7 about themselves or their loved ones: Defence Family Helpline 1800 624 608 (Defence family support) and Open Arms 1800 011 046 (free counselling)
Find more about DFA or for advocacy at www.dfa.org.au