Image of the Support Group for RAF parents in motion

Thursday 8th September 2022

It’s the time of year when children go back to school after a summer off, which can bring about mixed emotions for parents. The uncertainty of returning to work as a new parent, presents a whole different challenge and is something that can cause both parent and child significant stress and upset. Read how Flight Lieutenant Jess Sharman set up a support network after returning to her role in the RAF from maternity leave discovering little formal support.

Having to navigate through a series of firsts, like dropping her daughter off at nursery for the first time, Jess found coming back into a structured professional environment was stressful and upsetting. The process of returning to work after maternity leave did not include anyone reaching out with emotional support or providing guidance on how to return to work when still breastfeeding.

Wanting to improve the situation for parents in the future, Jess set up a support group for RAF parents (link accessible internally to Service personnel), designed to arm individuals at RAF Stations with the knowledge they needed to comfortably return to work after parental leave.

Watch Station Commander RAF High Wycombe, Group Captain Philip Arnold chat with Jess, a working mother, about her experiences as a working mother in the RAF, managing breastfeeding at work and how she set up a support group for RAF parents to improve the return-to-work process for future parents.


Speaking about the importance of supporting parents, Group Captain Arnold said:

“With a more diverse workforce than the RAF was set up with originally, we have to find our new way and anything we can do to have those conversations that enable families to come to work safe in the knowledge that their families are being cared for can only make us more effective as an Air Force.”

After setting up the support group for RAF parents, Jess went on to submit a question to DCOM Cap, to ask what more could be done to support parents returning to work. Following a working group, a new dedicated Parenting Support Cell is being established, to provide support to all parents going through any parenting journey and to be a point of contact for women who are on maternity leave, so there is always some connection back into the RAF, when some people can otherwise feel quite isolated.

Praising the work done by Jess, Group Captain Arnold said:

“I’m really impressed with these groundswell ideas that come up and deliver such important things and it’s an example of the Astra mindset of people innovating and just getting on with stuff and then that good idea being seized on by the RAF and supported.”

Support for RAF Parents

The Support Group for RAF Parents started by Jess has resulted in support contacts being available at most RAF stations, staffed by volunteers, their role is to connect individuals across stations with people that can help them, find answers to questions or just provide a bit of peer support.

All parents are invited to join the group, which is available on Defence Connect (internal only to Service personnel) or you can search for them on Facebook.

There are other projects designed to support working families, including the Wraparound Childcare scheme and flexible working options.

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