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By Miranda Ball

A group of Defence families from across Australia gathered at Sydney’s Darling Harbour recently for a three-day forum to explore the military way of life and the future of family support.

The Defence Family Forum was hosted by the Defence Community Organisation (DCO). It offered families the opportunity to shape the support they need from both Defence and the civilian community and to offer practical solutions to the demands of service life.

The Director General of the DCO, Michael Callan, says the forum explored the theme ‘strong families, strong communities, strong Defence’.

“We wanted to use the experiences of real Defence families to examine how they can overcome the challenges and make the most of the opportunities presented by the military way of life, Michael says. “And this leads into their role in connecting with and leading the wider Australian community.

Through a series of participant-driven workshops and open discussions, Defence families worked together to come up with a range of ideas and strategies to support the unique needs of military families.

“We have recorded each idea as a discrete project and DCO will support local groups of Defence families to manage and implement these projects over the coming months, Michael says.

“This support will involve linking the family action groups with local community groups to gain additional assistance when they need it.

Project ideas included building a centralised website to help families become familiar with new posting locations, establishing a group of experienced Defence partners to mentor newer Defence partners, and building community gardens for mobile families.

Michael says DCO will use the thoughts, ideas and information that it has collected from the forum to engage Defence and civilian community organisations in collective support of Defence families.

“The next step is to host a Defence Community Forum, later in 2012, he explains.

“This will build on the projects and ideas established during the Defence Family Forum, and will help stakeholders in both the Defence and civilian communities to understand their role in the support of Defence families. This will let them develop and formalise strategies to address the needs that our families have identified.