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Pride, resilience and worry part of life for armed forces children, report finds

The Children’s Commissioner for England has recommended ways to reduce youngsters’ turmoil amid frequent school changes and absent parents.

Children of armed forces servicemen and women are sometimes being put into foster care when overseas deployments leave them without any suitable family to care for them, a report has found.

The Children’s Commissioner for England’s report into life for the sons and daughters of serving soldiers identifies that while most children develop effective coping strategies, some are forced to go into temporary care with strangers if both parents are deployed at the same time.

Other children reported being unsettled from moving house, school and even country multiple times, making them feel anxious, while many said they pined for their absent parent despite being “happy, resilient and incredibly proud” to have a mother or father in the armed forces.

Commissioner Anne Longfield said: “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.”

While the report found the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has a range of policies about minimising disruption to family life, there was confusion as to how they operate in practice.

The 40 children involved in the study were said to be “resilient, spirited and well able to deal with the turmoil of a mobile lifestyle”, and some said they enjoyed the safety of living in military quarters.

There's always the thought that you're never going to see them again, that's always the thought that's in my head all the time Fifteen-year-old son of military serviceman

But parental deployment typically resulted in “sadness, worry and general unease”, with children concerned about their family member’s safety while working away.

One 15-year-old boy told researchers: “There’s always the thought that you’re never going to see them again, that’s always the thought that’s in my head all the time. So that’s the only one that I ever get.”

Children with additional needs also faced particular problems; in one case a family was separated by a distance of 180 miles due to a lack of specialist school provision nearby.

The report also found anecdotal evidence of instances where the “lack of appropriate childcare meant a child had been taken into foster care” while the parents were away.

The commissioner said it was “clear that a number of changes should be made” to help children growing up in service families.

These include ensuring cherished support services are not lost when children move home or school, calling for the MoD to increase awareness of policies that are designed to minimise disruption, and ensuring both parents are not deployed overseas at the same time unless suitable care can be made at home.

A Government spokesperson said: “We understand the unique challenges that children of armed forces personnel face.

“We already have a range of measures in place and are further improving these to ensure that service children are treated fairly and achieve their full potential.

“These include the Service Pupil Premium, special provisions in school admission codes to make sure children aren’t disadvantaged, and an information sharing system, which allows schools to record and securely share the educational needs of individual children, allowing smoother transitions between schools.”

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