Meeting Military Families’ Need for Flexible Child Care

Parent, child and providerThe life of a military family can be very unpredictable. Service demands and plans can change frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Care for an injured military parent may mean hospital, doctor or therapy visits that wreak havoc on a family’s daily routine. The demands on family schedules are especially challenging when there is no non-military family member who can provide a level of consistency and predictability for young children.

The bottom line? Military families need flexible child care options. Flexibility for military families means having trustworthy care:

  • on short notice
  • on an irregular basis
  • at non-traditional hours
  • for an extended time, possibly overnight
  • on an hourly basis for brief times

Where can flexible care be found? It may not be easy but there are a few places to look.

Flexible Child Care Programs & Caregivers

The greatest flexibility is offered by in-home child care providers and nannies. Although on the surface it appears to be an expensive option, it’s really not when one considers that a live-in provider offers stability and consistency for both children and parents in the midst of changing schedules, multiple deployments – even relocation! Nannies’ responsibilities also often include other household tasks. It can be an especially beneficial option for large families, families with no nearby relatives, single parents, and dual-military families. Lisa Werth, a nanny for a family whose parents both work at the Pentagon says, “My bosses often email me from the Pentagon to see if I know of a nanny looking for a job.” Being an in-home child care provider can be a rewarding and interesting employment option for child care professionals to consider.

Family Child Care homes can also offer greater flexibility. FCC owners may choose to market specifically to military families if they live in a community with a high enough concentration. But even when the majority of a FCC owner’s families are civilian, they may be able to meet the need for emergency or non-traditional care for an individual military family in a way that a center simply couldn’t. FCC owners who are willing to provide flexible child care for military families should communicate that in their marketing and through their currently enrolled families (since word-of-mouth is often how new families are found), their local Resource and Referral agency, and professional associations.

Flexibility in child care centers is the most difficult to find because it is the most expensive to provide on a larger scale. The less demand there is in a geographic area, the less likely it is that flexible options are available. The highest demand, of course, is on military installations, so it’s not surprising that each of the branches of the Armed Forces offer a variety of programs to meet these needs through their children, youth and teen programs. For example, programs at Camp LeJeune (Marines) include hourly child care, Family Child Care (24-hr, 7 days a week), and emergency drop-in care. The demand may be so high, however, that there is a waiting list for enrollment, in which case child care programs in the surrounding area may choose to satisfy the needs of families.

Both FCC and center-based programs who are interested in serving military families should also consider becoming an approved provider for the military’s child care fee assistance program.  Approved programs are entered into a searchable online database, allowing military families to more easily locate programs that may be able to meet their unique needs. And remember, military families, especially Guard and Reserve, can be found living in communities all over the map. So no matter where you live, if you are willing and able to provide flexible care, even if only on an occasional basis, consider becoming an approved provider.

Additional Programs to Fill Child Care Gaps

Child care programs and providers who can’t themselves meet the child care needs of every military family should be aware of other options to refer families to that may help fill the gaps.

NACCRRA-Army Respite Child Care

The Army is working with the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) to provide financial support for community-based child care programs to offer respite care when shortterm care needs arise. Approved programs are paid to provide free hourly child care to for families of soldiers who are deployed, serving on temporary duty (90-179 days), under a Wounded, Ill or Injured status or are Survivors of Fallen Warriors. Refer families to the website’s searchable database to find participating programs. Call NACCRRA at 1-800-424-2246 if you are interested in becoming an approved provider or want more information.

Air Force Aid Society

Air Force families who will be relocating because of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS in military lingo) are eligible for 20 hours of child care at a certified Family Child Care home (either on or off base). Call 1-800-769-8951 or e-mail dvosburg@afas.org if you are interested in becoming a certified FCC home or want help in locating homes to refer families to in your area.

YMCA Military Outreach

One option that can meet some respite child care needs is the local Y. The Department of Defense pays for up to 16 hours of child care per month for infants through 12 year olds from eligible military families who don’t live on an installation.

  • Family members of deployed National Guard and Reservists
  • Active Duty Independent Duty personnel (deployment is not a requirement)
  • Relocated spouse/dependent children of deployed Active Duty personnel
  • Families of deployed Active Duty personnel residing 30 miles from a military installation

Although local Ys are not required to offer the program, many are choosing to participate, so check to see whether it’s an option that’s offered in your community. To find more information to share with families and search for participating Ys in your area, visit the Y’s website.

Sittercity

Sittercity is an online service that matches families with child care providers who can meet their needs, including last-minute emergency care, overnight care, etc. Sittercity has an extensive database of babysitters and nannies with detailed profiles that can be searched by location and 14 other options, including hourly rate, education/certification, and reviews from families. The Department of Defense has partnered with Sittercity to offer free membership to the matching service for military families. Entering your profile in the Sittercity database as a child care provider is free.

New Programs on the Horizon

The Veterans Administration launched a pilot program last year that offers on-site child care at three VA medical facilities. The child care centers provide free, drop-in child care for eligible veterans who come to the facilities for health care services. The centers can care for children from 6 weeks to 12 years old. Time will tell whether the program will expand to others of the 149 medical centers in the VA system.

What’s Available in Your Community?

If you are one of the many individual child care centers and family child care providers who tailor their programs to the unique needs of military families, we would love to hear your story!

Whole communities can also rally on behalf of military families, using local resources and combined creativity to meet a variety of military family needs, including child care. If you’ve been involved with or know of a community-level effort, please share your story, too. It may give others some fresh ideas for their own communities!

Even with all these efforts, there is still much to do to meet the child care needs of military families. What suggestions do you have for creating a sturdier network of support?

[Note: All branches of the military offer respite care for families of children with special needs through the Department of Defense Exceptional Family Member Respite Care program.]

 

Parenting at a Distance: There’s an App for That!

There’s an App for That!

Parenting at a Distance: There’s an App for That!

The role of parenting during deployments can be difficult to maintain across time and space but in the world we live in today, there’s an app for that!

There’s an old saying, “Once a parent, always a parent,” but as many military families can attest, parenting at a distance can be quite a challenge. Finding ways to connect, maintain parental roles and keep up with some of the daily activities our children are engaging in can be difficult when at home, much less during deployments. This is where the marvels of a technological era come into play.

Welcome to the age of technology! While we are not advocating that deployed soldiers sacrifice their work responsibilities, if being a more involved parent or caregiver while deployed is what you seek, a virtual trip to your mobile or online application store may be just the ticket.

Staying Connected

Serviceman Talking to Family
Serviceman Talking to Family

According to child development professionals, maintaining a sense of connectivity with your child(ren) “is key” to building strong parent-child relationships. But what happens when a parent or caregiver is deployed? In these situations, developing and maintaining those close parental or caregiver bonds may take some additional effort from all involved. Phone calls, letters, emails, Skype, Yahoo IM (now discontinued), or Google Hangouts conversations are all excellent ways to communicate with loved ones via long distances and there are other options for maintaining the ties that bind as well.

Bedtime Stories

Storytime

If you find yourself missing your child’s evening bedtime stories, there is a great app called A Story Before Bed that may help you out. And, for a limited time, military service members can record a bedtime story for their child for FREE. The site has a great selection and hundreds of recordable e-book titles. To record, simply use your webcam to capture a video of you reading the story and once you are happy with the recording you can save and share it with your little ones via the website, iPad or iPhone (free on the App Store). If you have an iPad 2, you can create the recordings on the go! You can also record while reading the story with your child before you are deployed and your little one can cherish your story time together until you return.

And Android users, we aren’t leaving you out. If you have not yet taken a bite out of the Apple, Zoodles is another great app that also has a companion Kid Mode app (free on Google Play Store). Currently they have 13 recordable storybooks, and a ton of age-appropriate games and art project s. If you sign up you will get weekly reports of what your little one is up to while playing with the application. Their introductory book Three Little Pigs is free, but you can also buy other books for $2.99 or with a premium subscription get them for free ($7.95 per month, $39.95 for six months or $59.95 for a year).

For those who want something a little less techie, Hallmark, Reader’s Digest, Publications International and many others offer recordable storybooks (from $10-$35) that provide built-in voice recorders to capture your voice as you read the story to your child. Each page has a separate recording device and you can record as many times as necessary to create the perfect storybook. When the child opens the book, special sensors determine which page the child is on and play back your recording. You can also lock the book so it cannot be accidentally erased. Titles include “Guess How Much I Love You” and “Hey Diddle, Diddle!” and “Goodnight Moon,” and there are even books based on licensed characters such as Cars, Thomas the Train, Disney Princess, and Elmo.

Also remember that everyone loves bedtime stories. So think about recording your own family bedtime storybook to send to your soldier while deployed. Your soldier will love hearing the voices of the ones (s)he loves reading their favorite story.

Video Cards or Messages

e-Card

If you are craving something a bit more personal (such as creating a personalized video card) try creating and editing your own video with the Pixorial app (now part of LifeLogger). Creating memories that last a lifetime has never been easier! Pixorial believes it should be easy to create, edit, and share videos across time and space using multiple devices (including both IOS and Android). You can also share your videos via all your social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or YouTube. The free service offers 1GB of video storage space or for a minimal $19.99/year you can have 10GB of video storage. You can even choose to order DVDs of your favorite clips.

If you want something a little less involved, create a “Starring You” e-card. JibJab is a web-based e-card development site that allows you to create animated e-cards for any occasion by integrating pictures of your family and friends into the cards. Membership is $12 per year ($1 per month) for unlimited access to the e-card development site.

Parental Responsibilities

Apps can do much more these days that just help us to connect. They can also help us be better parents. For military families deployment often means parental responsibilities rest on the shoulders of the parent or caregiver at home. But now, even deployed parents can get involved with some of the responsibilities of parenting.

Keeping up with Household Chores

Chores

If you want to help your partner ensure your children are doing their chores, there are now apps like Epic Win and Your Rule Chores that help keep track of the chores your children complete. With Epic Win, once you install the app on your iPad or iPhone ($1.99 on the App Store as of January 2019) you get a full-featured to-do list that supports repeating tasks, reminders for overdue events, and time-critical events that can be assigned to specific days of the week. Each time a task is completed it is destroyed by your child’s Avatar. Further, Epic Win integrates into your Google Calendar so you know when your child has completed a chore.

With You Rule Chores, simply install the app on your iPad or iPhone ($3.99 on iTunes). Each child gets their own avatar and as chores are completed, the children earn coins (similar to an allowance), level up (new gadgets and powers), and the first one to complete ALL their chores Rules! With parental controls such as password protection, chore creation, wish list approval, and daily reminders getting the children to complete their chores has never been easier. While multi-device synching is not yet available, the developers promise it will be delivered in the near-future.

Homework

Homework

Homework can be a daily battle for many parents. But now many schools have begun to implement parent portals that allow parents to access their child’s progress reports online. These portals are secure and allow parents access to all work the child has completed as well as incomplete and future assignments. So the next time you ask your child what they learned in school, you will know exactly what your child is studying. To inquire about a parent portal, email your child’s teacher or call the school.

Schedules and Routines

Digital Calendar

Being a parent requires quite a bit of scheduling. For deployed parents, feelings of being left out are not uncommon. One way to help the deployed parent or caregiver feel they are a part of the daily activities of the family is to create a family calendar using a web-based Google Calendar. Because Google Calendar syncs with all devices, it offers a perfect option for families on the go. Simply create a shared calendar, download the Google Calendar to your device, and sync. Once everyone has the calendar on their device, each member can add things that all family members can view or edit. Color-coding, email or text reminders, event invitation and tracking, email integration, and interesting calendars make Google Calendar a great tool for connecting families. And as illustrated above, some of the apps highlighted here even sync with your Google Calendar making it easy to keep up with the family’s schedule with just one glance.

Whether you are looking to record a bedtime story, share a special moment, create a video card, celebrate a special event, or enhance your parental responsibilities across time and space, the technology to help you bond with your loved ones is only a click away. Because now, there’s an app for that!

 

So what are we missing? What apps do you use to stay connected to your loved ones across time and space? Share your ideas in the comments below!