RAF Marham hosts conference focused on welfare of military children

The pressures on military children and the impact they have on life at home and in school were discussed at a conference held at Norfolk's last flying RAF base yesterday.

Headteachers from schools across the county, RAF personnel and representatives from children's services at Norfolk County Council attended the first ever Norfolk Service Children's Conference at RAF Marham.

The meeting came a day after the signing of a community covenant in which Norfolk pledged to look after its armed forces, veterans and their families for their work on our behalf.

It also comes as 300 members of the Light Dragoons, based at Swanton Morley, near Dereham, are gearing up to be deployed next month following the deaths of six British soldiers in Afghanistan earlier this week.

Addressing the group of around 50 people, Group Captain David Cooper, Station Commander at RAF Marham, said: 'There are huge strains and stresses placed on services families at times, particularly the children.

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'I've had 12 different homes in my time in the air force but the thing I am keen to stress is everyone has a different background and everyone copes with stress differently.

'It can be difficult to work out the stress and strain on children when one of their parents has been deployed. Things might come out at school which don't at home.'

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He later added: 'The community covenant is a two-way thing and we value anything you can give back to our children because they can sometimes have a pretty rough time with their mother or father being away.'

Michaela Webb, headteacher at nearby Marham Infant School, came up with the idea for the conference after going to a similar event in London.

She said: 'We have 166 RAF children in our school and although there are times when these children are vulnerable, the experiences they bring to our school is fantastic. I hope this conference helps everyone to fully understand what it's like to be in service... and the impact it has on their children and the entire family.'

She continued: 'With so many children from a military family we have to flexible at our school. There will be times when the father is away on duty and the mum just needs to get away for a couple of days with the children. It doesn't help with our attendance targets but thankfully our local authority has been brilliant with us.'

Fred Corbett, deputy director of children's services at Norfolk County Council, said there are 1,228 children in Norfolk schools from military families which works out at 1.2pc of the county's pupil population.

'There are 137 schools in Norfolk with at least one services child and there are 21 which have more than 10 services children,' he said.

'I hope this conference encourages schools to form new networks with other schools to keep in touch with good practices which support these youngsters.'

RAF Marham warrant officer Anne McLean spoke on the dynamics of the modern military family and the effects long-term deployment has on partners and children.

Padre Andrew Jones, based at RAF Marham, spoke about the psychology of services personnel, their partners and children leading up to, during and after a deployment abroad.

He wanted the latest understanding of the anxieties families go through during this period to reach as many families as possible.

Other speakers included Tom Smith on the effects of service life and the development of children and Stevie Lewis on life as a military wife and mother.

After the conference, Alison Thomas, county council cabinet member for children's services, said: 'Education is identified as a key area in the military covenant signed on Wednesday and I see the conference as the first of many steps forward.'

The Norfolk Armed Forces Community Covenant was signed at a ceremony at County Hall in Norwich on Wednesday. Led by Norfolk County Council, the covenant is a statement of mutual support between the county's civilian population and the armed forces community, which pledges practical help to forces personnel and their families.

A full report on the covenant will be considered at Norfolk County Council's cabinet on April 2, and a Norfolk Armed Forces Community Covenant website has been launched at www.norfolk.gov.uk/armedforces

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