Opinion: More support desperately needed for the forgotton military children

Louise Fetigan, founder of Little Troopers, a charity that supports the children of British Armed Forces personnel, explains why she feels the wellbeing of military children has been forgotten and how the volume of referrals to the charity’s new therapy programme demonstrates an urgent need for more support.

April is the month of the military child. A time for us to think about the estimated 100,000 children who are currently growing up in the British Armed Forces community.

a woman in a military uniform holding a baby

In 2023 it is easy to forget about military children and their unique experiences. It has been almost a decade since the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq made daily headlines and since then, the global pandemic and cost-of-living crisis have created new concerns that are impacting on the wellbeing of all children, not just those from forces families. But military life rumbles on and with it come added pressures for military children that can impact on their wellbeing.

Service personnel are still deployed around the world with 54% of families saying they were separated for at least a month in 2022 and a third separated for more than three months. Many military families also remain highly mobile with 41% having moved home for service reasons twice in the last five years. For military children, this means moving home, moving school and forming new friendship groups. As we know, some children take this in their stride while others find it incredibly hard. Other families choose to settle in one location but that can have its own challenges with the service parent working away during the week.

Our charity has spent 12 years raising awareness of these unique circumstances and providing tangible resources that families and professionals can access to support military children when they need it. Yet in the last three years we have seen a huge increase in desperate messages from parents, NHS and social workers, teachers and military welfare, all concerned about the impact that military life is having on children and turning to us for additional support and intervention.

This is why Little Troopers has launched a new tri-service Therapy Programme. Funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, we have worked with clinicians from The Owl Therapy Centre to create a bespoke programme that provides forces children with face-to-face, one-to-one therapy sessions to help them navigate some of the specific challenges they face growing up in the Armed Forces community. The programme is not for children in crisis but offers early intervention support to fill the gap between what can be provided at home or in school and NHS support. We are also delivering group sessions in the community and have just released an on-demand parent video.

We opened the programme at the end of last year and were immediately inundated with referrals from parents, social workers, healthcare professionals, schools and other community workers. The Little Troopers Therapy Programme is currently funded to run for two years and will initially benefit 600 military children, 100 of whom will receive the one-to-one therapy sessions. The response to the programme suggests that this will just scratch the surface.

man in green and brown camouflage uniform holding rifle

Last year, the MOD released its Armed Forces Families Strategy which promises to support families to access ‘timely integrated, mental and physical health and wellbeing services’ with ‘continuity of support’ when families have to relocate. But this approach still relies heavily on the NHS to pick-up the burden of delivery. Anecdotal feedback from military families suggests this means military families are currently left waiting and struggling, unsure where to turn for help. CYPMHS waiting lists are exorbitantly long, NHS services are overstretched and families tell us that when they move home, they are still finding themselves back at square one.

Of course, there is benefit in military children accessing more generic wellbeing programmes available online or in school. For instance, the MOD has partnered with Kooth, to give teenagers access to general online mental health services and this is something we support and welcome. But military parents have told us they strongly believe there is value in specific support that really delves into and addresses the unique challenges that their children are struggling to navigate. As it stands, the Little Troopers Therapy programme is the only free face-to-face support that is bespoke to military life and open to referrals from all tri-service children – although funding currently restricts our delivery to England.

Our charity would love to be in a position to expand the reach and duration of our programme to benefit more children in the coming years. But ultimately, our wish is that wherever the support comes from, that all military children are recognised for the sacrifices they make and that we all work more collaboratively to protect their wellbeing and to make sure that support is available whenever they need it and wherever they are in the world.

Image: Simon Infanger and Bermix Studio


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