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Safeguarding Young People in the Armed Forces

Young people under 18 may be in the armed forces as recruits or trainees, or may be dependants of a service family.

The life of a service family differs in many respects from that of a family in civilian life. The family often have to move in response to service commitments. The frequency and location of such moves make it essential that the service authorities are aware of any concerns regarding safeguarding and promoting the welfare of a child from a military family.

In areas of high concentration of service families, the armed forces seek particularly to work alongside local authority Children's Social Care, including through representation on LSCPs and at Initial and Review Child Protection Conferences.

Looking after the welfare of under-18s in the armed forces comes under the MoD's comprehensive welfare arrangements, which apply to all members of the armed forces. Commanding Officers are well aware of the particular welfare needs of younger recruits and trainees and are fully committed to cooperating with statutory and other agencies in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of under-18s.

Children's Social Care has a responsibility to monitor the wellbeing of care leavers, and any care leavers joining the armed forces should have unrestricted access to local authority leaving care services.

Local authorities have the statutory responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the children of service families in the UK. However, all three services provide professional welfare support, including social work services to augment those provided by local authorities.

In the Royal Navy (RN) this is provided by the Naval Personal and Family Service (NPFS) and the Royal Marines Welfare Service; within the army this is provided by the Army Welfare Service (AWS); and in the Royal Air Force by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association - Forces Help (SSAFA-FH).

When service families or recruits or civilians working with the armed forces are based overseas, the responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of their children is vested with the Ministry of defence (MoD), who fund the British Forces Social Work Service (Overseas). This service is contracted to SSAFA-FH, who provide a fully qualified social work and community health service in major overseas locations (for example, in Germany and Cyprus).

Instructions for the protection of children overseas, which reflect the principles of the Children Act 2004 and the philosophy of inter-agency cooperation, are issued by the MoD as a Joint Service Publication (JSP) 834 Safeguarding Children. Larger overseas commands issue local child protection procedures, hold a Command list of children who are the subject of a Child Protection Plan and have a Command Safeguarding Children Partnership, which operates in a similar way to those set up under this guidance, in upholding standards and making sure that best practice is reflected in procedures and observed in practice.

Where a local authority believes that a child who is the subject of current child protection processes is from an ex-service family, the Naval Personal and Family Service (NPFS), the Army Welfare Service (AWS) or the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association - Forces Help (SSAFA-FH) can be contacted to establish whether there is existing information that might help with enquiries.

Local authorities should ensure that SSAFA-FH, the British Forces Social Work Service (Overseas), or the NPFS for RN families is made aware of any service child who is the subject of a Child Protection Plan and whose family is about to move overseas. In the interests of the child, SSAFA-FH, the British Forces Social Work Service (Overseas) or NPFS can confirm that appropriate resources exist in the proposed location to meet identified needs. Full documentation should be provided and forwarded to the relevant overseas command. All referrals should be made to the Director of Social Work, HQ SSAFA FH or Area Officer, NPFS as appropriate.

Comprehensive reciprocal arrangements exist for the referral of child protection cases to appropriate UK authorities, relating to the temporary or permanent relocation of such children to the UK from overseas.

Last Updated: January 8, 2024