Mental Health

New tool kit aims to support the children of military families

The SCiP Alliance puts service children's voices at the heart of all they do.

People who grew up as children in a military family are sharing their experiences to help support future generations of young people in the armed forces community.

Those who grew up as military children are working with The Service Children's Progression Alliance (SCiP), an organisation focused on improving outcomes for children from the armed forces families, to help manage young people's wellbeing. 

Lizzie Rodulson and Morgan McArthur are former service children with unique military childhoods. Speaking with BFBS the Forces Station, they told of how their work with the SCiP Alliance has seen them spending time with current service children to discover how future generations can be helped. 

This experience has highlighted to them what they already knew about themselves as former military children. 

Many service children they meet are resilient and hard-working with a lust for life. Lizzie and Morgan's work with SCiP also revealed that service children do not want to be singled out as being different from their friends from outside the armed forces community.

Lizzie said: "They don't necessarily want to be singled out but just knowing that someone's there that is aware of their situation can be such a positive thing so keep being proud of what your family members are doing."

The mental health concerns for some military children should never be generalized. There is no 'one size fits all' answer to helping these children but something that can hugely benefit some is to ensure they can stay in touch with others who understand what they are going through. 

This is where SCiP can help. 

SCiP is working closely with primary and secondary schools, universities, military family federations, UK government agents and the Ministry of Defence to improve support for children with one or more parent serving in the British Armed Forces.

Being born into the military community gives these children the opportunity to make new friends in each posting and enjoy new cultures but there can also be a downside. For example, many service children will find themselves living in different locations and sometimes separated from their parents due to deployments. 

These experiences can make children feel unsettled, negatively affecting their mental health and wellbeing.

Thriving Lives Toolkit 

Mobility, separation from parents, transitioning from military communities to civilian ones and many other factors, all come into play for service children but as Philip Dent, SCIP Alliance Director, explains to broadcaster Rachel Cochrane, of BFBS the Forces Station, in the audio above, it's not always as clear cut as that: "All of those things interact in really complex ways that are highly individualised. 

"So, it's really important that when we think about service children's mental health we try to get as close to the individual rather than generalise." 

Drawing on their rigorous evidence-based research, the team have developed the 'Thriving Lives Toolkit' which provides schools with a framework of seven principles to reflect on their practice and a three-tier set of resources. 

The seven principles are: 

  1. A clear approach 
  2. Wellbeing is supported 
  3. Achievement is maximised 
  4. Transition is effective 
  5. Children are heard 
  6. Parents are engaged 
  7. Staff are well-informed 

The research reveals that service children do not want to be singled out. Instead, they want to feel understood and a sense of belonging. 

As Mr Dent said: "They want to know where to go when they need help because it can affect them both positively and negatively. 

"That's why it's so important to make the spaces for individual children to be able to respond to their experiences in individual ways." 

Chief Petty Officer HMS Richmond reunited family following deployment at sea 2014 Picture Crown Copyright
A Chief Petty Officer from HMS Richmond is reunited with his children after a deployment at sea in 2014 (Picture: Crown Copyright).

Lizzie Rodulson's father was in the Royal Air Force. The paediatric nurse, whose work sees her caring for premature babies, is also a SCiP Alliance Board member.

The former military child believes the 'Thriving Lives Toolkit' will help service children overcome some of the barriers they face by being able to far easily communicate their feelings to loved ones and their school. She said: "I was quite lucky in that I used to chat to my mum and sister about anything and everything if I had any worries during deployment.

"But I was also at a primary school which was 99% service children, so the teachers and the support staff really understood what it meant. 

"A lot of them had come from the military background as well so they really understood what it meant so we could really have those in-depth conversations to support our mental wellbeing." 

What advice does Lizzie have for teachers whose students are from the Armed Forces community? She said: "If you know that you've got military young people in your school, just reach out to them. 

"They don't necessarily want to be singled out but just knowing that someone's there that is aware of their situation can be such a positive thing so keep being proud of what your family members are doing."

Connected Forces

Older teenagers can also benefit from access to a community of like-minded people to provide a sense of belonging. 

SCiP has created 'Connected Forces', an online space for 16 to 19-year-olds from armed services families funded by the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust. 

The project's aim is to provide a sense of belonging for young people by giving them one year of access to a free, secure, online platform where teenagers can chat with others from Armed Forces families, get careers advice, develop skills, have their say and access bespoke resources. 

Listen: Tim Humphries speaks to SCiP Project Manager Rachel Lad and former services child Morgan McArthur.

Rachel Lad, 'Connected Forces' project manager, spoke to Tim Humphries, of BFBS the Forces Station, about how the online groups are helping to boost mental health and well-being among older teenagers in the armed forces community. 

She says there is already a positive reaction from the teenagers who have formed a strong community online, saying: "They want to talk to people who know about military issues, make friends from similar backgrounds. 

"[They] hope to gain possible opportunities they may have missed out on being an [Armed Forces] child and have that comfort and chance to see how other people are coping with being in a family with an Armed Forces background."

SCiP Alliance research has shown that older teenagers in the military community are more likely to sometimes feel isolated and are more aware of how their service child status could possibly have a negative impact on their lives. 

Military children are often dispersed across the country so might find themselves in an area where they do not know anyone else who comes from an armed forces background who they can chat to about what it is like to grow up in that environment. 

Morgan McArthur is a former service child who is now activities and development officer at Sheffield Student Union.

Children taking part in an RAF Youth & Stem Programme event in Scotland in 2017 (Picture: Crown Copyright | SAC Charlotte Hopkins).
Children taking part in an RAF Youth & Stem Programme event in Scotland in 2017 (Picture: Crown Copyright | SAC Charlotte Hopkins).

She says that having both of her parents as British Army officers shaped the adult she has become and that the age range the 'Connected Forces' project is trying to help "is a pivotal age in a young person's life for making so many key decisions about their futures". 

She goes on to say: "I really feel that having this project around when I was that age would have massively helped my mental health as well. 

"I had an undiagnosed learning difficulty until I reached university... and I didn't necessarily know if I was the only child who had parents who had been serving so without that community in place, it's continued to feel as if I've not known where to go for support." 

Morgan explains that one of the first times she realised her military childhood had helped her as an adult was when she went to university, saying: "I didn't struggle with the adaptability side of moving somewhere new, starting life somewhere fresh and independently with the confidence and drive to be able to try new activities. 

"It really came back to that sense of community and trying to manage my own mental health there as well." 

Her work with the SCiP Alliance has seen Morgan meet many other military children and discover that there is something a lot of them have in common, saying: "We're all such hard workers and I think there's a real joy in approaching life and education which I think every child should have the access to." 

"The resilience we see in service children as well and that adaptability to try new places and try new experiences is absolutely unmatched."

Cover Image: Children taking part in an RAF Youth & Stem Programme event in Scotland in 2017 (Picture: Crown Copyright |SAC Charlotte Hopkins).