This year, the Scottish Government was due to review its ten-year Mental Health Strategy. In light of the impact of the Covid 19 Pandemic, it was decided the Strategy needed a complete refresh. So, a consultation was launched to gather thoughts and views about what the strategy’s aims and actions should be moving forward.
However, we recognise that to achieve this, a better understanding of the unique experiences of children and young people from armed forces and veteran families is required if services are to be designed in a way that meets their needs and helps them to thrive. Too often children from forces families are not recognised as a community in need of tailored support.
Existing research indicates that forces children, in both armed forces and veteran families, are a group facing unique challenges not generally experienced by their civilian peers. Such challenges include: high levels of mobility, interrupted learning, coping with parental deployment and potential parental injury or death, and once the serving parent(s) leaves the military, issues associated with the transition to civilian life.
There is a body of evidence indicating that the absence of a deployed parent is associated with increased levels of anxiety. Factors such as the length of the deployment and how well the at-home parent copes with deployment have been found to be important for how well children cope with parental absence during deployment. Such evidence is evidenced by the views of children and young people we work with: “When someone is deployed then you miss them and it’s hard to concentrate.”
We believe this must be a core aspect of any strategy seeking to improve the nation’s mental health experiences, particularly at a time when many are facing increased financial precariousness.
At Forces Children Scotland, we provide monetary assistance to forces families experiencing financial challenges and, therefore, are in receipt of evidence about the impact financial worry can have on the mental health and wellbeing of the whole family.
Across 2021, the main difficulties experienced by families applying for financial assistance were family breakdown, challenges with physical and mental health, unemployment and debt. However, much of our evidence points towards the significant impact these experiences can have on children and young people, adding to the existing anxiety or worries they might hold within the context of forces life, such as deployment or moving home.
This experience is exacerbated for families and children during their transition out of the military to veteran status whereby many experience challenges surrounding securing new employment, securing stable housing, moving schools, family breakdown and leaving the military community behind.
However, there is a striking lack of accurate data on children and young people from armed forces and veteran families in Scotland. There are no national statistics detailing the numbers and geographical locations of this group, nor any data collected at a national level specifically on them in terms of their educational outcomes or wider mental health and wellbeing outcomes including mental health and wellbeing.
Ultimately the lack of data and research means it is difficult to robustly consider how children and young people in forces families in Scotland, and indeed the wider UK, are faring in terms of their mental health and wellbeing. This lack of data and research presents considerable challenges for organisations and services working to support forces children.
It makes analysis and prediction of needs difficult and hinders our ability to understand and address the issues affecting forces children. The lack of data and research is therefore an issue requiring urgent consideration and action.