This guest blog post was written by Dr Hannah Brooking, researcher at the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund.

At the RAF Benevolent Fund, we’re here to support people who are serving – or have served – and their families, when they need it most. We provide the financial, emotional and practical support that helps people live with the dignity and independence they deserve.

Since we were founded in 1919, we’ve seen incredible, often inspiring changes. Advances in healthcare mean people are living longer. Changing attitudes have made our society a more open, vibrant place. Technology has opened the world up in ways we would never have dreamed possible in 1919. But not everyone gets to enjoy these benefits. Therefore we have to adapt to changing times and remain agile to changing needs. We use research to help ensure that we have a high degree of insight into the size, shape and welfare needs of the RAF Family so that we can be reactive to their needs and help them the best we can.

In 2015, the Fund published its first major research report Meeting the Needs of the RAF Family, which reported on the size, profile and welfare needs of the RAF Family. This research proved extremely useful in providing an updated understanding of the current and key welfare needs being experienced within the RAF Family. In 2017, we also produced a similar report Meeting the Needs of the Serving RAF Community. From these two pieces of research we were able to launch the following services Listening and Counselling Service, Telephone Friendship Groups, Community Engagement Workers and our Thrive programme of workshops for partners of serving RAF personnel.

Next is a more specific example of how we have used research to inform service provision. Most recently, we launched our Growing Up in the RAF report, which is the first piece of research to look exclusively at the well-being of children and young people in the UK with RAF parents.

The report focused on children who have one or both parents in the RAF and looked at their experiences living as part of a service family. Amongst many positives about growing up in an RAF family, the children did identify deployment and frequent home moves, having to leave friends behind and disruption to education as the challenges they face. These challenges were described as sad, worrying, stressful and difficult.

The Fund’s report made a number of recommendations including further support to be provided to RAF personnel to help them understand the feelings their children may be having.

Since the research was released the RAF Benevolent Fund has acted upon this recommendation and has hosted two online wellbeing workshops for RAF families. The free workshops were developed for the parents of school-age children to help them overcome some of the challenges of service life. Through the interactive workshops, the Fund aimed to equip parents with the tools they need to better support their children through these tough times.

In the first workshop, ‘Managing deployment for myself and my children’, parents learnt more about what their children may be experiencing during deployment, how to support them through this, and the importance of self-care. During the second workshop, ‘Supporting my kids with their well-being’, parents increased their awareness and understanding of their children’s well-being needs, reflected on listening and communicating needs, and learnt ways to support children during difficult periods. We are committed to supporting the whole of the RAF Family, but our research shows that service life can be particularly tough on the children of serving RAF personnel. We launched the Family Well-being Workshops to ensure parents can help their children navigate these challenges with confidence.

Without research, either we wouldn’t be doing these workshops, and the other services mentioned, or it would have taken us a lot longer to get there. That’s because, without research, we might not know about the need, or we might know about it, but we wouldn’t have the evidence to justify investing in these areas. So research has a very direct impact on what we do as an organisation and how we can support the RAF Family.

For more information on our research, please visit our publications page.

If you need our help and support, please contact us via email at welfarenavigators@rafbf.org.uk or via our online form on our website rafbf.org or by calling our helpline on 0300 102 1919.