Navigating childhood is challenging and coping with military life can be an additional complication for service children and young people. This, together with the ordeals of COVID-19, has led to some youngsters, and parents, needing extra support. Our Health & Additional Needs Specialist, Karen Ross, looks at sources of help…

Families regularly ask AFF for links to support on issues such as wellbeing, eating disorders, self-harm, bullying and being a victim of crime. The number of you getting in touch about mental health support for your children has increased during the pandemic too. NHS statistics state that mental health problems among five to 16-year-olds in England have risen from one in ten in 2017 to around one in six in 2020.

NHS support in schools

There are 183 teams who are ready to support children and young people in around 3,000 schools and colleges. By 2023 there will be 400, offering support to almost three million pupils who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and other common mental health issues. It includes telephone consultations and helplines, buddying and networks, as well as one-to-one therapy and workshops.

AFF, the other families federations, Defence Children Services, the MOD and other organisations have asked for the unique issues faced by service children to be considered when training the new mental health support teams – search MHST at england.nhs.uk

Army Welfare Service

As well as delivering a range of activities year-round, AWS Community Support is becoming well established in schools, providing one-to-one peer support, group work and drop-in sessions.

Sarah Magee, from AWS, says: “Building mental wellbeing is embedded in the work we do. We understand the value of young people receiving support from trusted adults, positive relationships and having a safe place where they feel comfortable. We aim to instil confidence and self-belief, so they’re empowered to build bright futures.”

Young people can take part in social action projects on issues they care about and be actively involved in Youth Voice and the UK Youth Parliament. One of the biggest topics on the agenda now is mental health, wellbeing and resilience.

“There are many great reasons to get involved with AWS activities,” adds Sarah. “You can meet new people, gain a sense of belonging, develop new skills and improve health and wellbeing. You’ll make a difference to your community and can volunteer with us, gain qualifications or even become a youth leader.”

See your local HIVE for details of AWS activities near you. To read more about AWS’s work in schools, turn to page 61 of the autumn 2021 edition.

Togetherall

If your child is 16 or over, you can access Togetherall (formerly the Big White Wall) free. Togetherall works with the MOD and NHS to deliver support services for all serving personnel, reservists, veterans and their families. They are experienced in supporting the armed forces and wider military community with anxiety, depression, family and relationships, alcoholism and bereavement – go to togetherall.com

The Forces Additional Needs and Disability Forum (FANDF)

SSAFA’s FANDF is a tri-service group that has a vision to ensure that all forces families with additional needs and disabilities receive the support they need.

The group published its Families Fighting On report last year, which highlights some of the key issues and your lived experiences. Head to ssafa.org.uk

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET)

RCET’s Your Mind Matters project aims to gain a better understanding of the unique challenges that service children and young people in Scotland face with mental health and wellbeing, and how to effectively support them. It’s currently being produced and will launch next year – rcet.org.uk

LGBTQ+ guide

If you’re an army family with an LGBTQ+ child, it can be difficult to find specific support. One family who contacted AFF recently said: “I know we cannot be the only military family with an LGBTQ+ child. I would welcome a central support network which can recognise the extra complexities military life and frequent mobility brings.” The MOD has created a guide for parents with LGBTQ+ children. It discusses coming out and transgender issues and includes some insightful case studies. Search ‘Guide for Parents of LGBT+ Children’ online.

SSCE Cymru

The new service family guide from SSCE Cymru (Supporting Service Children’s Education in Wales) contains links to health and wellbeing support for children and young people. Some health boards in Wales have enhanced the offer on healthcare for service children, so that they are fast-tracked through the referral process when trying to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). All referrals into paediatric services are screened to identify whether the referral is a child from an armed forces family too. Visit sscecymru.co.uk

SSAFA Chatter

This series of podcasts tackles a range of topics, including mental wellbeing and diversity and inclusion. Created by SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity, the series discusses wellbeing amongst a range of age groups, from children under 8 to adults who live alone. To listen, visit ssafa.org.uk/ssafachatter

Little Troopers

Military Child Wellbeing Courses support service children in primary and secondary schools. They’ve been designed to encourage military children to explore the unique challenges they experience. The two courses – for 6-11 and 11+ year olds – include topics on how to cope with separation, deployment, house moves and living abroad, as well as personal themes such as belonging, identity and mindfulness – littletroopers.net

Horse play

It’s well documented that being around horses (inset above) can have a positive effect on mental health and wellbeing, so take a look at what’s going on at your local saddle club. Tedworth Equestrian Centre (TEC) in Wiltshire, for example, has previously run one-off sessions for young carers and young people managing mental health conditions. During its enrichment programme with nearby Wellington Academy, children came in three days a week. They gained invaluable life skills such as organisation, problemsolving, emotional regulation and teamwork. TEC also teaches a young adult with ADHD and Asperger’s who has been coming since he was 13 and another young person who has been bullied – both have had their self-confidence massively improved by contact with the horses – head to tedworthequestrian.com

Find out more

If you’re having issues accessing support for your child or have concerns about their wellbeing, contact me at healthsupport@aff.org.uk or see aff.org.uk


Main photo credit: jcomp – www.freepik.com

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