After AFF reported an increase in the number of enquiries from the USA in 2019, ranging from schools to health, we were pleased to see the introduction of the British Defence Staff United States portal –

A few years on, Esther Thomas, AFF’s Manager Overseas, believes the portal now offers a good mix of frequently asked questions. “It enables you to research pre-arrival basics and you can also ask questions direct to subject matter experts in the US, who have specific contacts and knowledge for individual States,” she says. “There’s lots of info on administration and processes for when you are living there too. The most positive change has been the increase in welfare support over the last year. We connect regularly with Nik Turk, who took up a newly established welfare role for the United States Support Group (USSG), supporting around 2,400 British MOD employees and family members across 30 States – soon to be 31 – and five time zones.”

Nik, an experienced Army Welfare Service Youth and Community worker, told AFF: “The move to more personal, focused case work has been a challenge at times. When I receive a call or email, I never know what issue an individual or family will be facing. These range from housing, medical, mental health, education, relationship breakdown or intimate partner violence, to supporting families through deployment.”

Raising awareness

Since starting his role, Nik has been making families aware of the opportunities and support available, whether through leisure provision, US military education charities or agencies that attempt to mirror what would be available in the UK.

He has established links with the Department of Defense so that families can access its OneSource welfare programme – This is a free, 24/7 facility providing confidential services including non-medical counselling, relationship support, advice on additional needs, tax, spousal employment and training. “This has already helped with a number of families’ relationship issues and provided support via the counselling service,” says Nik.

Directing support

A lot of Nik’s work is signposting people to the right area of support. “I’m not a counsellor, although I have attended the welfare officer training courses, but I will listen and give the best advice I can. Most people have been content with the service they have received,” he adds.

Working closely with the families federations and in particular AFF, improvements have been made with communication. This is particularly important for the army families who, unlike the other services, may be the only Brits on the posting, which can lead to anxiety and feelings of loneliness in some cases. Through regular meetings with AFF, Nik has been able to raise current challenges facing families and build stronger communication links.

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