Meeting the Needs of Service Children & Families
- Understanding risk factors and vulnerable Service children
- Building resilience through matching needs and personality to strategy
- Breaking down barriers that prevent forces families asking for support
- Challenging the value of tradition in schools with a highly mobile population
In the complex mire that is schools’ funding, the Service Premium is a quiet neighbour of the Pupil Premium. Since its introduction in 2011, the Service Premium is set for the year 2014 – 2015 at £300 per pupil for years R – 11.
In an expansion of the Service Premium, schools are now funded in respect of children whose parents are no longer in the Armed Forces, or whose parents have divorced, or those children with a parent killed in action. The cumulative effect of these policy changes has meant an increase in the number of children supported from 45,000 in 2011 to over 60,000 in 2014.
The Army Families Federation (AFF) ‘Excellence for Service Children (Service Premium Award)’ of 2013 helped place the spotlight on schools who serve the needs of Service children well. Additionally it has prompted debate about what might be done to address needs that formerly, were assimilated by schools inured to the challenges of Service life.
Understanding risk and vulnerability
The child who faces a parent’s deployment, or change of school, or bears the silent burden of becoming a co-carer of a disabled parent is vulnerable to the impact of Service life. It is a life that is often poorly comprehended, even where long established ways of managing a mobile population have been assimilated into policy and practice.
Research into military lives indicates a range of risk factors. Links have been established between repeated re-location and a heightened risk of suicide in young people; between parental depression and mental health problems in children; between the demands of caring for a disabled person and mental health problems in carers.
Without a close alignment between the child’s need and strategy, there is a danger that interventions may be implemented with little impact on the real problems that persist.
One of the ways in which we can best support is in understanding the commonality of concerns faced by the Service child’s family.
In all contexts – deployment, re-location, disability, bereavement – there is the potential for one or both parents to experience feelings of -
- fear and uncertainty,
- anxiety and mood changes,
- loss and adjustment,
- additional responsibility
All of which have the capacity to impact adversely on parenting skills and family life.
The cushioning effect of attentive, attuned parenting has been lost, temporarily or indefinitely, for the Service child.
There is a need to consider how a school might seek to build resilience in the Service child. There are 3 elements universally acknowledged as essential for adult happiness –
- High self esteem
- Control over one’s life
For children with little control over their own life, high self esteem and optimism are crucial factors in childhood happiness. This concurs with the outcomes of extensive parenting surveys that consider the question – what do parents want most for their children?
Universally, the answer is - Happiness, Confidence and Success.
Securing these characteristics should be our primary goal as educators. A simple measure of how much we have succeeded is to observe the child: the confident child is happy, laughs a lot and is excited by the world, whilst our unhappy child is fearful, timid, prone to crying and anxious. We see in these behaviours the emergence of either an optimistic or pessimistic personality.
Matching the strategy to the child
How we model our strategies and interventions for Service children should take account of the child’s dominant personality. The optimistic and confident child may respond much better to strategies that incorporate whole school or class initiatives, group activities, public shows of solidarity and interactive support sessions.
The child with the pessimistic personality will respond much better to support interventions that respect privacy, that do not demand too much in terms of interactivity, that are one to one in focus, that allow for the child to respond at their own pace, and do not place the child on public show.
Anticipating needs and vulnerabilities
Anticipated stress can be a positive force enabling a child to develop coping strategies for later in life. So, the child with a parent on deployment may mature socially, come out of their shell or gain in independence. It is unexpected, persistent or chronic stress that is problematic.
In many Forces Families, the stress of deployment or re-location or physical disability is not neatly packaged within a confined time period. Stress seeps out and lingers long. For the young child, brain development may be irreparably altered by this toxic state, with a resulting impact on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social growth.
Breaking down barriers to accessing support
Whilst Gareth Malone has given a voice to a group of Military Wives in the formation of a highly successful choir, there are many wives and mothers who do not have a voice, whose stories are not told.
The Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Families Association (SSAFA) lead a campaign in November 2013 entitled ‘Lean on Me’, targeted at the traditionally hard to reach military community, to help break down the barriers that prevent people asking for support, both practical, financial and emotional.
“People from a military background are often very proud and many do not like to ask for help,
but those who have served their country deserve, and often need, additional support.”
(Vicky Maskell, Marketing Manager, SSAFA)
It is this stoicism, combined with pride and a sense of solidarity that renders it problematic to address issues of difficulty within the family. In schools, the Forces parent who does not seek help and wishes to keep private concerns, private, may find their child’s needs overlooked, or may not acknowledge that there are additional needs.
Tradition v Knowledge
Traditions within schools play a large part in determining what is done, for whom and to what purpose. Schools accustomed to a regular influx of Service children may find it easier to manage the introduction of new children at assemblies, a practice that that has come up in discussions with Service mothers at Community Centres.
Mothers who were Service children themselves recalled with intense emotion the dread of being asked to stand before the whole school, a fear that never diminished no matter how often they changed schools.
In witnessing their own child’s discomfort, many mothers have recounted a strange sense of continuity and familiarity that serves to preserve the tradition, rather than challenge its purpose or bring about change.
Times move on and we understand far more now than even a decade ago about the long-term impact of repeated stress and anxiety on life outcomes.
Assimilating new knowledge into everyday practice and policy is a challenge that all schools must take on if they are best to serve the diverse needs of all the school’s population, including its mobile or static Service population.
This article is written by Heather Stack and first appeared in SEN Leader magazine, March 2014 edition, for Forum Business Media.
Heather is available to offer support, consultancy services, training and conference presentations to schools with a Service population and other organisations working with an on behalf of the British Armed Forces.
For more information, please contact Heather on 01926 495695 or email firstname.lastname@example.org