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Research Questions

  1. How is family resilience commonly defined, and how should the Department of Defense (DoD) define the term?
  2. What policies to promote family resilience currently exist within DoD?

Military life presents a variety of challenges to military families, including frequent separations and relocations as well as the risks that service members face during deployment; however, many families successfully navigate these challenges. Despite a recent emphasis on family resilience, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) does not have a standard and universally accepted definition of family resilience. A standard definition is a necessary for DoD to more effectively assess its efforts to sustain and improve family resilience. RAND authors reviewed the literature on family resilience and, in this report, recommend a definition that could be used DoD-wide. The authors also reviewed DoD policies related to family resilience, reviewed models that describe family resilience and identified key family resilience factors, and developed several recommendations for how family-resilience programs and policies could be managed across DoD.

Key Findings

Defining Family Resilience

  • Definitions of family resilience vary across the services; there is no officially recognized DoD-wide definition.
  • As of early 2015, DoD had 26 policies related to family resilience.
  • To facilitate a comprehensive view of family resilience programming across DoD, a well-defined, well-articulated definition of a family-resilience program is necessary.

Models of Family Resilience

  • The three most prominent models of family resilience are (1) the resiliency model of family stress, adjustment, and adaptation, (2) the systems theory of family resilience, and (3) the family adjustment and adaptation response (FAAR) model.
  • The most common family resilience factors — that is, the resources that families use to cope with stress — can be grouped into five domains: family belief system, family organization patterns, family support system, family communication/problem sharing, and the physical and psychological health of individual family members.


  • Define family resilience as "the ability of a family to respond positively to an adverse situation and emerge from the situation feeling strengthened, more resourceful, and more confident than its prior state."
  • Designate a governing or oversight body to manage the overall Department of Defense (DoD) family-resilience enterprise.
  • Adopt an official DoD definition and model of family resilience.
  • Develop a "road map" that follows established programs, policies, and definitions, ensuring that all stakeholders know their role and how they contribute to the success of the overall family-resilience enterprise.
  • Encourage a culture of continuous quality improvement (CQI) across DoD and within family-resilience programs.
  • Develop a system of coordination between programs to avoid redundancy and to encourage CQI.
  • Engage the research community to identify what aspects of family resilience matter most for best practices in military family-resilience programs.

This research was sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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