Page last updated at 13:01 GMT, Friday, 6 November 2009

Forces children face 'time bomb'

Solder returning home
Forces children can spend long periods separated from serving parents

The children of those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan face a "ticking time bomb" of problems, a report claims.

As the nation prepares to remember its war dead, a charity is highlighting the educational and emotional problems the children of servicemen and women face.

Many move schools regularly and undergo long periods separated from their parents, the report by the Royal Navy and Royal Marine Children's Fund says.

The government said it tried to ensure children's schooling did not suffer.

Children of serving personnel are so much more than just picture opportunities
Monique Bateman
Royal Navy and Royal Marine's Children's Fund

Some service children experience up to 11 different school changes in their lifetimes, the report says.

Consequently two-thirds say they experience problems with differences in syllabus content and the standard of education when they switch schools.

They also face extra stresses and strains when a parent is away.

Some 83% of Naval spouses say their children find it difficult when their serving father or mother has to go away for long periods of time.

They might also find themselves dealing with parental illness or injury. Both physical and mental scars can have an impact on the family's emotional, functional and financial wellbeing, the report said.

The charity's director Monique Bateman said she had seen the problems experienced by the children of those who served in the Falklands War and did not want to see the pattern repeated.

'Overlooked'

She said: "We predict we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of problems for children whose parents have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Children of serving personnel are so much more than just picture opportunities snapped up when their loved ones return from overseas and it is now time for local and national government to sit up and take notice of the pending problems and support the children for the future."

Child psychologist Professor William Yule said there was an urgent need for better understanding of service children's particular needs.

He said: "Many children benefit from having a parent serving in the armed forces, but a substantial minority suffer quietly and for far too long.

"Their mental health is affected as is their educational attainment and that in turn may limit their life prospects.

"Many children get distressed at preparing for the deployment of their parents; they worry while the parent is away, particularly witnessing the 24 hour news coverage; they may find it hard to readjust when their parents return - after all, the family has developed and the role of the parent may have changed."

'Welfare issues'

The report says: "The MoD, DCSF and local authorities need to appreciate the impact the service lifestyle can have on a child's behaviour, emotional well-being, psychological development and their educational attainment, and built this understanding into their future strategies, policies and budget.

"Service children cannot remain the overlooked casualties of conflict any longer."

A Department for Children Schools and Families spokesman said: "No child should suffer at school because their parents are on the frontline.

"The Service Command Paper puts in place big improvements to cutting disruption and disadvantage to children's education.

"We've worked closely with schools and support agencies for service families over the last year to make sure children's wider welfare issues are picked up quickly and early."



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