Working directly with young people means lived experience is embedded at every step to deliver meaningful change for over 12,500 children and young people from armed forces and veteran families.
Together, we continue to work as a force for good to ensure Scotland is a place where they will feel increasingly heard, understood, respected, and represented.
We have invited some of our external partners to get involved in our launch activities by writing a series of blogs that focus on our five manifesto themes.
For this week’s theme, we are delighted to introduce Dr Paul Watson, from Northumbria University.
Paul will talk about why understanding the emotional health and wellbeing needs of military-connected children and young people is paramount to enabling them to thrive in a society where they may be perceived as different and therefore require a dedicated strategy to acknowledge, understand, and meet the unique needs of this population
Coming from a military family Dr Paul Watson understands the unique current and historic landscape of the Military connected community, and specifically children, young people and young carers.
Paul joined the Armed Forces (Royal Logistic Corps) when he was 17 and undertook tours in both Bosnia and Kosovo. On leaving the Armed Forces, Paul completed a BSc in Mental Health nursing, specialising in children’s mental health nursing in 2013.
Paul then went on to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Specialist Community Public Health nursing (School Nurse) in 2014. Paul was appointed the school nurse for Catterick Military Garrison, supporting the health and well-being of 1,600 children, young people, and young carers.
On leaving clinical practice Paul went into Higher Education.
Paul is currently an Assistant Professor in children and young people’s health, Specialist Public Health Nursing (School Nursing and Health Visiting) and manager of the Northern Hub for Military and Veterans Family Research at Northumbria University, with a growing portfolio of research on the emotional health and wellbeing of Military connected children, young people and young carers, PTSD and social isolation and loneliness in the veteran population, military and veteran suicide using narrative methodologies.
Moreover, Paul completed his PhD in 2022, titled: The experiences of being a young carer of a veteran parent with PTSD: A narrative enquiry.
Understanding the emotional health and wellbeing needs of military connected children and young people is paramount to enabling them to thrive in a society where they may be perceived as different and therefore require a dedicated strategy to acknowledge, understand and meet the unique needs of this population.
Most military connected children and young people thrive within their communities and use the experiences they have gained to excel. However, like all children and young people, military connected children and young people experience episodes of poor emotional health and wellbeing and are therefore no different.
However, the context of their lives and the experiences they face cause or at least have some correlation to their presenting emotional health.
This is due to several reasons identified within Theme 3 of the strategy developed by Forces Children Scotland, including separation from family members, friends, frequent home moves, changing landscapes in their education journey and their communities, and being an emotionally developing child or young person.
Moreover, children and young people from the military community have lived through some of the fiercest military conflicts and, as a byproduct of war, have witnessed parents, other family members and friends suffer with combat’s emotional, mental and physical effect.
It is this exposure to the environmental presentations and the ripple effects of military combat that, for many children and young people, have become routed within their communities, and therefore require identification and positive intervention to prevent poor emotional health from turning into long-term mental health issues.
Importantly, it is not just poor emotional health and wellbeing that military connected children and young people face, there is a need to address the ‘whole’ health of this population. It is well documented that adversity across childhood can also affect a child or young person’s physical health.
Adverse child experiences play a key role to understanding and identifying potentially harmful lifelong health outcomes for those children and young people who are exposed to them.
Moreover, when childhood adversities are coupled with health inequalities, such as poor nutritional attainment, inadequate housing, uncertain income, social discrimination, poverty and access to good health care, there is a significant risk of poor emotional, physical and mental health outcomes and a real possibility of a reduction in life expectancy.
Therefore, access to appropriate intervention is crucial to improving the lives of military connected children and young people.
As identified within the strategy, military connected children and young people face difficulties accessing appropriate emotional health and mental health services due to high mobility, knowledge regarding what services are available and how to access them.
Due to these reasons Scotland must consider how to identify poor emotional health and wellbeing within this population of children and young people, connect them to appropriate service provision, whilst also having the cultural and contextual knowledge of how service providers can connect to this population and positively engage with military connected children and young people, as well as their families, using a systemic family approach to assessing and developing positive outcomes for military connected children and young people.
Looking at this issue from a public health lens, it is vital that Scotland make every contact count to address the growing emotional health and wellbeing needs of this population. Moreover, due to the transient nature of the military and for those leaving the military the transition into the civilian population, it is vital to enable transitioning families to build community capacity to thrive.
It is well documented accessing support from health, social care and third sector services following transition from the UK Armed Forces, even after extended periods of time since leaving force’s life, can be fraught with challenges for military connected children and young people, potentially leaving them disadvantaged within the civilian population, which could negatively impact their social determinants of health, resulting in transition for some, becoming a lonely place and can add to already existing life adversities, create social isolation and loneliness, and become an accelerant for poor emotional health and wellbeing for military connected children and young people.
Therefore, Scotland needs to address the hidden and unmet needs of veterans and their families by identifying, connecting and positively engaging them in their local community, thus building community capacity and improve access to community assets to reduce poor emotional health of military connected children and young people and enable them to thrive and succeed.