Around the time of Remembrance this year, there will be children across the UK thinking of a lost parent who served in the armed forces. Those youngsters and their families had nowhere to turn for support until nearly 10 years ago, when Nikki Scott founded a charity inspired by the death of Lee, her husband and her children’s father, in Afghanistan. Ever since, Scotty’s Little Soldiers has been giving bereaved forces families the wraparound support she found was missing when she needed it most.
Nursery worker Nikki and Corporal Lee Scott married in 2008 and moved with their son Kai to Tidworth army garrison in Wiltshire. It was just a year later, after five-year-old Kai had been joined by his sister Brooke, seven months, that Lee was killed by a roadside bomb while on tour. The lives of Nikki and the children were thrown into turmoil, and it was when she was navigating her grief that Nikki realised there was a key element missing in the support she was offered.
“We had a family visiting officer from the army who helped until we moved out of the army house, and groups like the Army Widows’ Association contacted me,” says Nikki. “But I remember thinking, when is someone going to get in touch about my kids? Who do I chat to about them? The way Lee died, and the fact that he was already away, were difficult to explain to the kids.”
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— Scotty's L Soldiers (@CorporalScotty) October 28, 2019
It sank in nine months later when Nikki and her children were on holiday with family. “I felt a lot of guilt about how I shouldn’t do something like that, [because] it was too soon,” she explains. “But I saw Kai laughing for the first time since his dad had died and saw it was exactly what he needed. I wondered how many kids had lost a parent who was serving but had no support.”
On returning home, Nikki researched what was out there and was shocked to find there was nothing dedicated to the bereaved children of servicemen and women.
So she got to work. With the help of family members she pulled together the beginnings of a charity, one almost like a club for children who had lost a parent. Nine years later, Nikki’s decision to channel her grief into something positive has supported hundreds of children across the UK, and this year alone Scotty’s Little Soldiers has supported almost 400 children.
The charity tries to offer a human touch to the youngsters it supports. Every child can enjoy at least one UK holiday a year with travel, food and activities paid for.
The team will also send the child a gift through the post – tailored to them, based on a survey they complete upon joining – on the anniversary of their parent’s death, as well as on their birthday and at Christmas. Families are given meal vouchers so they can go out for dinner together around Remembrance time.
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It’s not about children having things, Nikki explains. It’s about showing that they haven’t been forgotten by the community they were born into.
Families are also given access to fully funded bereavement counselling and a supportive family network, as well as being allocated a family support worker.
When she set up the charity Nikki had one eye on the personal development of the children too. Youngsters can apply for development grants, ranging from small amounts that they can put towards school trips and music lessons to bigger sums
to cover the cost of driving lessons. They can also apply for £1,000 when they start university.
There’s no cost for families who sign up their children. While the age limit for membership was previously 19, Nikki has developed a new programme, Springboard, with mentoring and work experience for young adults aged 19 to 25.
Families often report feeling forgotten after moving away from a military environment, and Nikki has discovered that schools sometimes struggle to understand a child’s circumstances when they have lost a parent in the military. She’s working on new partnerships with schools and local authorities to help make sure children get the support they need.
“Getting the word out remains the biggest challenge,” Nikki says. “In the early years it was more like ‘look at that little widow, setting up a charity’. But more people see the huge difference we make to people’s lives now. We want to reach all the kids out there who need this kind of support but don’t know it’s here.”
The charity founder adds: “This has to last. We’re even supporting some newborns. So we want to be there until they’re 25.”