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Family life for children with serving parents

When a member of the Armed Forces moves for work, their families often move with them. Moves can occur across the UK and in some cases abroad. Postings can last in each area for a few years before the individual moves jobs (and often location) again.

The Armed Forces provide accommodation for families should they wish to take this. The houses can be located on site where the parent works or within the local area.

The frequent moves experienced by Armed Forces families can present a number of challenges for  school age children, especially if the child is moving around exam time or has been diagnosed with Special Educational Needs or a Disability. It can be hard emotionally to say good-bye to friends and begin the process of making new ones, particularly if the family move during a school term.

The Children’s Commissioner has published a report looking at the lives of children who grow up within Military families. Although most children are growing up happy, the report highlights that the lifestyle can be tough, with frequent school moves leaving children feeling unsettled and anxious.

Below are some of the children’s quotes from the report:

"I've moved nearly every two years. I've never finished a school! ... I've just been moving around a lot with my family, I've moved from Germany to Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland to England, so I've moved houses so many times" (12 year old girl)
"I had so many friends that used to live near me, my next-door neighbour was my best friend, it was really sad" (10 year old boy)
"For me, when you're older it's not so much about making new friends, it's about the potential for messing up your life... life... will I have to change my [GCSE] options, will I get to go to the 6th form I want?" (15 year old boy)

As there are no large regular Military garrisons or bases within West Yorkshire it is likely that the Serving parent either commutes to work or even lives away from the family home. A parent living away from home the majority of the week can present its own issues, such as the child missing the parent and the parent missing out on family events during the week. This can be  made harder if the family have been used to living together during previous postings.

A smaller number of Military families in the area also limits the amount of peer support children (and parents) are likely to receive from other Military families in their local area.

The SCiP Alliance has created a briefing report describing the effects non-operational separation can have on families.

For further reading, the Naval Families Federation alongside King’s Centre for Military Health Research, have looked into the effect of non-operational family separations or ‘weekending’.  The NFF have also produced a useful guide for parents and adults (PDF) supporting children and young people who have to cope with parental absences.

Deployment is another part of Military life families have to face. A deployment can occur nationally or internationally and can be for months at a time.

In some situations a parent may have limited contact with their child due to the sensitivity of their work.

For example, for parents serving on submarines, due to the restrictions and sensitivity of their work, they will have very little contact with the outside world. Families are permitted to send one-way ‘familygrams’, which can be sent in once or twice a week but they can be no longer than 120 words in total, but the Serving parent cannot reply to these. This lack of contact can provoke stress and worry for a child, particularly if the parent is going to a high-risk area.

After longer periods of deployment, Service individuals are granted periods of R&R (rest and recuperation), where they have time off to spend with family. This time may not coincide with school holidays which may result in term-time absence requests.

The Ministry of Defence Armed Forces Families and Safeguarding (AFFS) has written to Head Teachers around term time absences.

Further information on what life can be like as part of a Military family is outlined in the Service Children in State Schools Handbook (PDF).

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