Arrangements for child protection in the armed services

Key points

Family life in the armed forces is, by its very nature, different to that in civilian life. The forces control the movement of the family and families often endure long periods of separation, without extended family support. Local authorities and other agencies should note these differences and be ready to share information with the service authorities when a service family becomes the subject of child protection inquiries. Each service has its own welfare organisation, and service authorities also provide housing for their families. Due to the frequency with which the families move, it is important that the service authorities are fully aware of any child who is deemed to be at risk within their family.

Royal Navy and Royal Marines

The Naval Personal and Family Service and Royal Marines Welfare ( NPFS and RMW) are staffed by qualified social workers and trained and supervised welfare workers and provide a professional social work and welfare service to all naval personnel and their families. NPFS and RMW also liaise with statutory social work services where appropriate, particularly where a child is subject to child protection concerns. Child protection issues involving a serving member of the Royal Navy or Royal Marines should be referred to the civilian area officer for Scotland and NPFS and RMW should be invited to any case conferences or case discussions concerning those issues. The Area Officer for East and Overseas has an overview of all naval child protection cases in the UK.

Area Officer NPFS and RMW North, 1-5 Churchill Square, Helensburgh G84 9HL

tel: 01436 672798

fax: 01436 674965

email :

Area Officer NPFS and RMW East and Overseas HMS NELSON, Queen Street, Portsmouth PO1 3HH

tel: 02392 722712

fax: 02392 725083


When an Army family is subject to child protection procedures the unit welfare officer (UWO) and Army Welfare Service (AWS) will be involved and will be represented at meetings. It is important for any chair to understand the differences between these two roles:

      • The UWO provides first line welfare. As the commanding officer’s representative for the welfare of soldiers and families within the unit, they will respond to day-to-day welfare issues. At child protection case conferences they can advise on the demands of the unit, forthcoming operational deployments or assignments and localised issues that could assist or hinder any Child Protection Plan. They may also be there to support the family. UWOs have limited training in child protection. The chair should therefore ascertain whether the UWO is attending the conference in order to support the family or as a fully participating member of the team.
      • The AWS includes senior Army welfare workers ( SAWW) and Army welfare workers ( AWW). Both are specially trained social and occupational welfare and are professionally supervised; SAWWs are professionally supervised by qualified social workers. The service is Army-wide, which enables consistent support when families move location. AWS Personal Support provides advice and support to soldiers and families who are experiencing difficulties arising from personal relationships, separation, loss and bereavement, child and social problems. AWS is responsible for advising the chain of command on all welfare issues.

The AWS is the Army’s representative in all matters of child protection and is responsible for notifying Army staffing personnel when a child is subject to and removed from a Child Protection Plan. Representatives often sit on Child Protection Committees and carry out tri-service representation, giving them a full overview of policy and practice across child protection and the armed forces. AWS staff trained in child protection may be part of a Child Protection Plan where appropriate and agreed.

Unlike UWOs, S/ AWWs have received significant training both in supporting personnel with personal or family difficulties and in child protection. SAWWs participate fully and regularly in child protection case conferences and the decision-making process. They can also advise on the structure of the armed forces and make recommendations as to who else might need to be involved in a case (for example, armed forces’ medical officers or the mental health social work team).

Other members of Army personnel may be involved in meetings. Other agencies such as the British Forces Social Work Service (which provides a statutory social work service on behalf of the armed forces overseas) may also attend where a family has been transferred from overseas and there are child protection concerns.

Local authorities with enquiries or concerns regarding child protection or the welfare of a child from an Army family should contact:

The Senior Army Welfare Worker

AWS Edinburgh

tel: 0131 310 2845


Chief Personal Support Officer, HQAWSHQ Land Command, Erskine Barracks, WiltonSalisburySP2 0AG

tel: 01722 436564

fax: 01722 436307


Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force has an independent welfare organisation on each station. Social work is managed as a normal command function and co-ordinated by each station’s personnel officer. The officer commanding personnel management squadron (OC PMS) is supported by personal and families support workers/senior social work (P& FSW) practitioners from the Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Association, Forces Help (SSAFA-FH) P& FSW Service (RAF). There are five teams in the UK and they are managed by qualified social work team managers. Where there are child protection investigations or concerns regarding the family of a serving RAF member the parent unit should be notified or, if this is not known, the nearest RAF unit. Every RAF unit has an officer appointed to this duty and they will be familiar with child protection procedures.

SSAFA Forces Help

Social Work Team Manager


Tel: 01334 857962

Service families overseas

For service families based overseas or being considered for an overseas appointment, the responsibility for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of their children is vested with the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD funds the British Forces Social Work Service ( BFSWS) overseas which is contracted to the SSAFA– FH and provides a fully qualified social work and community health service in major locations overseas. Instructions for the protection of children overseas are issued by the MoD as ‘Defence Council Instruction’, Joint Service.

Larger overseas commands issue local child protection procedures, hold a command Child Protection Register and have a command Safeguarding Children Board.

Local authority social work departments should ensure that SSAFA– FH (and NPFS for naval families) are made aware of any service child who is subject of a Child Protection Plan, and whose family is about to move overseas.

In the interests of the child, SSAFA– FH, the BFSWS or NPFS can confirm that appropriate resources exist in the proposed location to meet identified needs. Full documentation should be provided and forwarded to the relevant overseas command.

All referrals should be made to:

The Director of Social Work HQSSAFA– FH19, Queen Elizabeth Street, London SE1 2LP

tel: 020 7403 8783

fax: 020 7403 8815

For the Royal Navy and Royal Marines:

Area Officer NPFSEast and Overseas, HMS Nelson, Queen StreetPortsmouthPO1 3HH

tel: 02392 722712

fax: 02392 725083

Comprehensive reciprocal arrangements exist for the referral of child protection cases to the appropriate UK local authorities in the event of either temporary or permanent relocation of children from overseas to the UK.