Group Seeks to Provide Child Care to Reservists on R&R
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2004 A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families find high-quality child care is working to provide such care free of charge to Reserve and National Guard members on rest-and-recuperation leave from Iraq.
The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies launched Operation Child Care in May. To date, more than 5,000 child-care providers have signed on to provide at least four free hours of child care to reservists and guardsmen.
"Child-care providers who meet state and local child-care regulations will provide four or more hours of free child care so that service members can attend to family business or take their spouses out for a date," according to a news release on the program.
Three major commercial chains that specialize in child care -- KinderCare Learning Centers, Bright Horizons Family Solutions and LaPetite Academy centers -- also have signed on to provide free care. KinderCare and LaPetite are each providing one full day of child care free of charge to eligible service members. Bright Horizons is providing two days of free child care.
Linda Smith, executive director of NACCRRA, said the idea for Operation Child Care came out of a discussion she had in October with an official who oversees child-care centers for the Army. The two were discussing circumstances facing troops in today's high-paced military.
The following week, Smith pitched the idea to a group of state child-care referral specialists meeting in Chicago and got an overwhelming response. "They all wanted to support it," she said in a telephone interview with American Forces Press Service.
Volunteer providers are spread through communities across the country. Reserve and Guard members who are seeking care for their children can find local providers through Operation Child Care's Web site.
Titles of different sections on the site include:
- 10 Ways to Stay Involved With Your Children During Deployment;
- Supporting Young Children During War and Conflict;
- Talking to Children about a War in Iraq and Terror;
- Healthy Parenting Tool Kit;
- Getting to Know Children Again; and
- The Help Guide to Guard and Reserve Family Readiness.
The site also includes tips on how to choose the best child care for your family and a list of things to consider before calling to request care.
Smith said officials decided to target the program to Guard and Reserve members because they don't generally have the strong support system available to active-duty service members on military bases.
"They really don't have access to military bases to begin with; they don't get the same level of support in other ways; and they generally are the friends, neighbors and relatives of the people who are providing child care across this country," Smith said.
Family-child-care provider Chris Milton, who has volunteered to provide free hours of child care through the program, knows first-hand the challenges facing military families. Her younger brother was deployed to the Middle East during 1991's Operation Desert Storm. He missed Milton's wedding and the birth of his own daughter during that deployment.
"Our family lost a lot (of family time) when my brother served," Milton said. She cares for children in her Connecticut home and said that she thinks it's important "just to be able to help these other families at this time, because I know it's so hard."
Milton said her brother endorsed the idea of providing child care free of charge to military members, thinking back to his deployment experience. "He told me, 'Chris, that would have been the best thing. We would have loved that,'" she said.