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Oh, Baby, What Do We Do Now?

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30, 1998 – You are far from home and expecting your first baby. Who do you turn to for help?

Babies don't come with operating manuals. If you were at home, you would have a built-in source to turn to -- your family. The family can provide experience, parenting tips and a shoulder to cry on when things seem to be too much.

For most military couples stationed far from home, calling in the baby's grannies isn't an option. So what fount can they tap for the knowledge they need to be good parents?

DoD has a parent support program. While not taking the place of families, it is aimed at helping young first-timers fill in gaps in their parenting skills. Locally, the program is usually connected with the installation hospital or family support center.

"We're really looking at young parents to provide them education before their children are born, then to assist them after their children are born with [answers] to all the questions new parents have" said Carolyn Becraft, deputy assistant secretary of defense for personnel support, families and education.

The program includes classes on parenting, home visits and working with parents of developmental stages for their infants. Most education is conducted in the home. The program can call on people from obstetrics and gynecology staffs, pediatric specialists, family service center personnel and the family advocacy program specialists.

"The program has a whole parenting skill component," Becraft said. "How do you take care of an infant? What does that crying mean? Those with experience can pass information to new parents. Mostly the program provides a stabilizing force, an information source, a support source so new parents can come to grips with being parents."

Not every installation has a parent support program. "Not every base needs it," said Becraft. "Where it's needed, we'll make sure it's available." The program is focused on bases with a large number of young people.

If there is no program at a base, then local health care officials or family support center personnel can refer new parents to appropriate civilian agencies.

The program is not new. It started at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii in 1984. In the late 1980s, the Marine Corps took it on and aggressively developed and expanded it. Now, all services have it.

The program gets funds from the individual services and from DoD, Becraft said. Funding for the program is around $10 million per year.

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