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It’s time to recognise and understand our armed forces young people

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust, Scotland’s Armed Forces children’s charity, produced its first ever Manifesto for the 2021 Scottish elections. Their Chief Executive, Laura Falconer, explains why it was time to put the experience of Armed Forces children and young people on everyone’s radar.

The children and young people we work with at the Royal Caledonian Education Trust (RCET) speak openly about some of the challenges they can face in life – high levels of mobility and coping with parental deployment in particular.

They tell us that these challenges can lead to difficulties with education and mental health and wellbeing. And that they can face additional challenges in even having their voices heard, often feeing that their experiences are overlooked in decision-making processes affecting them.

Our first ever Manifesto was written to address the lack of awareness amongst many politicians of the unique experiences and needs of Armed Forces Children and Young People. It is not that this group of children and young people are intentionally overlooked, more that they are just not really on the political radar. Are they on yours for instance?

At RCET we feel it is important for political parties to ensure they are listening to Armed Forces Children and Young People as a distinct group in policy and legislative decision-making processes. Many of the politicians that RCET has engaged with have said that Armed Forces Children and Young People as a distinct group have not really been on their radar, but on learning of their distinct experiences they have expressed their support.

This tells us there remains a considerable task for RCET to do to raise awareness amongst politicians of our children and young people’s needs.

We did not come up with our Manifesto asks by ourselves. RCET is committed to taking a children's rights-based approach to all aspects of our work. It was really important to us that meaningful participation and engagement with Armed Forces Children and Young People underpinned the development of the Manifesto. The themes and issues set out came directly from the young people engaging in our Youth Participation Project and their voices are strongly represented throughout the Manifesto document itself.

So, if the issues we highlighted within our Manifesto came directly from listening to the concerns of Armed Forces Children and Young People across Scotland, what are they? Well, there are four main themes:

  • participation and engagement
  • mental health and wellbeing
  • education and learning
  • and… data.

In our Manifesto we set out the specific changes we believe are necessary to ensure that Scotland’s Armed Forces children and young people are enabled to reach their full potential. Taken together, these asks of Scotland’s politicians would make a significant difference to Armed Forces children and young people, allowing cross sector organisations to plan and deliver vital support.

Alongside identifying key issues, the children and young people asked politicians to do four things:

Listen to us, Understand us, Recognise us and Support us

Politicians must truly recognise military children and young people as a distinct group with unique experiences and needs and commit to meaningful participation and engagement, listening directly to the voices of Armed Forces Children and Young People to find out how they feel they could be better supported with the challenges they face.

But first they must first be able to identify Armed Forces Children and Young People, through the collation of national data. This in itself would greatly assist knowledge and understanding of the needs of the children and young people RCET supports, which would undoubtedly help to inform better support.

For too long, Armed Forces Children and Young People have been a hidden group whose needs have not been fully recognised or met. So, these are now urgent calls to action of our politicians, not ones that can be addressed sometime in the future. Our children and young people cannot wait – their childhood is now.

Click here for more about the Royal Caledonian Education Trust

Click here to read their first Manifesto

About RCET

The Royal Caledonian Education Trust is the only charity within Scotland dedicated to working directly with children and young people, from serving personnel, reservist and veteran families to co-produce services to better understand and respond effectively to unique challenges experienced with regard to mental health and wellbeing, education and learning, youth participation and the pursuit of positive futures.

About the author

Laura Falconer is Chief Executive of the Royal Caledonian Education Trust

Click to learn more about RCET

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