Army Families Federation Research Symposium November 2017

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    The AFF Research Symposium took place on 27 November 2017 in London. It was well attended and the published findings are noted below. Please do add any comments and remarks to the conversation.


    AFF Army Families Research Symposium

    The Army Families Federation held its second Army Families Research Symposium in November 2017. The aim of the event was to bring together all those undertaking research across the many fields of study around Army families to help share findings and ideas that may help inform us on how to better support Army families.

    A crucial element of this was the collaboration between academics and subject matter experts from AFF and the MOD, which provided a vital link between academic research and those dealing with the issues of families on a daily basis.

    This paper considers the key findings from the discussion groups at the event and the requirement for future research and collaboration.

    Military children
    Group led by Dr Judith McCullough, University of Winchester, Improving access to high quality higher education for Service children in the UK

    Key areas of discussion
    • Are Service children disadvantaged? How well do they achieve? How many are there? How many go on to university?
    • Service children that took part in the research were generally happy, contented, self-possessed, open minded, articulate, proud and determined
    • UCAS is helping with occupation of parents at time of application but this doesn’t include if parent a recent Service person
    • Moving is a resilience factor and deployment is a risk factor. There are differences in trickle postings and block moves both for the child and the school.
    • Service children raise issues of ‘leaving friends behind’ in primary and ‘making new friends’ in secondary
    • How many Service personnel are second generation?
    • Uniform provides a culture of belonging but can there be a divisive sub culture amongst Service children?
    • Older Service children have live through operations in Iraq and Afghanistan whilst at school – how different will it be for children in 5 years’ time?

    Areas for future consideration
    • Explore the distinctiveness of educational decisions made by Service children
    • Develop further the data set of educational experiences and attainment
    • Are inspirational teachers less so for mobile families?
    • Do Service children have one trusted adult throughout childhood?
    • Do Service children start university later?
    • Can UCAS ask about employment history for the last 5 years? Can they also ask age at entry?
    • What about parent’s experiences? – care, early entry into military, different culture?
    • Can military life offer a stability that isn’t offered in civilian life?
    • Research further into veteran’s childhoods
    • Does the Service the military parent is part of make a difference?

    AFF Conclusion
    AFF would welcome further research/work on the following topics:
    • Explore the distinctiveness of educational decisions made by Service children
    • Do Service children start university later?
    • Could UCAS have a box on the form for “Have you recently served in the Armed Forces?”

    Spousal employment
    Group led by Matt Fossey, Anglia Ruskin University, Evaluation of the MOD’s spousal employment support programme

    Key areas of discussion
    • Is there a better way to communicate spousal employment strategies to families? Should the MOD work more closely with Welfare clerks to get this information out to families, rather than Unit Welfare Officers, as they tend to stay in post longer?
    • Should the MOD adopt the US Army welfare model of welfare teams remaining in static roles in order to provide better information? This could provide more stability for families and create more opportunity to gain information.
    • How does a welfare team engage with transient families when they are so transient themselves? The significance of stability of welfare support is even more important with the introduction of FAM.
    • Considered if the Veterans Gateway could be used for disseminate spousal employment information but was agreed that it was aimed at veterans and there were other more suitable places; such as HIVE’s and AFF’s networks.

    Areas for future consideration
    • Need to ensure that spouses are empowered to find the help and information themselves. Considered that if spouses were interested, they would look for the support, perhaps it should be more of a two-way process? However, recognised that, when moving young spouses to a new environment every two years, they may not always have the confidence to do this.
    • Need to compare the employment challenges of civilian and Service spouses

    AFF Conclusion
    AFF would welcome further research/work on the following topics:
    • How to empower spouses
    • Comparing the challenges of Service spouses, compared to civilian spouses
    • AFF hope that both of these areas will be considered in the research AFF are undertaking on spousal employment but welcome further exploration of these issues

    Social networks
    Group led by Charlene Bennett, University of Lincoln, Impact of the military, mainly deployment, on the mental health of military partners

    Key areas of discussion
    • High value placed by military spouse upon the practical and emotional support from their mother – whether the military family live on or off patch
    • High value placed upon relationships with other military families, especially during deployment
    – feeling of isolation if not on patch or not on ‘main’ patch
    – Compare quality of social support to previous experiences or perceptions of other camps
    – Relationships limited by stigma and perceptions of judgement
    • Value placed upon relationships with civilians but limited around the deployment cycle
    – Less valued during times of military related stress due to a lack of understanding
    – Concern of being stereotyped
    – Study showed that families value relationships with other military families, especially during separation and deployment
    • The move of more army families away from the patch/SFA limits opportunities to meet other military families
    • Opportunity to expand online social networks? Security concerns?
    • What does this mean for formal support? How will welfare teams be able to support families and will families rely more on Government provided support?
    • Is there such a thing as ‘the military community’? Can this support military families in times of stress? Absolutely as the common understanding is crucial to this – civilians don’t understand the experience.

    Areas for future consideration
    • Should more be done to foster ‘community spirt’ amongst military families? Who should be responsible for this? Felt that to a certain extent this was innate to patch life.
    • How do other members of the family experience social networks? Children (young, teen and adult)? Parents? Siblings?
    • What more can be done to encourage social networks amongst those without children?
    • Is it feasible to use online social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter etc.) to facilitate/encourage/maintain community spirit amongst military partners? Benefits? Limitations?
    • Could more be done to encourage military-civilian relationships? Are there significant benefits? Limitations?

    AFF Conclusion
    AFF would welcome further research/work on the following topics:
    • How do other members of the family experience social networks? Children (young, teen and adult)?
    • What more can be done to encourage social networks amongst those without children?
    • How can we use online social networking sites more effectively?

    Mental wellbeing
    Group led by Emma Long, Lancaster University, How Army families engage with formal support & their own social network when facing deployment

    Key areas of discussion
    • Lack of UK research on impact of military on the mental health of partners. There is US research but this can be problematic when comparing it to a UK Armed Forces cohort.
    • Study discussed highlighted an overall prevalence of military spouses using humour and pseudo-altruism as a defence and coping mechanism, which sometimes could mask their mental health issues, particularly anxiety
    • Impact on children’s mental health of deployment or long periods of separation due to training and non-operational deployment
    • Coping strategies and support for ‘operational single families’ was also discussed and the importance of good and robust welfare support

    Areas for future consideration
    • Should there be further study into the secondary impact of the Service personnel suffering from mental health illness?
    • If FAM is introduced, consider impact during deployment separation?

    AFF Conclusion
    AFF would welcome further research/work on the following topics:
    • What is the impact on the families of Service personnel suffering from mental health illness?
    • Impact of FAM on mental health of families during deployment separation

    Group led by Royal Navy, Army and RAF Families Federations Transition Liaison specialists (funded by Forces in Mind Trust), Research into how transition affects families

    Key areas of discussion
    • Each family is unique and will therefore have distinct needs and require differing support
    • Transition can be a complex issue with many interlinked elements
    • Many factors can affect a successful transition such as age, home ownership, reason for leaving (only 60% voluntary); e.g. early medical discharges make it much more difficult to have a successful transition
    • No one agency can solve transition for a family – an awareness of all providers and their strengths is useful; and ability to signpost to each other. Will require advice and help from NHS/LEA/SEND transition team and may need advice from other organisations about Help to Buy scheme.
    • Families need to make informed decisions and having realistic expectations – in this case the family might have to accept that moving is not the best option?
    • Family is a valuable resource and support network (wider, as well as immediate)
    • Communication of information and guidance to families is critical
    • There has to be an element of personal responsibility from families

    Areas for future consideration
    • Are there too many organisations and does this result in it not being clear enough who they help? There needs to be a clearer definition as to whether an organisation helps families or soldiers.
    • Families often need more financial advice, such as cost of house buying compared with renting etc.

    AFF Conclusion
    AFF would welcome further research/work on the following topics:
    • Clearer definition of support for families and additional advice are being considered as part of the Forces in Mind Trust funded Transition Liaison project

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