Family first: Supporting military families

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Leaving the Armed Forces is a large adjustment. As the time comes for your partner or spouse to transition into civilian life, Saskia Harper asks: What guidance is available for military families going through resettlement?

Life within the Armed Forces can see families travelling the world, continuously relocating and experiencing a way of living that many families don’t have. When a loved one leaves the military, it is often the start of a brand new, exciting journey for the entire family. Even so, it’s a significant change that can raise questions on what life has in store for you outside of the military.

DECISION

“I was always used to our relationship within the Forces environment,” explains Dr. Candi Soames, who met her husband, Lawrence, while he was serving in the military.

Lawrence with his sons

“His final year of regular service was a really mixed time spent wondering about employment prospects, and how he would adjust from something that had been his life for the past 30 years.”

Your partner leaving the Armed Forces is a significant move, and a decision that can affect the whole family. Regardless if you’ve been living on civvy street throughout their service, or have been based with them, navigating your loved ones departure from the military is a journey that requires planning and plenty of support.

“Service leavers can often feel they’re starting from scratch and it can be a daunting prospect for the whole family,” says Julie McCarthy, director of volunteer operations at SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity. “Service leavers and their loved ones must learn to tackle things they’ve perhaps never had to deal with before.”

MENTORING

SSAFA provides guidance to serving military personnel, veterans, reservists and their families, offering a helping hand with different aspects of the transition process; from housing and financial advice, to adoption.

The charity also runs a mentoring programme. Families looking for information can be paired with a military spouse who has already made the transition. This peer-to- peer programme means people can connect with someone who has been in their shoes, and many who use the service can go on to volunteer.

“Volunteering with SSAFA has provided our family with an opportunity to support other individuals and families in need,” Candi enthuses. “It’s also given Lawrence a sense of purpose that I felt he missed since leaving the Army.”

This service provides a tangible link with time spent as a military family, to ensure you remain part of the Armed Forces community after returning to civvy street.

“Many service leavers and their partners feel lonely after they leave: you’re losing a community, so it’s normal to feel isolated,” Julie continues. “The mentoring service is there to help the whole family with the transition. Our mentors can provide insight into civilian life and help increase confidence in service leavers and their spouses, so they can reach their full potential.”

PLANNING

One of the key ways you can ensure your family’s transition to civvy street is as seamless as possible is by getting organised when you know your partner will be leaving the military – with a 12-month notice period, you can work to a timeline prioritising what needs to be completed.

“Use the time wisely in the run up to leaving,” Candi advises. “Investigate all options that can assist the transition. For us, we knew a lot before Lawrence left the Army. Don’t forget that transition is an ongoing process and will differ from individual to individual.”

“Start planning as soon as your partner thinks about leaving,” Julie agrees. “Too often, the focus is on the service leaver transitioning, but it’s incredibly important for their spouse or partner to start thinking about their own transition plan as early as possible.”

It can be overwhelming thinking about all the changes that might arise when your partner’s service comes to an end, being prepared is essential to ensure all aspects of the move back to civvy street are covered, and there’s plenty support along the way.

EMPLOYMENT

One of the biggest worries as a military spouse returning to civvy street can be finding employment: if you’ve spent time moving around, you might be concerned about gaps in your CV or short-term work.

However, there are plenty of resources for military spouses and partners. Recruit for Spouses can help with tailoring CVs, interview advice, mentoring and networking opportunities.

RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity, also runs their Families Programme, which pairs military spouses and partners with a dedicated employment advisor, to find a job that will suit your skills and experiences.

“Currently I co-own a Patent Attorney firm and since Lawrence left the Armed Forces, he has joined the company,” Candi explains. “After his return to civvy street, we have been able to spend more time together as a family, which has been a highlight of the process.”

It’s important that the transition goes smoothly for all family members. For children, the return to civvy street can be confusing, so being prepared ensures minimal disruption to their education and home life. Once your housing is secured, you can contact local schools, or your new local authority to arrange places for your children.

The Children’s Education Advisory Service (CEAS) ensures the quick transfer of children’s education history between schools, to make the process as simple for all children as possible.

“Don’t be worried about asking for help – you are also transitioning and have every right to feel frightened or stressed about the process,” Julie urges. “There’s a reason why SSAFA emphasise their support for families, and it’s because we recognise that there are unique problems that affect you, too.”

Families are the backbone of the military, offering invaluable support and guidance to their loved ones throughout their service and during resettlement: it’s only right, then, that they can access support when they need it, too.

SSAFA

www.ssafa.org.uk

Recruit for Spouses

www.recruitforspouses.co.uk

RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity

www.rfea.org.uk

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