Blog 15. Impact of COVID-19 on the transitions of children from armed forces families

By Moira Leslie

Living in an Armed Forces family very often entails high levels of mobility with frequent moves of home, school and sometimes even different countries. One parent’ s work related transitions trigger multiple transitions for the entire family (Multiple and Multi-dimensional Transitions Theory, Jindal-Snape). There is usually a reasonable amount of time for families to make the necessary arrangements and for schools to liaise to ensure continuity, however there can still be disruptions, including interrupted education for children, especially if they join a new school mid-term. These moves, however, can sometimes happen at very short notice giving the family very little time for the related emotional transitions.

As proposed by Bridges in his Transitions Model, the family/child will enter the first stage of ending, losing, and letting go and start disengaging with school once they know when they are leaving and where they are going. Entering this disengagement phase can be emotional – friendships are often broken in preparation for the move – falling out with a friend is sometimes easier to bear than the pain of saying goodbye to a best friend. Parents and school staff often say things such as “It’ll be OK you can keep in touch through social media”. Young people tell us, however, that social media is fine but is no substitute for a hug from your best friend.

Moving school can be an emotional time under normal circumstances but early 2020 has by no means been “normal”. How then are young people expected to ‘re-engage’ with a school they had started disengaging with because Covid-19 has put a stop to the family being posted? We will consider the case of one family to illustrate this.

Family A were all packed up and ready for their move from Scotland to England. The three eldest children had already left Scotland to live with their grandparents, their aunt and a good friend in England, whilst the youngest child stayed in Scotland with parents. Hours before they were due to move they received a call telling them that the move was postponed due to COVID-19. After a hasty trip to collect their three children from England, they arrived back in Scotland just before lockdown. The children had all signed off from their Scottish schools and were looking forward to enrolling in their new ones. Sense of belonging is considered to be very important for successful transitions and engagement with a school, but what happens when you start letting go with the aim of developing a sense of belonging for a different school?

Issues arising from this situation
1. Having disengaged from their schools they were unwilling to re-engage
2. Disappointment at not being able to engage with their new schools
3. Lack of motivation to complete any school work
4. Frustration at not having their trampoline and other toys/activities which they normally used to vent their anxieties (these had been sold and/or given away)
5. For one of the children, missing out on transition support is causing distress
6. Unwillingness to unpack all the boxes for fear of causing additional emotional distress when having to re- pack at some unknown point
7. Having to share beds as normal furniture had been packed up
8. Uncertainty about when the move will happen

The one thing that this family feels would help them more than anything else is having a date for the move so that they can plan again for that transition, whilst dealing with the transitions triggered by the cancelled move.

Cancelled or postponed moves are not specific to Armed Forces families nor are they specific to COVID-19 but, in such circumstances, we should all be mindful of the added pressures placed on families by such disruptions.

During the present COVID-19 situation, the families whose moves have been postponed have made suggestions for schools and families to support children’s transitions:

Suggestions by families for schools
1. Continued contact with the family even if the children have been taken off the register
2. Continued support for home schooling activities but being mindful that the children may well be de-motivated and disengaged, and that many of their personal belongings may well be sitting in packing boxes
3. Continued efforts to establish and maintain contact with the receiving school – if known – and to encourage children to start engaging with their new school, for example, through the website or by virtual school tours where possible
4. Continued efforts to maintain dialogue between the current and future professionals involved in the new setting to ensure continuity of support for those with Additional Support Needs
5. If possible, help establish links with some of the children in the new class

Suggestions by families for other families
1. Even if you have told your child’s school that you are leaving let them know about your changed circumstances
2. Encourage your child to keep doing the home- schooling work provided by the school they think they have just left
3. Encourage your child to engage with any information coming from their new school even if they don’t know what the building looks like
4. Don’t be too hard on your child if he/she finds it difficult to stay motivated to do school work
5. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find this situation really stressful
6. Ask for help – there are plenty of people and organisations who can help you

For 22 years Moira Leslie was Head Teacher at Raigmore Primary School in Inverness where there was a large number of children from Armed Forces families. She is passionate about helping this cohort of learners to thrive and reach their potential in education. She is also passionate about Emotional Literacy and Health and Wellbeing. After her retirement in 2011 she became Education Manager with the Royal Caledonian Education Trust, Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity

Image copyright: Divya Jindal-Snape

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