THE Centre for Mental Health states that every year, approximately one-in-ten children and young people experience a mental health problem. With the number of Service children estimated at around 73,000, the chances are a significant number of them may have a diagnosable condition.
This year, AFF Health & Additional Needs Specialist Karen Ross is investigating Service children’s emotional wellbeing, particularly the support available for those aged 16 and under. Karen has identified three key areas:
- Deployment/training and separation
- Impact of parental mental health
“Mobility is a unique factor in Service families’ lives, moving every three years on average,” said Karen.
“It’s been well documented that it disrupts family life and may particularly affect children with a pre-existing mental health condition, and/or additional needs.”
Many of you have come to AFF to tell us that your children can develop low level anxiety when leaving an area. Often this is expressed through challenging behaviour, with children becoming unsettled or not sleeping.
“One educational expert told me that art therapy and ‘show and tell’ gives children an opportunity to share their feelings,” added Karen.
“It’s important for them to talk about where they used to live because moving can be a type of grieving process.”
Issues with continuity of treatment can be problematic, particularly when accessing Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
In part, this is because there is currently no mechanism for consultant-to-consultant referral, meaning children must be ‘re-referred’ through their new GP or school.
“This can take considerable time and families are left without adequate support during this process,” explained Karen. “AFF has used your evidence to highlight this problem to NHS England and the Armed Forces Covenant team. We recommend that you keep copies of medical records before you move and research what provision is available in your new location.”
Dealing with separation
Research suggests that Service children are more susceptible to emotional distress whilst parents are away from home. Deployment, training and living unaccompanied can create long periods of separation and, in some cases, this can lead to social isolation, loneliness and deterioration in behaviour.
Jo’s six-year-old son George found his father’s deployment difficult and his behaviour changed. Jo’s unit welfare team suggested contacting her husband’s regimental benevolent fund. “They funded three counselling sessions for George,” she explained. “We’ve found creative ways for him to keep in contact with his dad.”
The impact of parental mental health
The NSPCC estimates that more than two million children are living with a parent who has a common mental health disorder. A number of you have asked AFF about specific support to help children understand serious mental health conditions.
Jane’s husband has PTSD and finds sudden or loud noises unbearable, frequently asking their children to be quieter.
Jane said: “One day I was in a church with our three-year-old and she said we should bring daddy here because it’s very quiet. When my husband is in hospital, I have to be everything for everyone; dealing with my own worries and those of my children too.”
Jane contacted Young Carers for support for her eldest daughter. She was also referred to national organisations Rethink and Home-Start to help her younger child.
Where can we go for support?
AFF has found that many of you struggle to find targeted support, but there are organisations that can help.
Army spouse Karen contacted AFF because she wanted specific support for her son L-J, who has struggled to adjust to civilian life.
She said: “Never in a million years did I think I would need support, but my eldest at 13, my big friendly giant, is screaming out for help – unable to vocalise what he really wants or needs. I can do the after-school activities, lots of TLC and talking, but I can’t make friends for him!”
Karen has applied for a grant from The Royal British Legion to fund a go-kart building project in her son’s school. She added: “L-J would ideally work in a small group with school support for his emotional behaviour, to build his self-esteem, work as a team and hopefully make friends and fit in.”
The Army Welfare Service (AWS)
AWS community development support workers (CDSWs) run activities in many locations. Denise, in Aldershot, provides youth clubs for youngsters aged between five-and-seven and eight-and-12. “We are also hoping to set up a youth voice project for teenagers in this area,” she explained.
Overseas CDSWs engage with Service children in Kenya, Brunei, Nepal and EJSU, so are aware of issues and can provide support and early intervention. AWS is also helping young people of 16 and older to access the Mental Health First Aid programme.
For more information on AWS, see our interview with Rebecca Wakefield, head of community support, on page 37.
It’s important to develop creative ways to keep in touch when a parent is away for long periods. Two charities that support families with this are Little Troopers, which provides resources, initiatives and events to keep parent and child connected, and Reading Force, which encourages sharing through books – see page 46 of spring 2019’s magazine.
In Catterick, the NSPCC manages The Almond Tree Project, which supports parents with bringing up their children through drop-in sessions, the SafeCare parenting programme and children’s groups.
Mental health charity MIND has developed the ‘In It Together’ programme in Oxfordshire to provide parents with strategies to improve their resilience – running courses in Didcot, Abingdon, Bicester, Brize Norton and Benson. The charity’s Susan Mundy said: “We can run as many courses as are required until July 2019 and each one runs over a four-week period.”
A similar project runs in Suffolk.
The Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET) is Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity. For children from families who are struggling to make ends meet, living with ill health and disability, or experiencing difficulties at school, it provides a lifeline.
RCET also works with young people as well as educators across Scotland to ensure that they get the best out of their education and that their voices are heard on all issues affecting them, including their wellbeing.
As the awareness of Supporting Service Children in Education Wales (SSCE Cymru) has increased, so have the number of queries regarding wellbeing and mental health.
SSCE Cymru has produced a bilingual document providing advice and links to resources.
In Northern Ireland, your first port of call should be the AWS if you require support for your child.
There are a number of initiatives supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing that aren’t specific for Service children. Here’s a brief selection:
The Family Counselling Trust (Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire)
Part-funded counselling for children up to the age of 18
The Wave Project
Surf therapy to help young people feel less anxious and more positive
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust
Early Intervention in psychosis for anyone aged 14-35
Hampshire Youth Access
Counselling, information, advice and support to children aged 5-17
Resources for children and young people and parents’ helpline