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.