It’s difficult enough to cope with long periods of separation, but even more so if you have the extra challenge of caring for a family member with additional needs. Over the last couple of years, AFF’s health & additional needs specialist Karen Ross has been involved with setting up support groups across the UK thanks to funding from ABF The Soldiers’ Charity…

“Families need a safe space to share information, advice and give one another support,” she explained.

Thanks to help from Vicky Harker, AWS welfare support officer, Carolyn Battey, UWO 6 Bn REME and Carol Morris, AFF’s Wiltshire co-ordinator, the Tidworth group has gone from strength to strength with lots of families coming along. 

One spouse said: “I find this group to be so friendly and I know that I can ask any question and if there’s no answer, one will be found.” 

Other organisations, including the Forces Additional Needs and Disability Forum (FANDF), pop along as guests to offer their expertise. 

“Without this group, I wouldn’t have direct face-to-face access to agencies across Wiltshire that offer their time to visit,” added another army spouse.

Building a network

AFF also set up groups in Colchester, Didcot and Northern Ireland. Jodie attends the group in Didcot and said: “It’s been so helpful to me in so many ways. It has made me feel more confident and appreciated. It’s great to get support and advice from other mums and dads and to not be judged. When you find out that your child has additional needs you can feel very alone.”

Leah Ann Humphreys, AFF’s former Oxfordshire co-ordinator, explained: “My eyes were opened up to how strong these women and men are in coping. They do this alongside all the other day-to-day struggles and joys of being an army family.” 

Claire Hallam, AFF’s East Anglia co-ordinator, has helped re-establish the Colchester support group at the request of families. They meet once a month and have also now set up a WhatsApp group so they can share information and give one another support at any time.

In Northern Ireland, AFF co-ordinator Lucy Clarke has brought in external agencies to help better inform and advise families. AutismNI visited the group and recently the Empower Project delivered workshops. Army spouse, Becky said: “It has been invaluable having these sessions to talk about the struggles we have with our children. Attending workshops on site has been amazing as fitting around my husband’s shift pattern would be really challenging.” 

Local needs 

AFF’s Scotland co-ordinator, Jenny Goodacre, also identified a need for a support group in Edinburgh: “It was clear from talking to spouses that they are coping remarkably well, but with no local family support and soldiers who are deployed regularly, they could do with their own space.” She’s already had some positive feedback from families who have popped in.

Karen continues to support the groups by attending in person or Skyping in. 

Check AFF’s social media to find a group near you. If you’d like to set up a group in your area, Karen would love to hear from you – email additionalneeds@aff.org.uk

Look out for groups continuing this year in Tidworth and Aldershot, thanks to funding from Aspire. Check AFF’s social media @The_AFF and local Facebook groups for details.

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