10 Steps to Building Your Department’s Spouse Support Group
As a spouse of a law enforcement officer, you constantly worry about their safety and if they are going to be home after their shift. After the tragic events in Dallas on July 7, 2016, where five officers were murdered, and nine others were injured, it really hit home that this could happen anywhere. This concern brought families of our department together for a group counseling session. I didn’t know it, but my attendance was the first step into uncharted territory – creating a spousal support group.
The group counseling session was led by Dr. Gina Gallivan, a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in employee and family support for first responders. As she empathetically presented reassuring statistics about police safety, the room was quiet. Even when she asked questions, participation was nearly non-existent. There was something brewing underneath the silence, and Dr. Gallivan could feel it. Finally, she asked the officers to leave the room.
With our officers absent, the spouses opened up about our anger and fear. Some voiced hesitation to share our feelings at home because our officers need our strength. While discussion focused on the recent event, I noticed conversation was moving toward general topics law enforcement spouses have in common. I asked the doctor if a spousal support group existed. In the 60 departments she works with throughout Los Angeles and Orange counties in California, she wasn’t aware of any.
Even with no formal models to follow, we saw the need to start our own spousal support group. Linda, another veteran police wife, offered to co-lead a group with me. We didn’t know how or what we were going to do, but with her experience in counseling through church and my willingness to get things organized, our group was born. Our first meeting took place after one of our officers was involved in a shooting. The officer was alright, but it was a close call. Now our group needed to spring into action.
Here are the steps that helped us start our Support for Officer’s Spouses (S.O.S.) group:
- Choose a location. We reserved a room at the police department, but you can contact local community centers or host at your home.
- Spread the word. With support from the department, meeting times and group information were sent via department email.
- Determine boundaries. We recognized immediately that confidentiality and privacy are paramount. We start every gathering by reestablishing our commitment to never share what goes on in our group with anyone.
- Develop a mission statement. Our mission is “To create and maintain an organized peer group that provides support for families of Huntington Beach Police Officers”.
- Make it official. We want to be taken seriously, not looked upon as a gossip group. We created a logo, business cards, and started a private Facebook group for communication. For members not on Facebook, we utilized email.
- Plan ahead. We scheduled monthly meetings and communicated via the police department, our Facebook group, and email. We developed a list of topics to draw from for future meetings and, when possible, we invite expert guest speakers.
- Survey your members. We wanted to know what our members need/want from the group.
- Be creative, flexible, and social. Many of our members live farther away from the department or have small children and can’t attend regular meetings. We’re trying new ways of gathering the members: holding virtual meetings via Facebook live, rotating locations between homes, restaurants, police department, etc. And we hold social gatherings to get to know each other and build friendships outside the group.
- Meet with your department’s trauma support team (if available). Our officers are fortunate to have a peer-based trauma support group. We met to discuss and review how traumatic events are handled by the agency. We were able to attend a three-day trauma support training.
- Create a critical event communication plan. With safety and legal ramifications of communicating too much or inappropriately, we recognized how careful we need to be in the event of a critical on-duty situation. We developed a plan for what could be communicated, when, and to whom.
As we move through our second year, I look back on how we’ve built, grown, and improved. Our membership is now 80 strong. We’ve made new friends, met some amazing spouses, and have a deep realization of the uniquely challenging lives we lead as law enforcement officer’s spouses. Our vision is to grow this group into a system of love and support, no matter what we and our officers face. Our hope is that our sharing will inspire others to start their own groups.
For more about the Huntington Beach, CA, Police Department visit their website, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.
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