British Columbia

Virtual counselling in high demand for families of B.C. navy personnel deployed during pandemic

The Military Family Resource Centre in Esquimalt, B.C. is trying to respect physical distancing and still offer support for the loved ones of those away at seas in the midst of a global health emergency.

There are approximately 600 families in Victoria area with a loved one away at sea

If you have a family member in the navy and are worried about them or feeling overwhelmed with home responsibilities in their absence, the Military Family Resource Centre in Esquimalt can connect you to a counsellor 24/7. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

It is always worrisome to have a loved one in the navy and those worries are amplified for the approximately 600 Victoria-area families who currently have a member at sea in the midst of the COVID-19 global health emergency. 

The area naval base, CFB Esquimalt, is closed to the public in the wake of public health orders and this includes the Military Family Resource Centre, where navy families had access to child care and counselling services.

Jackie Carle, executive director of the centre, said despite the closure, there are some resources still available for those who need them.

"Our family networks and our counselling services are in high gear at the moment," said Carle Monday on On The Island.

Family networks, said Carle, are teams of families with the same loved one on a mission who rely on each other for emotional support. She said those teams are now connecting online, as are family members and counsellors for one-one-one sessions.

The Military Family Resource Centre in Esquimalt, B.C. has shut its facilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This closure includes all MFRC operations including daycare, preschool and out-of-school care. (Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre)

Carle said any family member who feels isolated, scared, or overwhelmed managing home affairs during this difficult time without their partner, can call the centre's family information line at any time of day to connect with a counsellor and arrange virtual sessions.

Carle said coronavirus concerns are also making day-to-day living logistics hard for spouses of navy personnel at home with children, especially without access to the centre's child care.

She said she recently heard from a mother who was left with no option but to take her small children grocery shopping with her and was shaken by the experience.

"She was quite badly shamed," said Carle about how other shoppers reacted to seeing a woman with kids in tow at the store.

Carle said volunteers are now stepping up to help military spouses with groceries and supplies if need be. 

The centre is also connecting military children with early childhood educators online. These sessions give parents some reprieve while their kids are taught songs and crafts.

Military families are "really resistant," said Carle, but the pandemic has added an extra layer of stress for everybody.

The Canadian military is taking what it calls "unprecedented measures" to protect its members from COVID-19 and prevent the spread of coronavirus, all while making sure it can still conduct essential operations.

The tight quarters aboard ship make navy crews especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because it's very difficult to stay two metres away from others.

To keep the virus off vessels, personnel are being screened prior to sailing. Sailors are checked for symptoms of COVID-19, their recent travel history is examined and they're scrutinized to see if they have had any potential contact with someone who had the coronavirus.

"We will do everything we can to ensure our sailors return home as safely as possible," Andrée-Anne Poulin, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, said in an email.

With files from On The Island and David Burke

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