FOCUS (Families Overcoming Under Stress™) is a family-level resiliency training program designed to assist families experiencing high levels of stress and to prevent greater problems from occurring in the face of further stressors.

FOCUS is based on leading evidence-based family intervention models for at-risk families, and aims to strengthen family cohesion and parent-child, marital, and co-parenting relationships. FOCUS is structured around families’ development of a shared understanding of past experiences, as well as skill building in the areas of emotional regulation, communication, problem solving, goal setting, and managing trauma and loss reminders.

The core component of the FOCUS intervention is a six to eight session skills training program, with specific parent-only sessions, child-only sessions, and sessions including the whole family. When possible, both parents participate in the program; it can be conducted with one member participating long distance.

FOCUS for Military Families is designed to address the stress of an increased operational tempo and multiple deployments on military families. FOCUS offers several adaptations of the program, each of which uses the same core set of skills and the creation of a family narrative to assist military families facing challenges. FOCUS works with couples to increase their communication skills and understanding of each other’s experiences. When working with families with kids ages three to five, the program focuses on bolstering parenting skills and building parents’ understanding of their child’s reactions to stressors. When working with combat injured soldiers and their families, the FOCUS intervention helps families adjust to the specific changes and challenges that accompany combat injury.

Learning 5 Key Skills

In FOCUS, families develop a shared understanding of how their own deployment experiences, challenges, and successes create a unique story to enhance their resiliency and better equip them to cope with future obstacles and thrive as a family.

  • Emotional Regulation: Family members learn to better understand their emotions and a common emotional language to make it easier to communicate with one another. Parents learn skills to help them identify emotional reactions their children might have, such as being worried or sad.
  • Communication: Family members learn to actively listen and respond to one another’s concerns. They learn how to express feelings, talk to each other, and deal with unique challenges related to a family member’s Military service. Parents also learn how to address their children’s concerns when they are worried about their parent’s safety and/or their own safety.
  • Problem-Solving: Families learn how to clearly define problems and implement effective solutions, as well as ways to handle day-to-day challenges, while recognizing and building upon their existing strengths.
  • Goal-Setting: Families learn how to set and take steps towards achievable goals. Parents learn to work better as a team in parenting their children before, during, and after deployment.
  • Managing Deployment Reminders:Family members learn how to develop a plan together to deal effectively with deployment and combat stress reminders.

What Is Resilience?

Resiliency is the ability to cope with, adapt to, and overcome challenges. With resiliency training, children and families learn not just to meet challenges but also to become stronger in the face of challenges.

Developed by a UCLA-Harvard team, FOCUS teaches Military children and families to understand their emotional reactions, communicate more clearly, solve problems more effectively, and set and achieve their goals. Parents and children—from preschoolers to teens—learn to use tools that will aid in their everyday interactions and help them become a more complete and functional family.

Families are directly impacted by a parent’s military service, especially if the parent returns with significant levels of combat operational stress. A parent might return home and encounter deployment reminders in their daily life, leading to changes in their mood and behavior. These changes can be upsetting to children and spouses, and affect parenting and marital relationships. FOCUS helps families understand how reactions to deployment reminders can influence relationships and teaches skills to deal with them.