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Ground-breaking initiative offers support to bereaved Armed Forces schoolchildren

Ground-breaking initiative offers support to bereaved Armed Forces schoolchildren


04 Mar, 2020

Project Abeona – the brainchild of Scotty’s Little Soldiers founder Nikki Scott – recently enjoyed its official launched at a special event held at the House of Lords …

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, identified that many bereaved military children, who face a number of challenges, don’t receive the care they need while in education, and subsequently launched a new initiative in conjunction with Norfolk County Council’s Children’s Services’ team to provide support to both the children and their 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 well-being and progress is tracked and monitored, and swift action taken when challenges arise.

Says Stuart Dark, head of families at Scotty’s Little Soldiers: ‘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 midway 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 well-being, relationships, development and educational attainment.’ 

Stuart continues: ‘We’ve heard many worrying stories from parents where their children have been treated as disruptive or poorly 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 of children, who have recently lost a parent in combat, who have been made to sit through graphic war history lessons and Remembrance events.

‘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 well-being. 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 adds: ‘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 more than 1,000 bereaved Service children in education across the UK, and all these children are a stated priority as part of the Armed Forces Covenant, being among those who have given up most for their country.

Abeona has been successfully commenced in Norfolk and it is hoped that local authorities around the UK will follow suit to offer this much needed support to bereaved military children and young people.

Scotty’s Little Soldiers’ CEO, Stuart Robinson, concludes: ‘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.’

To find out more about the work of Scotty’s Little Soldiers, click here 

Special event at the House of Lords hosted by Lord Dannatt

Scotty's Little Soldiers

Abeona was launched at a special event at the House of Lords hosted by Lord Dannatt, former Chief of the General Staff. The event was attended by members of both the Lords and the Commons.

About Virtual Schools 

Virtual Schools are a nationally mandated framework introduced in 2015 at all local authorities to ensure that vulnerable children – for example, those who are looked after and those who were previously in care – receive the support they need at school. Services include:

  • providing advice, guidance and support to schools, professional colleagues, foster carers and children
  • monitoring attendance, and tracking progress data and attainment for all Norfolk looked-after children
  • providing training for schools, foster carers and professional colleagues
  • identifying and piloting interventions and resources to improve learning
  • providing out-of-school activities to support learning.

About Scotty’s Little Soldiers

Scotty’s Little Soldiers supports children and young people who have lost a parent who served in the British Armed Forces. Founder Nikki Scott set up the charity after her husband, Corporal Lee Scott, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009, leaving behind two young children – Kai was then 5 and Brooke just 7 months. 

Nikki witnessed first hand the effect the loss of a parent can have on a child. It was on a family holiday some nine months after Lee’s death that Nikki saw her 5-year-old son Kai laugh and smile for the first time since his dad’s death. Nikki realised there must be so many more children who had also lost a parent who served in the British Armed Forces but hadn’t had that opportunity to smile again.     

She decided to set up Scotty’s Little Soldiers to do just that – to help these children smile. That was back in 2010 and, since then, Scotty’s has continued to grow and the support available to the children has developed. In 2019 alone, Scotty’s supported 410 children across the UK.

Scotty’s Little Soldiers does lots of things to support its members, including providing access to the very best health and well-being care, offering outstanding development opportunities through a range of activity and educational grants, and helping to put smiles back on those brave faces by providing respite breaks, posting them birthday and Christmas presents, and remembering the anniversary of their parent’s death, as well as arranging events where bereaved Forces children from all over the country come together to have a great time and form friendships with others in the same situation.

You can visit the charity online by clicking here

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