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Peer Support: How to Support Your First Responder Teams in Their Family Relationships

Date:Tuesday August 1, 2023

First responders step up to the plate every day and handle major challenges. While you cannot control the exact kind of situations they’ll encounter during their shifts, you can be part of the responsive care and support network that helps them bounce back after traumatic experiences.


One of the ways that many people process the challenging circumstances of the first responder life is through conversations with their family members. Even if they don’t talk a lot about work at home, the warm interactions with a spouse or pleasant times spent with their children can be healing and bring perspective, showing the kind of world that first responders are working to bring about.


As a leadership team, you have the opportunity to make your first responders more resilient and retain them as employees for the long-term, but to do so, you may need to be flexible at the important moments of their lives when they most need your support. Here are just a few examples of ways that a leadership team’s approach can really strengthen family relationships for first responders:


Make thoughtful policies for overtime and hiring.


You may not see your basic employee handbook as a resource for strong family relationships for your team, but it really is. If your agency has a habit of waiting to make a strong push for new recruits until the team is deeply understaffed, for instance, the weight of extra overtime and shifts falls on your current team, and that is time they aren’t spending with their families. You know your team best, but it helps to occasionally review your policies with an eye to what the consequences are for the families of your team members: is there a way that you could support them in a strong work-life balance, helping them to have more to give in their home life?


Offer comprehensive EAPs and mental health support for both team members and their families.


While every workplace is a bit different, one area that is growing in importance for most first responder agencies is mental health resources. Making sure your team has a resource for trauma-informed therapy and critical incident stress management is a key element. However, your health insurance offerings can go a step further: family members should be able to access affordable mental health resources as well, since they too bear some of the worry and challenge of the first responder lifestyle. When the whole family have someone to talk to when they need it, they have a better chance of being able to support each other as well.


Create social event opportunities for families to meet.


Because first responder teams often become very close to each other, family members like spouses sometimes feel disconnected compared to those close bonds. Having Family Days and other social events are more than just excellent ways for your team members to spend time with their own families. These events also help spouses and children to see the people who are supporting someone important in their life: this bond can bring comfort on the long shifts when a mother or father is away from home. Knowing the strength of their colleagues can really help the family to grow stronger as well.


Resources to Support First Responder Family Relationships:

  • Look into and consider trainings like First Responder Family. Hosting a meal with childcare provided while a trainer visits to discuss common issues can help!
  • The same resources that SAMHSA provides to talk about managing stress in healthy ways can be used to start a conversation about how to manage stress in a healthy way with the additional contexts of significant others and parenting responsibilities.
  • MentalHealth.gov offers various resources for people adjacent to someone who is going through a mental health crisis, and these resources should be available to both your first responder teams and their families.

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