Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday) publishing a report looking at the lives and experiences of children who grow up in an Armed Forces family.
The report, ‘Kin and Country: Growing up as an Armed Forces Child’, explores how primary and secondary school children with parents in the Armed Forces feel about moving school or country, how their lives at home and school change with deployment and whether or not they feel they receive the support they need.
The Children’s Commissioner’s Office spoke to children up and down the country whose parents are currently serving in the Army, Navy or RAF, as well as speaking to teachers, parents and members of the Armed Forces to build a clear picture of where there are gaps in provision for children, and why these gaps exist.
The report shows that most children in Armed Forces families are growing up living happy lives, despite the unique challenges they face. It is clear though that the lifestyle can be tough, and that multiple school moves often leave children feeling unsettled and anxious. For children with additional needs or teenagers in the middle of exam courses, moving around adds another layer of complication.
Alongside the impact of mobility, service children describe a range of complex emotional responses to the deployment of their parents, sharing the impact that parental absence has at home, with changing family dynamics and increased responsibility for siblings and household tasks. For children who had both parents deployed at the same time, these issues are exacerbated by the need to move to stay with another family member for a significant period of time.
However, despite the challenges highlighted in this report, many of the children in the study had developed very effective coping strategies. The vast majority of service children we spoke to during this project were happy, resilient and incredibly proud to have a parent serving in the Armed Forces.
The report makes a number of recommendations:
- While the MoD have a range of policies about minimising disruption to family life, we found confusion as to how they operate in practice. The MoD need to increase awareness of these policies amongst parents and senior staff, particularly around the procedures in place to minimise educational disruption (such as avoiding moves in a GCSE year). This should include improved advice to parents about informing their children’s school when they are deployed.
- It is vital that children do not lose additional support when they move between areas, whether that be SEND support, health treatment including CAMHS, or support from children’s services. These services need to move with the child. Service children should not experience disruption to their support due to MoD relocation (including their place on a waiting list). Greater action is needed on the transfer of support when children move between local authorities and devolved nations.
- We found children not placed in the most appropriate school with siblings, causing further and unnecessary instability. The MoD/DfE should work with Local Authorities and Regional Schools Commissioners on this matter.
- Service children’s interests should be taken into account when making deployment decisions.
- When both parents are serving personnel and subject to overseas deployment, every effort must be made by the MoD to ensure both parents are not deployed at the same time. Both parents should not be deployed unless suitable care and accommodation is secured for their child/children at home.
- MOD play and youth work strategy should be developed to ensure effective emotional support is provided for children from service families. This is particularly important for teenagers, who are often unwilling to seek support from home or school.
- The MoD and Department for Education (DfE) should improve their data collection around service pupils. They must establish a clearer understanding of the numbers of service children in schools and their patterns of mobility and parental deployment. This should include a better identification of service children who may not be declared under the current reporting systems – such as children with unmarried parents, separated parents or stepparents in the Forces.
The report will be launched tonight at an event in Parliament hosted by Johnny Mercer MP. Armed Forces Minister Tobias Ellwood MP and Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith MP will speak at the event, alongside some of the children who took part in the project.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commenting on today’s report, said:
“The vast majority of service children we spoke to during this project were happy, resilient and incredibly proud to have a parent serving in the Armed Forces. Belonging to a military family was central to their identity and sense of self, and it is clear that we should celebrate the contribution and the sacrifices made by military families.
“However, more can be done to improve the services that help these children as they cope with the pressures brought about by frequent moves and parental deployment. I want to see a child-focused approach to supporting military families that takes into account the complex challenges that are inevitably part of growing up in an Armed Forces family.”