A project which supports bereaved Armed Forces schoolchildren been officially launched at a special event at the House of Lords (held on the evening of Tuesday 25th February).
Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a charity dedicated to providing integral support to hundreds of children and young people across the UK who have lost a parent who served in the British Armed Forces. The charity, which was founded by war widow Nikki Scott in 2010, has identified that many bereaved military children, who face a number of challenges, don’t receive the care they need whilst in education, and has subsequently launched a new initiative in conjunction with Norfolk County Council’s Children’s Services’ team to provide support to both the children and the schools.
The new project, named Abeona (after the Roman goddess who supports children for their parents as they venture out from home) involves enrolling bereaved military children into Norfolk County Council’s ‘Virtual Schools’ network, which was introduced in 2015 to identify, track and support children facing recognised difficulties. Service children, who have lost a parent, now receive the same, much needed, support as other vulnerable children in the county. This means information is regularly shared between the charity, the Local Authority and schools, that their wellbeing and progress is tracked and monitored, and swift action taken when challenges arise.
Stuart Dark, Head of Families at Scotty’s Little Soldiers, said: “There are a number of challenges faced by bereaved Forces children. Not only will they be grieving for a parent but many of the children will have left their military towns after the death and had to change schools, sometimes mid-way through a term. The children therefore face recognised high-risk factors throughout childhood, including parental bereavement, PTSD, familial and educational displacement, financial hardship and being around and caring for grieving surviving parents and siblings. Unmitigated these can seriously impact on their wellbeing, relationships, development and educational attainment.”
Stuart continued: “We’ve heard many worrying stories from parents where their children have been treated as disruptive or poor performing at school. The children are being perceived as problematic, rather than as needing and deserving help. Another area of concern is the lack of pastoral care in schools. For example, we’ve heard stories where children, who have recently lost a parent in combat, have been made to sit through graphic war history lessons and Remembrance events.”
Stuart added further: “We also receive positive feedback from families who have great support from schools, where, around Remembrance, for example, the teachers talk to them in advance, ask for their input and check on their wellbeing. We want all schools to give bereaved Service children this level of support.”
Cllr John Fisher, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services at Norfolk County Council said: “Children and young people who have lost a parent who served in the military face unique challenges. Along with their families, they have paid the ultimate price for their country and are among the most vulnerable in our county, so this partnership with Scotty’s Little Soldiers is a really important one.
“Our Virtual Schools framework is a well-developed infrastructure that is already effectively supporting vulnerable children such as those who are looked after, or those who have previously been in care.
“So, it makes absolute sense for us to expand the service to also wrap around those children in our county who have lost a parent who served in the Armed Forces. We are so pleased that we can help support these children, their families and schools in line with our commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.”
It’s estimated that there are currently over 1000 bereaved Service children in education across the UK and all these children are a stated priority as part of the Armed Forces Covenant – being amongst those who have given up most for their country.
Abeona has been successfully commenced in Norfolk and it’s hoped Local Authorities around the UK will follow suit to offer this much needed to support to bereaved military children and young people.
Scotty’s Little Soldiers’ CEO, Stuart Robinson, said: “At Scotty’s we take the holistic approach when it comes to the welfare of bereaved military children. The idea behind Abeona is to watch over the children and provide continued support. We want to avoid, where possible, dealing with the consequences of lack of support. It’s great to see the difference Abeona is already making to families in Norfolk. We hope we can roll this out in other counties to provide the same support to families and schools across the UK.”
Abeona was launched at a special event at the House of Lords hosted by Lord Dannett, Former Chief of the General Staff, held on the evening of Tuesday 25th February. The event was attended by members of the Lords and members of the Commons.
To learn more about Scotty’s Little Soldiers visit: http://scottyslittlesoldiers.co.uk/