Army life for under-fives
Being part of an Army family brings many challenges but I feel proud of how resilient my children have been when they are uprooted to start all over again somewhere new. This feature was written for Army&You magazine.
A new posting affects every member of your Army family – even those too young to understand or have their say. You might expect older children to kick up a fuss about moving house and school but what about under-fives?
A childcare poll conducted by AFF in 2017 revealed that 59 per cent of parents had already used two or more settings for a child under the age of five.
“Kiernan started with a childminder in Bergen but when the garrison closed we moved him to a nursery in Paderborn, then we were posted back to the UK where he’s had two more childminders,” recalled Katherine Brim.
“I don’t think many nurseries or childminders are fully prepared to deal with a military child,” she added. “There should be greater support for this special group of children.”
Targeted funding for the early years is a key issue for AFF. Education & Childcare Specialist Lucy Scott explained: “We believe the Service Pupil Premium (SPP) provided by the Department for Education (DfE) for school-aged children should be extended to include the under-fives to help reduce the impact of Service life on their development and wellbeing.”
Victoria Brice had a positive experience moving her son from a small garrison nursery to a bigger pre-school. She admitted: “Sam has taken it all in his stride but I know from his older siblings how the grief of moving can make it difficult to settle.”
Banana Moon Nursery in Catterick cares for many children from Army families and manager Kate Woolley feels they would benefit from additional input. She claimed: “If SPP was extended to our setting we would offer small group nurture sessions with social activities designed to encourage conversation and sharing of worries.”
A DfE spokesperson welcomed the proposal but confirmed there are no plans to provide funding for Service children under-five, adding: “The government’s policies for the early years seek to improve outcomes for all children, regardless of background, gender or ethnicity.”
Access to childcare
The MOD’s Directorate Children and Young People is developing a new childcare policy. More than £20m of Libor money has been spent on improving the infrastructure of childcare settings on defence establishments and another £3m of funding has been allocated in Libor grants this year.
Major Caroline Wade, SO2 welfare, said: “Accessing high-quality, affordable childcare is a priority for all parents – serving or not. It enables employment and plays an important part in the development of children.”
Research is being conducted by the Army, exploring the experiences of women returning to work following pregnancy and maternity leave.
Sophie Parry and her husband were both serving. She didn’t plan to leave after having their first child, but they couldn’t make it work. She said: “The childcare expenses were ridiculous in London and we don’t have any family nearby to help cover irregular hours, weekends and bank holidays.”
The Army Families Strategy hopes to address some of these issues and an online Army Parents’ Network is being established.
The cost of childcare varies greatly between locations and families can consider nurseries, nannies, au pairs and childminders. For some, the solution has been to tackle two problems at once.
Pam Davis took advantage of free training while living in Fallingbostel and became a childminder. She said: “It was the only viable option for me to work because I had young children. Whilst we were living there, 7 Brigade deployed for nine months so I offered flexible hours to allow other mums to go shopping or have a haircut.”
Hannah McCourt is another Army spouse who started a childminding business. She said: “It fits in so well with the military lifestyle and once you have all the qualifications it is a job you can take with you.”
Hannah signed up to an online study programme and, after registering with Ofsted, was entitled to a government start-up grant of £500.
Before moving to a new posting, it’s worth looking into whether you can find appropriate local childcare.
For jobs abroad, AFF’s Regional Manager Overseas Esther Thomas advised: “It is only in the more established locations that there is permanent MOD-managed or vetted childcare. In many locations, parents have to rely on local early years provision, which may be both educationally and culturally different.”
In the UK it is still wise to do your homework and to communicate with a new setting. Kate Woolley suggested: “Share photos of new keyworkers with your child and arrange for settling in sessions. Make any additional needs known as early as possible to aid the transfer of information to support any requests for local authority funding.”
There is currently no extra money allocated to help childcare providers to support Service children under-five. Lucy Scott hopes for a positive outcome to AFF’s campaign: “We would urge the DfE to remove the age barrier on SPP and to take away any disadvantage in line with the Armed Forces Covenant. We believe in equality of support for all children, irrespective of age.”