HC Deb 24 January 2002 vol 378 cc997-8W
Mr. Keetch

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what programmes are run by the RAF, the Army and the Royal Navy to assist service men and women who are experiencing relationship breakdown; and if he will make a statement. [27676]

Mr. Ingram

[holding answer 23 January 2002]: The services rarely interfere or become directly involved in matrimonial or relationship disputes, unless requested to do so by the parties concerned, as these are essentially a private matter. Nevertheless, each service places great importance on the welfare of service families, recognising the significant contribution they make as well as the deleterious effects of mobility and separation aspects of service life. Consequently, there is a range of welfare facilities able to provide help and support on a wide range of issues, including relationship breakdown if requested. The service welfare organisations liaise with Relate at local level and provide those service personnel seeking professional marriage guidance counselling with an early referral.

With the naval service personnel are able to meet with a professional from one of the Navy's caring organisations: the Naval Personal and Family Service (NPFS) or the Naval Chaplaincy Service (NCS). The NPFS employs qualified social workers able to offer direct advice, counselling, support (practical and emotional) and advocacy on behalf of clients.

Within the Army, the main source of help is through the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association—Forces Help (SSAFA-FH), a charity contracted to provide a range of professional welfare services, particularly overseas. Army personnel also have access to other welfare organisations, available at most garrisons, as follows: the Army Welfare Service (AWS), the Army Families Federation (AFF) and the Army Families Advice Bureau (AFAB). In Germany, the Army also provides funding for dependants to return to the UK to be trained in marriage guidance counselling by Relate; this then provides an additional resource in theatre.

As with the other two services, the RAF has no programmes in place specifically to provide assistance to those experiencing relationship problems. However, there are a number of networks and organisations available to individuals or couples able to provide support and guidance if requested. These include the SSAFA-FH RAF (UK) Social Work Service which has staff based on 32 Stations in the UK. The RAF has recently launched a community support website that gives practical information and links to organisations which may be able to provide the necessary help and guidance. The website, www.rafcom.co.uk, is designed to tackle issues that may contribute to relationship problems.

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