A lifeline for seafarers’ children

Lending support to families challenged by a career at sea

By Natasha Barley

Sailors’ Children’s Society has been supporting the children of seafarers in the UK for over 200 years. We have seen great progress in the safety and welfare of seafarers and their families in that time but there are still many challenges that face children whose parents choose to earn a living at sea.

Family breakdown is far more prevalent in seafaring families because of the lengthy times apart making it challenging to maintain family bonds. Post traumatic stress disorder is more common and very sadly suicide rates are very high as well. Physical ailments and illnesses of parents because of the physical nature of the work also manifest. Children don’t choose what career their parents have but they are sadly impacted by their parents’ choice.

Sailors’ Children’s Society is there for the children of seafarers when the worst does happen. Loss of a family member, diagnosis of a life limiting or terminal illness or family breakdown. All the families we support are also in financial difficulty. We provide the families with financial, practical, and emotional support.

Every family has access to a family support officer who provides advice and guidance and emotional support to help the family heal. We also signpost families to other charities that can provide specialist support. All our families can go on a respite break to one of our nine caravans in the UK which gives them a chance to spend some special time together away from their daily stresses and helps them to create happy memories together.

Festive help

Christmas is a particularly difficult time of year for our families. We help by providing hampers in December so they can enjoy a Christmas dinner. One of the mothers we support said, “we received our Christmas hamper yesterday and it is a lifesaver. We didn’t have a turkey until our hamper arrived and we would have gone without. And we got a ham as well! We wish you all a very merry Christmas, thank you so much for making ours special.”

We also provide a little extra support to our families in December so they can purchase a gift for their children. It helps the families so much to have some much-needed cheer on Christmas day.

The cost-of-living crisis is having a serious impact on our families’ ability to afford even the basics, so we provide monthly support grants that help cover the cost of food and heating. We provide school uniforms and warm winter clothing to all the children and we cover the cost of school trips and extracurricular activities, so the children don’t miss out. We also help to provide beds and furniture for children when needed. Barnardo’s charity reports that 440,000 children in the UK do not have a bed and according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation one million children in the UK experienced destitution in the last year. Destitution is when people cannot afford to meet their most basic physical needs to stay warm, dry, clean and fed.

Children don’t choose the circumstances they find themselves in. We can do better, and we have to do better for the children.

Natasha Barley is CEO of the Sailors’ Children’s Society. For more information go to Sailors’ Children’s Society | Providing help to children of seafarers since 1821 (sailorschildren.org.uk)