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 of making a successful transition to civilian life, we are delighted to introduce the Scottish Veterans Commissioner, Susie Hamilton.
Lt-Cdr (retired) Susie Hamilton was appointed as the Scottish Veterans Commissioner in August 2022.
The Commissioner’s role is to improve outcomes for veterans and their families in Scotland. This involves championing the challenges they face and influencing policymakers to address any changes required in devolved public services so that their needs are met.
One of my top priorities has been meeting with individuals and organisations from across the country with the aim of capturing the collective voice of Scotland’s veterans community.
Speaking with veterans and family members of all ages, covering a range of topics including health, housing, employment, social isolation, LGBT+ rights, cost of living and more has provided a real insight into the diverse needs of Scotland’s veterans community.
Through this activity, something that I’ve always known has become even clearer: the partners, spouses and children of Serving personnel are integral to the Service community and the support they provide to their family members is invaluable. Yet, their role, and indeed, sacrifices remain largely unrecognised by wider society.
While there is considerable support for the veterans community, I believe families – and children and young people in particular – deserve a greater focus when it comes to research, policy and delivery of support and services.
I have been really interested in Forces Children Scotland’s work around its Manifesto for Meaningful Change.
The manifesto’s fifth theme – Successful Transitions to Civilian Life – particularly stands out to me, because while this topic has rightfully been given much importance and attention when it comes to Service leavers themselves, the impact on children within the community is seldom discussed.
As outlined in the strategy, transition from military life to civilian life brings an abundance of changes and challenges for children and young people – they have to let go of the familiarity and close community of military life, they may feel they are losing their sense of identity, and many must also adapt to a new home and school and make new friends.
Moving to a place where forces and veterans families are not the norm can leave them feeling confused and isolated and they may feel like they have no control over the situation.
For some young people, the difficulties of transition are exacerbated further by parents who may be experiencing health issues, caring responsibilities, or in a small number of cases, bereavement.
It’s something that was developed with extensive input from children and young people from forces families to highlight the complex nature of transition.
We know that transition is a critical stage for Service leavers. Being suitably prepared and receiving appropriate and timely support during transition is the best way to ensure successful outcomes. This is very much the case for the children of Service leavers too.
There are a number of improvements that can be made, reflected in the Manifesto for Meaningful Change’s four ‘calls’ for successful transition, which I fully endorse.
I agree that just like Service Leavers, education and support around transition should start early for their families too, led by the Ministry of Defence during active service.
As the first call notes, special consideration must be given in situations such as medical or administrative discharge, or in the case of injury or death.
With greater attention now being paid to early preparation for Service leavers across the MOD, I am hopeful that similar preparation for partners and children of Service personnel will be given due consideration.
Working alongside the Veterans Commissioners for Northern Ireland and Wales and the Independent Veterans Advisor to UK Government, I will advocate for this approach.
The next Veterans’ Strategy update should be informed by children and young people, and include a section dedicated to their needs, and commit to raising awareness about this community in Scotland.
Similarly, my own work reflects the requests laid out in the third call – that the Scottish Government invests in Scotland-wide provision of support that is specifically tailored for children and young people leaving the forces community, delivered by people with appropriate experience or training.
Mental health and wellbeing projects like Your Mind Matters, and peer-to-peer mentoring initiatives like Ruby Boots are a unique and valuable source of support and I have heard children and young people speak very positively of their impact.
We must ensure that such projects are given sufficient resources to continue, evolve, and grow their reach.
Finally, another concern I have heard in my conversations with young people is the need to strike a balance between moving forwards into civilian life while still feeling a connection to the Service community.
The fourth call, for local authorities to provide ‘welcome packs’ informing young people entering civilian life of the opportunities that exist for them within both the Armed Forces and civilian communities could be a way to address this.
Underpinning all of these changes is the importance of actively listening to the voices of these children and young people and drawing from their lived experiences when developing policy and services.
I have committed to building the voices of lived experience into all of my own work, and look forward to sharing the findings from my first report – focusing on the wider veterans community, including families – early next year.
I expect to draw on work already carried out by Forces Children Scotland, and on the insights I gained through listening to some of the young people that they support.
I would like to thank all the children and young people who have shared their thoughts and experiences.
For some, transitioning to civilian life was a tough and worrying time, but by opening up they have made an immensely valuable contribution to shaping future services and improving outcomes for Forces children in Scotland.