The Foreign Service Journal, November 2019

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | NOVEMBER 2019 21 Proactive wellness strategies that carry families across post transitions could help make sure problems that festered at a previous post don’t recur at the next assignment. there was an urgency to be supportive and to protect the community. The security and medical officers were required to informWashington through their chan- nels in very restricted messaging, and a parallel committee was convened there. The advocacy team at post looked into concerns quickly and thoroughly, reach- ing out discreetly to the parties concerned to confirm their welfare and whether abuse or violence had taken place. In 99 percent of the cases we handled, families were troubled but not yet in abusive or violent situations. Our goal was to support them as long as it could be done safely by requiring counseling, offering support, looking at temporary residential separation when possible, and providing information on the family’s options while they came to their own decisions safely. If the situation didn’t improve or esca- lated, the advocacy teamwould consult and make recommendations to the chief of mission, up to and including curtail- ment if the necessary support wasn’t available at post or if the family was not cooperating. Washington was a close col- laborator in these rare cases. These situations are complex and not usually resolved after a single meeting or conversation. In the cases I am familiar with, we monitored that all concerned attended counseling sessions (includ- ing using remote counseling options through teleconferencing tools), that they respected separate housing arrange- ments if those had been requested, and that they were civil and respectful in their encounters as witnessed by members of the Family Advocacy Team or reported by the community. Several cases were mitigated by coun- seling; others resulted in marital separa- tions and eventual divorce. Most lasted for months at a minimum. More important, most ended with everyone safe. Overseas Stressors Why are we so vulnerable to situations of domestic tension or violence, espe- cially overseas? The high-stakes work of our agencies and the 24/7 on-call culture of our profession are challenges faced by all of our posts, in the United States and abroad. Overseas, factor in culture shock, isolation, language barriers, traffic problems and security concerns that can all elevate family stressors. We are proud to serve, and therefore sometimes underestimate the challenges faced both by our employees and by their family members. In some cases com- munity members are reluctant to ask for help; in other cases, they don’t know how to find it. Add to this the rising number of col- leagues who have served in unaccom- panied or dangerous posts. This service potentially adds layers of stress and consequences to the employee, including the fact that the reunited family has to re-learn successful patterns of communi- cation and commitment. Overworked CLOs are often the first to hear a concern of a family experienc- ing difficulties, but their growing range of responsibilities and the added complica- tions of hiring freezes and other chal- lenges strain their ability to monitor the community. No one likes gossip, but a good CLO knows the difference between chatty and chilling, and they have been our best early-warning system. I received expressions of concern from other colleagues, from family members and even from locally employed staff. While most did not rise to the level of domestic violence, they were all legiti- mate observations that helped us reach out and engage with families struggling to find their footing in our community. For those posted in the United States, there are more resources and they are more readily available. But sometimes there is less visibility to colleagues in the workplace, who don’t feel the same sense of responsibility that we feel to one another overseas. Lola Gulomova’s murder reminds us that the stakes are high wherever we are, and that we have the same sense of caring and loss wherever we are stationed. There are many resources available to FS families in the United States and overseas, as 19 State 77404 spells out. Our goal should be preventing domestic violence by supporting family wellness. Proactive wellness strategies that carry families across post transitions could help make sure problems that fes- tered at a previous post don’t recur at the next assignment. Since family advocacy cases are primarily managed at post, a troubled family that leaves post without resolution starts fresh at a new assign- ment where leadership may be blind to previous concerns. Victim support should also remain a priority if and when a family leaves post. Divorcing spouses may need copies of memos or files, and access can be surpris- ingly difficult to negotiate. Some feel that the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program, which is the action office for victim sup- port, could be more proactive.