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Research reveals the ‘invisible’ needs of veterans in custody, their families and children

New research from Barnardo’s provides a glimpse into the ‘invisible’ lives of the children and families of veterans in custody.

The charity was commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust to assess their unique needs as part of a two year project.

This follows previous work by Barnardo’s supporting children affected by parental offending and highlighting the importance of maintaining family relationships.

The new report identifies complicating factors for veterans such as a loss of identity and a lack of holistic support services, and suggests early interventions, peer support and a family-based approach to prison work.

The findings and the recommendations will be shared at the official launch of the report in Birmingham on Monday 10 February which is due to be attended by police officers, charities and academics.

Barnardo’s researcher Leonie Harvey-Rolfe said: “Previous work has clearly demonstrated the importance of offenders maintaining family ties, and the impact of parental imprisonment on their children.

“This includes an increased risk of isolation, depression, bullying and truancy which can then affect their educational achievement and future prospects.

“However, the voices and experiences of children and families of veterans in custody have largely been absent – which is why this research is so vitally important.

“It is apparent that prisons, military charities and peer support groups often don’t collect information on dependants or family situations so this group is likely to remain invisible and their needs unmet.

“There is no doubt that more specialist support is needed.”

The research reveals that many former military personnel don’t identify as veterans because they think it only applies to those with long-service or active-service backgrounds.

Others fear revealing their past military careers could damage their relationship with their former units, or they view seeking support as an admission of weakness – which means many veterans don’t seek help for themselves and their family until they reach a crisis.

Shame also plays a role. One prisoner said: “I saw coming to prison as a failure so I didn’t say I was a military veteran because that’s a double-failure. I didn’t say anything for a long time.”

Key findings include:

  • Family breakdown levels are high amongst the sample and often this separation has occurred before the father went into custody
  • Mirroring the transition from military to civilian life, the greatest challenge is at the point of release from custody when transitioning back into the community
  • When veterans and families do access support on offer, feedback is largely positive

Key recommendations include:

  • Opportunities need to be developed to facilitate peer support for veterans, partners and children
  • Consistent and funded veteran support services should be in operation across all prison estates
  • One agency should take responsibility for overseeing and coordinating support for children of offenders before, during and after their parent is in custody

Leonie added: “No matter who their parents are or what they’ve done, the child is entirely innocent and should not be left to suffer in silence.

“What is needed is a change in systems and culture so that veterans, their partners and most importantly their children receive the right support at the right time.

“Only then can we truly start to improve the life chances of veterans and their families.”

Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock CBE, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “Until now, the impact on the children and families of Service personnel who are serving prison sentences has been poorly understood and under-researched. It is the role of charities such as ours and Barnardo’s to work to ensure that those who are most vulnerable are given the necessary support to rebuild their lives. This study provides much-needed data on the unique needs of an almost invisible group, and FiMT calls for whatever action is necessary for the research recommendations to be acted upon”.

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About the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT):

FiMT came about from a partnership between the Big Lottery Fund (‘the Fund’), Cobseo (The Confederation of Service Charities) and other charities and organisations. FiMT continues the Fund’s long-standing legacy of support for veterans across the UK with an endowment of £35 million awarded in 2012.

The mission of FiMT is to enable ex-Service personnel and their families make a successful and sustainable transition to civilian life, and it delivers this mission by generating an evidence base that influences and underpins policy making and service delivery.

FiMT awards grants (for both responsive and commissioned work) to support its change model around 6 outcomes in the following areas: Housing; Employment; Health and wellbeing; Finance; Criminal Justice System; and Relationships. All work is published in open access and hosted on the Forces in Mind Trust Research Centre’s Veterans and Families Research Hub. A high standard of reportage is demanded of all grant holders so as to provide a credible evidence base from which better informed decisions can be made.

About Barnardo’s:

In 2018/19 nearly 300,000 children, young people, parents and carers were supported by Barnardo’s.

We work to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children and every year we help thousands of families to build a better future. But we cannot do it without you.

Visit to find out how you can get involved. Registered charity No. 216250 and SC037605

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