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Veterans in custody, their families and children
veteran offenders Barnardos
New research from Barnardo’s provides a glimpse into the ‘invisible’ lives of the children and families of veterans in custody.

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Veterans in Custody, their Families & Children

Recent (10 February 2020) research from Barnardo’s provides a glimpse into the ‘invisible’ lives of the children and families of veterans in custody.

The charity was commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust to assess their unique needs as part of a two year project.

This follows previous work by Barnardo’s supporting children affected by parental offending and highlighting the importance of maintaining family relationships.

The new report, written by Leonie Harvey-Rolfe and Sara Rattenbury, identifies complicating factors for veterans such as a loss of identity and a lack of holistic support services, and suggests early interventions, peer support and a family-based approach to prison work.

The research reveals that many former military personnel don’t identify as veterans because they think it only applies to those with long-service or active-service backgrounds.

Others fear revealing their past military careers could damage their relationship with their former units, or they view seeking support as an admission of weakness – which means many veterans don’t seek help for themselves and their family until they reach a crisis.

Shame also plays a role. One prisoner said: “I saw coming to prison as a failure so I didn’t say I was a military veteran because that’s a double-failure. I didn’t say anything for a long time.”


Key findings include:

  • Family breakdown levels are high amongst the sample and often this separation has occurred before the father went into custody
  • Mirroring the transition from military to civilian life, the greatest challenge is at the point of release from custody when transitioning back into the community
  • When veterans and families do access support on offer, feedback is largely positive


Key recommendations include:

  • Opportunities need to be developed to facilitate peer support for veterans, partners and children
  • Consistent and funded veteran support services should be in operation across all prison estates
  • One agency should take responsibility for overseeing and coordinating support for children of offenders before, during and after their parent is in custody

Previous work has clearly demonstrated the importance of offenders maintaining family ties, and the impact of parental imprisonment on their children.

This includes an increased risk of isolation, depression, bullying and truancy which can then affect their educational achievement and future prospects.

However, the voices and experiences of children and families of veterans in custody have largely been absent – which is why this research is so vitally important.

It is apparent that prisons, military charities and peer support groups often don’t collect information on dependants or family situations so this group is likely to remain invisible and their needs unmet.

There is no doubt that more specialist support is needed.

Leonie Harvey-Rolfe- Developer

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