Abstract: Needs Assessment of C-First of Ohio: Children of First Incident Responders Support Team (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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512P Needs Assessment of C-First of Ohio: Children of First Incident Responders Support Team

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Karla Shockley McCarthy, MSW, LSW, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Sarah Parmenter, MSW, Doctoral Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Joselyn Sarabia, BSSW, Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Rylee Mirabile, BSSW Student, Ohio State University
Jennie Babcock, MSW, Undergraduate Studies Director, Ohio State University
Steven Click, Director, Ohio Department of Public Safety
Kim Kehl, Trauma-Informed Care Coordinator - Retired, Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services
Background: First responders – firefighters, law enforcement, and emergency medical services – are at elevated risk of substance use disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidality compared to the general population (SAMHSA, 2018). The work of first responders puts them at increased risk for physical and mental health issues that can affect their children. Children with parents who suffer from serious health events (Kristiansen, 2021) or mental health issues (Kamis, 2021) are more likely to have behavioral and mental health issues. Evidence also supports that trauma experienced by first responders can be transmitted to their children (Hoven et al., 2009). The Children of First Incident Responders Support Team (C-FIRST) Survey was developed in response to the interest of the first responder community to provide the first assessment to explore first responders’ unique concern for the well-being of their children and discern interest in a peer-support intervention to support their children.

Methods: This community-based research involves first responder affiliated social work students and first responder representatives from the Ohio Office of First Responder Wellness (OFRW) and Ohio Mental Health and Addiction Services collaborated to develop the online C-FIRST survey. Disseminated by the OFRW to first responder departments throughout Ohio, the cross-sectional survey collected occupational and demographic data and presented questions to understand better concerns about the well-being of first responders’ children and the interest in a peer-mentor program to provide support, community, and social opportunities for their children. The respondent sample (N = 196) is predominantly White (95.1%), male (57%), represents 73.9% of Ohio’s counties, and in law enforcement (86.5%). Fire service made up only 2.7% of the sample, dispatch was 5.9%, corrections 1.6%, and 3.2% other first responders. Most respondents were married or cohabitating couples (87%) and had a total of 369 children (48.5% adolescents); both first responders (66.5%) and their partners (29.7%) responded to the survey.

Results: Although a small percentage of respondents (15.8%) reported their children’s well-being as poor to fair, 53.1% stated concern with their children’s ability to cope with stress and anxiety, 27.6% were concerned with their children lacking friends, and 57.7% shared their children had expressed concerns – primarily fear - having a parent(s) a first responder. Almost half (48.4%) of respondents were “somewhat” to “extremely likely” and only 4.6% “extremely unlikely” to allow their children to participate in a peer-support program, and 63.8% thought peer mentorship would be beneficial. Time commitment and location concerns were the most significant barriers to participation commitment.

Implications: Results suggest first responders are concerned about their children’s stress and anxiety levels and are interested in a program of support and community led by a trained older peer mentor who is also the child of a first responder. Exact program services may include intervention to provide young people with the skills needed to cope with stress and anxiety that may stem from their parent’s position as first responders. Future research is needed to increase racial and occupational diversity; assessing between-group differences will guide for whom and where to target services.