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First-of-its-kind research looks at children of RAF families

Today, the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund launches its Growing Up in the RAF report, which is the first research to look exclusively at the wellbeing of children and young people in the UK with RAF parents.

The report focusses on children who have one or both parents in the RAF and looks at their experiences living as part of a service family. The children who took part in the focus groups described life with a parent in the RAF as sad, worrying, stressful and difficult but also fun, exciting and cool.

Their main worries were deployment and frequent home moves, having to leave friends behind and the disruption to their education. The children also recognised the positives, such as their parents having a permanent job, pride in their parents and also perks like military discounts.

Zoe Sharp, 10, whose father Ben serves in the RAF. Photo: RAF Benevolent Fund

Minister for Defence People and Veterans, Johnny Mercer MP endorsed the report and has written its foreword. He said: "I hope everyone involved in the lives of the children and young people with serving parents take note of this research so together we can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of children and young people growing up with one or both parents serving in the RAF."

The qualitative research was conducted in five different locations and included 95 children aged between five and 16. The Fund's report made the six recommendations including welfare services which the Fund provides for young people be promoted more widely. These include a counselling service for children and young people as well as family counselling.

It also recommended further support, potentially through the Fund’s online workshops and station grants programme, be provided to RAF personnel to help them understand the feelings their children may be having.

The Fund is also looking to develop wellbeing support through its Airplay youth support programme as well as providing information and resources via the Airplay Connect digital platform. Schools and other professionals are encouraged to use the Service Children's Progression (SCiP) Alliance's new Thriving Lives Toolkit, to increase understanding of the challenges service children and young people may be experiencing at school.

The final recommendation is that deployment information provided by the RAF to RAF personnel and their partners should be reviewed to ensure the research’s findings are fully reflected, including the support that is available.

Toni is mum to three boys. She also works in a primary school supporting military children. She said: "As a pilot, my husband has been deployed many times and each time it is tough on the kids. But they make me proud every day with how they respond, looking after each other. Knowing we have charities like the RAF Benevolent Fund should we need them makes all the difference."

Air Vice-Marshal Chris Elliot, Controller of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: "The subject of children and their mental wellbeing has been under a spotlight for much of the past 12 months in response to the disruption to their education, the effect of three national lockdowns and their general worries about coronavirus. So it is timely that we are launching this research today.

"We are proud to be the first organisation to carry out research which focusses solely on the wellbeing of children of RAF parents and we want to exploit this position to engage our partners and collaborate with sister organisations to put this work to good use and improve the outcomes for these young people."

The research is available to download at rafbf.org.

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