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Thriving Families

Back view of a member of the armed forces walking outside with a woman and toddler

Understanding and improving support for the families of military personnel and veterans is one of the VFI's core research strands. Our Thriving Families research aims to make a positive difference to families by underpinning the development of national government policy, and by helping charities and service providers innovate and improve support to their beneficiaries.

The Thriving Families research theme is led by Dr Hilary Engward and aims to explore the diverse holistic wellbeing and needs of veteran families, an under-researched area in the UK. Using various social science research methodologies, we seek to understand what constitutes the diverse structure of the veteran family and their health and wellbeing needs over the life course.

For more information about the Thriving Families theme, email [email protected]

The projects that make up the Thriving Families research programme have been generously funded by the Forces in Mind Trust.

It is well established that military spouses face obstacles to finding jobs and building careers. These include high levels of mobility, difficulties in accessing childcare and transport in remote base locations, and explaining gaps in CVs to employers. In an attempt to address these challenges, the Ministry of Defence developed a trial programme for supporting military spouses to boost their employability.

Our evaluation of the trial proved that spouses felt supported and invested in when they received training and assistance with job seeking and confidence building. As a result, the Ministry of Defence commissioned a further trial, and allocated funds to supporting spouses in developing their careers.

Read the full 'Evaluating the Ministry of Defence's Spouse Employment Support Trial' report

Early Service Leavers (ESLs) are defined as people who leave the military under compulsory discharge, or who leave prior to completing four years of service. Many do so prior to completing basic training, and research suggests that ESLs as a group are potentially more vulnerable to mental health problems and under/unemployment upon discharge. In 2011, the Ministry of Defence introduced the 'Future Horizons Programme', designed to improve employment outcomes for ESLs.

The VFI's evaluation of Future Horizons demonstrated that the programme was highly effective in engaging ESLs - sometimes considered as 'difficult-to-engage' - and that 70% of programme participants were in employment or training after completing the programme. As a direct result, the Future Horizons Programme was formally adopted as the Ministry of Defence's policy for supporting ESLs.

Read the full 'Evaluating support for Early Service Leavers' report

Caring and Coping 1

The family experience of living with limb loss was a collaborative project with Blesma: the limbless veterans' charity.

From interviews with veterans with limb loss and their families we found that the person with limb loss and their families carers coped differently to each other, and presented differing coping behaviours.

We also found that persons and families adapt to living with life loss over five stages, and in each of these stages, different support types of support are needed.

These findings are presented in a Living with Limb Loss Support Model which is used by Blesma, and can be used by charitable and statutory services to provide appropriate support at the most effective points during the five stages.

As a result of this research, we have gained funding for a further two-year collaborative study with Blesma to explore how veterans with loss of function of limb/s and their families live with and adapt to adapt to loss of function of limb/s.

This research is needed because living with loss of function of limb/s differs from the physical loss of limb/s, and because there are many different types of loss of function that require unique insight and understanding. This research therefore aims to inquire into these differences by interviewing veterans and their families to determine what support is needed by this population.

Read the full 'Caring and Coping: the family perspective on living with limb loss' report

Read more about caring and coping 1.

Caring and Coping 2

Caring and Coping 2: The family experience of living with loss of use of limb(s) is a collaborative project with Blesma: the limbless veterans' charity and funded by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT). The purpose of this research is to explore living with loss of use of limb(s) in veterans and their families.

In the UK, there are approximately 2.07 million Armed Forces military veterans (MoD, 2021). Whilst it is difficult to estimate the number of UK veterans who live with acquired functional limb limitations, we know that there are over 300 members of Blesma with such conditions.

Despite veterans with acquired loss of use limb(s) not being a new issue, there is limited extant literature that considers the needs of such veterans and their families, and where there is, the focus is toward aetiology of the loss of use of limb(s), rather than the everyday lived experience. A holistic view of the veteran, loss of use of limb, and the family was needed.

This project commenced in mid-2020 and has been structured over four phases:

Phase 1 undertook a critical scoping review of the literature to assess knowledge and evidence about living with loss of use of limb(s) within the veteran, military, and civilian realms.

Phase 2 used unstructured interviews to generate information about the everyday experience of veterans and their families living with loss of function of limb(s).

Phase 3 included collection of data using two different methods:
a. Distinct surveys for Blesma Members and their families
b. Semi-structured individual interviews with Members and their families

Phase 4 consists of a structured interview schedule based on the findings from Phases 2 and 3.

Caring and Coping 2: The family experience of living with loss of use of limb(s) project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022, when the final report and recommendations for charitable and statutory stakeholders will be released.

To find out more information about this ongoing project, please contact [email protected]

Read more about caring and coping 2.

  • Mobile Military Families: Exploring the specific challenges faced by mobile serving military families navigating the NHS in England, which aims to develop user friendly operational recommendations for NHS England, MOD and practitioners working with serving military families.
  • Understanding the psychosocial determinants of psychological health and wellbeing for veteran families in the UK: In collaboration with partner organisations, this project aims to provide evidence to be used by both policy makers and service providers to improve the support available to veteran families.
  • The Overlooked Casualties of Conflict 10 years on: This project updates the OCC (2009) report, commissioned by the Naval Children’s Charity (NCC) and explores the challenges and positive of aspects of Service life.
  • Navigating Modern Communication - Royal Air Force service children and partners' experiences of communication: Co-funded by the Norfolk Armed Forces Covenant Board and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund, this project undertook an in-depth exploration of how RAF families use modern communication methods and considered how to best support family communication. Read the Navigating Modern Communication report (PDF).