A new report by RAND Europe and commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), finds that there is a lack of available evidence exploring the challenges faced by Service personnel and their families as they transition to civilian life…

The report was commissioned by FiMT following its Families Engagement Programme, to develop a better understanding of the existing evidence base and gaps in available literature, and builds on FiMT’s publication entitled ‘Better Understanding the Support Needs of Service Leaver Families’ (March 2015).

Every year approximately 17,000 Service personnel leave the UK Armed Forces and return to civilian life, and there is growing recognition that families of Service personnel could be better supported in their transition from military to civilian life. The report is the first ever systematic review of all available literature and databases, and focuses on four key areas: Engagement with Families; Family Breakdown; Housing Support; and Spousal Employment.

Previous research by FiMT as part of the Families Engagement Programme highlighted:

  • A low utilisation of services provided by the MOD and voluntary organisation, designed to increase awareness of the different issues that families need to consider whilst transitioning to civilian life. The systematic review focussed on literature looking to understand families’ engagement with service providers, barriers to successful engagement and ways to overcome them.
  • Anecdotal evidence that active service, long overseas postings and transition from military to civilian life can lead to the breakdown of the family unit. The review considered research around relationship breakdown between a serving person and their spouse, with a particular focus on the comparisons with the civilian population and whether military transition acts as a trigger for a relationship breakdown.
  • Housing is the greatest financial issue facing families, particularly if they have been in Service accommodation. A recurring theme of the stakeholder engagement programme was the difficulty some families reportedly experienced in finding suitable accommodation when leaving MOD-provided Service Families Accommodation, whilst undergoing transition. The focus of the review here was on families’ access to relevant information before and during transition.
  • Low employment rates were reported amongst spouses of Service leavers in comparison to the wider population. The focus of the review here was on literature looking to understand potential barriers to spousal employment and ways to overcome them, and also the benefits to ex-Service personnel of having a spouse in employment.

The review found that existing research and evidence across all four key areas was very limited and little of the examined material focused specifically on transition, but rather support offered to families whilst a spouse was still serving. Furthermore, the literature often focused primarily on the US context, with the relevance and applicability of the findings to the UK being under-assessed.

The report recommends the following:

  • More comparative studies to demonstrate the impact of particular interventions for the families of Service leavers in transition. Identify, analyse and explain similarities and differences across different types of Service leavers and their families to illustrate how interventions can be differentially effective in different types of Service leavers.
  • More funding for longitudinal research should be allocated.
  • Funding should be made available for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the different support schemes available.
  • Funding for a ‘mapping study’ should be made available to map the support provided through the MOD and the wider network of support available through government bodies, charities and other agencies.
  • An assessment of the applicability of international research to UK Service leaver families is also recommended, to inform the future development of policy and support programmes.

A RAND spokesperson said: “Our systematic review found a lack of objective evidence of the challenges faced by UK Service personnel and their families when adjusting to civilian life. In particular, there is a shortage of rigorous research on engagement with families, family breakdown, housing and spousal engagement. Further in-depth research in these key areas is vital to inform future research directions, research funding prioritisation and practical actions and policy making.”

Ray Lock, Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust, said: “RAND’s systematic review has revealed the paucity of UK-relevant evidence available to those whose purpose it is to support families. Going forward, we will now consider how to close the gaps identified within the review with purpose, focus and commitment, as part of our strategy to generate a strong evidence base that we can use to influence how the families of Service personnel transitioning back to civilian life can be better supported.”