Shining a light on the needs of armed forces children and young people

Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET), Scotland’s armed forces children’s charity, has been providing education support to children and young people from armed forces families for over 200 years.

It is estimated there are currently over 100,000 children in Scotland from veteran, reservists and armed forces families living in Scotland. For those children and young people living in households where there is poverty, ill health, disability, or who are experiencing difficulties at school, RCET provides a lifeline of support.

In the last few years, RCET has awarded over £1 million through our grants programme to help families pay for essential school clothing, or for example to fund after school clubs and activities so youngsters can develop their confidence as well as establish interests and friendships outside of the home or school environment.

The majority of recipients that we support through our grants programme are children living with a veteran parent. The vast majority of veterans make the transition to civilian life very successfully – entering into employment, settling into new homes and contributing positively to their local communities. For a small percentage however, this is not the case.  

Two thirds of our grants recipients are living with unemployment and debt problems; nearly half are living in households where there are complex mental and physical health issues; and there are those who are carers for their parents or siblings. Some of the children and young people we support have experienced one of the hardest things of all, the loss of a parent.

Take Jade for example. Jade is 13 years old and five years ago she lost her mum. Sadly, Jade’s father, a former soldier in the Royal Highland Fusiliers, couldn’t cope with losing his wife, raising a young child, as well as his own mental health problems and a year later he committed suicide. Jade now lives with her grandmother, Liz. They have a limited income as Liz can’t work because of her health issues and the need to care for her young grand-daughter.

A modest annual grant from RCET helps pay for school clothing and we also fully fund Jade’s dance lessons. Jade is now able to speak with trained professionals about her loss and her grandmother says this has been made possible because of the confidence and sense of self-worth which Jade has developed through her dance classes. Jade and her grandmother will still have to take it one day at a time, but with help from RCET and other support networks, Jade’s grief is beginning to heal.

As well as providing grants to individuals, we also run a very successful education programme. This serves to raise awareness among education staff, other professionals and the wider armed forces community across the UK of the anxieties some armed forces children and young people experience during times of deployment and frequent moving of schools, and the learning obstacles this can present.

Over the last five years, our education programme has delivered vital resources and support to more than 15,000 pupils, and more than 100 schools in Scotland. We also deliver CPD training to education practitioners addressing topics such as Dealing with Separation, Developing an Emotionally Literate School and Moving Schools. More recently we have introduced a suite
of training resources which focuses on children living in a veteran family.

For parents, we provide advice and in some cases access to resources such as our early years resource boxes. These are equipped with books, toys and games to help young children from armed forces communities cope with feelings of loss, separation and anxiety during times of separation. We also facilitate parental group discussions about the emotional cycles of deployment, respond to individual parental requests for advice and provide sign posting to other support networks if needed.

For the vast majority growing up in an armed forces family is a very positive experience, but in those situations where there is hardship at home and or frequent mobility and deployment anxieties, the impact on a child or young person’s education and consequently their life chances can be immeasurable. These vulnerable and often overlooked young people deserve the same access to education and the same life chances as every other child and that’s what we strive for.

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