Our Armed Forces are among the most extraordinarily talented and hard-working people in our society. We recognise the vital role that their families play, and that operational capability relies on recognising the Service person as part of a wider family unit. As we deploy our personnel on operations, they must have confidence that their families at home are able to access the right support if required. This is why we launched the first ever UK Armed Forces Families' Strategy in 2016, which focuses and coordinates activity to support Service families. Priorities for this work include childcare, partner employment and accommodation, which have consistently remained areas of interest for both the Service Families' Federations and the Ministry of Defence. In delivering the strategy we work closely with a number of external stakeholders to provide support to spouses and partners, such as those who are looking to gain employment, as we recognise that the demands of Service life can impact on the careers of family members.
Welfare support is provided to families before and during deployments, including through social events and briefings. Welfare is the responsibility of the chain of command and is delivered in the first instance by the Commanding Officer, supported by the Unit Welfare Officer who makes sure that families know who they can contact for support. Further advice and networks are available through the single Services Community and Development Officers, Regimental Associations, charities, and the Armed Forces Families Federations. In addition, the Families Welfare Grant is used to enhance communication and engagement with families during deployments. It funds activities including distribution of welfare information such as leaflets, web pages and by the promotion of community activities. Social media (Facebook/Twitter) groups are also used regularly by the Services, information support centres (known as HIVES) and Service families to communicate and as a peer support network.
Finally the Covenant Fund has assigned £4 million to projects that support 'Families in Stress', enabling specialist organisations such as Relate to provide immediate or local support to families experiencing episodes of significant strain. To date the Fund has awarded eleven grants, totalling almost £2 million, to specialist and expert charities.