Army’s youngest family members find support

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Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 10:17 am

ACS has programs for military kids

Families have long been recognized as the supportive strength behind the Army’s Soldiers. And often at the heart of those families are the Soldiers’ children.

Since 1986, Army installations have recognized the sacrifices of military children by celebrating the Month of the Military Child. The theme for this year’s recognition is “Proud, Ready and Resilient,” highlighting the ability of military children to succeed despite frequent relocations, reintegration, deployments, and loss and/or care of a wounded parent.

Helping military children and their parents through the challenges of the Army lifestyle is Army Community Service. At Redstone Arsenal, ACS takes an active role with military children through programs like its New Parent Support Program, ChildWise and Exceptional Family Member Program.

“Children are an integral part of the Army family. We provide support to the total Army family and we regard children as a very important part of that family,” Sue Paddock, director of ACS, said.

“Through our programs, we hope to build resiliency within the Army family and to make that Army family a stronger unit. For our children, we hope to help them succeed in life and to be strong military children.”

Military children are unique because the military lifestyle does require frequent relocations, meaning that children have to learn to adapt to new neighborhoods, new friends, new schools and new caregivers.

“We want to help military children build a sense of confidence within themselves so they can take on the challenges of moving and relocating,” Paddock said.

New Parent Support Program

When Charlene Cox joined Redstone’s ACS in 2008 her mission was to build up the services offered by the New Parent Support Program, which offers Army families services that enhance the parent and infant relationship, increase parent knowledge of child development and provide resources that make it easier for parents to be nurturing and capable caregivers.

“You don’t have to be a new parent to use this program. You have to be the parent of a child or children in those early years from 0 to 3,” said Cox, a registered nurse.

“This program is offered to help Army families because many times those families are not located near extended family members that would provide that support for them if they could. Often, I become a second mom to these parents or the mom they’ve never had, someone they can turn to for a little support when they need it.”

At the heart of the program are the home visitations Cox makes to her families. During these visits, she talks to parents – often the mother but sometimes both the mother and the father Soldier – about concerns they have about being a parent or a parent-to-be. Through both at-home and in-office counseling, she helps them learn to cope with the stress of military life, including feelings of isolation, deployments and post-deployment reunions.

“We know that being in the military is very stressful, being married in the military is very stressful, being married and deployed is very stressful, and then you add a baby to that mix and it doesn’t matter how good the marriage is, things can happen,” Cox said.

“This program is here to help military couples be the very best parents they can be in a stressful situation.”

Oftentimes, clients come to Cox through the front door of ACS, new parents or parents-to-be who are looking for information and resources. They are directed to Cox, who asks them to be part of the New Parent Support Program.

“For most families, this is a volunteer program. They have to want to be a part of it. There are some who are required to be part of the program through behavioral health or their commander,” she said. “But, whether they volunteer or not, these parents have got to be able to trust me. If they don’t trust me, I can’t help them because they won’t tell me what’s really going on in their life. To help them, I need to understand their history and what’s going on.”

Cox has been a pediatric nurse for 40 years. She has been through her own tough times, being a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and a witness to domestic abuse as a child. Her ex-husband was an alcoholic and drug addict.

“I’ve been around the block a few times and I’ve seen what can happen in families, either directly or indirectly,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean a family has to be experiencing some form of abuse to get assistance from the New Parent Support Program. The program works best when couples are pro-active about being good parents together.

“I worked with one young couple where both were civilian employees, but the father was in the National Guard,” Cox said. “They were having a baby and they came to me for information. The father told me ‘I don’t think I can do this.’ I told him ‘Yes, you can do this, and we’re going to give you all the tools you need before the baby comes and you are going to do well.’ He wanted to do well, all he needed were the tools I was able to give him. It’s often about empowering them to be the best parent they can be.”

However, there are family situations that can lead to abuse if the parents aren’t pro-active in getting assistance. For instance, a wounded warrior with post traumatic stress disorder or a military wife who suffers from post-partum depression should protect against the possibility of abuse by reaching out for support.

“They can be wonderful parents doing extremely well despite the situation, but we can ensure that continues by providing them with support. In many cases, just having someone to vent to can suddenly make you feel better about your situation,” Cox said.

Sometimes, Cox helps in ways that go beyond counseling. One National Guard Soldier who worked as a GS-13 was deployed, which caused his salary to go down to his current rank of a National Guard specialist. His employer was supposed to pay the difference between the salaries but a clerical error caused a delay in those payments.

“That was very stressful for this family because there were young children and bills that had to be paid,” Cox said. “I was able to help that family get the pay situation resolved.”

While the New Parent Support Program only goes through age 3, there have been times when Cox has kept that family beyond the age limit if she is assisting them with unresolved issues. In one case it was a domestic violence situation that involved a family with three children, and in another it was a situation where grandparents were trying to adopt a grandchild born to their son and a Soldier who wasn’t interested in being a parent.

The New Parent Support Program is available to all active duty, retired, National Guard or Reserve servicemembers, and their dependent children. It includes in-home and office visits, educational materials and parenting classes, Baby Bundles of information and gifts for new babies, and play mornings known as ChildWise at ACS.

“Using this program does not say you’re a bad parent or a bad Soldier. It just says you are a proactive parent who wants to do the very best for your child,” Cox said. “We work together to find the best answers and the best advice that will work for our families and their young children.”

ChildWise

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning beginning at 9:30, children and their parents come together to play at the ChildWise Play Mornings at 1413 Nike St.

This program allows parents to socialize and talk about parent issues while their children, ages 0-5, play together, make crafts and have snacks.

As part of the morning, a Parent-to-Parent program is conducted that addresses parenting issues and provides support.

“While the children are reading stories and playing with the two caregivers, parents can talk about things that are of concern to them and ask questions about parenting issues,” said Virginia Dempsey, who coordinates the ChildWise program for ACS. “This is support the parents look forward to every week. It’s very relaxing and low stress, and just fun for the parents and the kids.”

Caregivers Babette Powe and Tara Pah take on the tasks of supervising free play, crafts and other activities during the two-hour sessions that are designed to exercise both the children’s fine and gross motor skills.

“The play mornings give the kids new toys to play with and new kids to play with in a really fun environment. They can play indoors and outdoors, and have lots of fun,” Dempsey said.

On some play mornings, a program will be planned for the parent group or a speaker from a local parenting or children’s group, such as the National Children’s Advocacy Center, will speak to the parents as part of a program called Parent to Parent. ChildWise also provides parents with information and vouchers for the Women, Infant and Child Nutrition Program.

A couple times a month, the ChildWise group will take a field trip, going to places like Chuck-E-Cheese or Kids Space. On Wednesdays, they can join together for story time by Pam Causey at the Post Library beginning at 10 a.m.

“It’s all about having fun in a relaxed environment, making friends and enjoying activities together,” Dempsey said.

Exceptional Family Member Program

Military children with special needs have a strong advocate in Army Community Service’s Natalie Taylor. She often advocates for services to assist military children with learning disabilities, autism and attention deficit disorder.

Taylor manages ACS’s Exceptional Family Member Program, which identifies military family members with medical, educational, developmental or intellectual impairments and provides referral information for medical, educational, housing, and community and personnel support. It is a mandatory program for Soldiers with an exceptional family member.

“I help their parents get the resources they need and I advocate for them in the school systems,” she said. “If they are under the age of 3 and they are not meeting developmental milestones, I will find them a Tricare (military insurance) provider that can test them, and then I will get them into an early intervention program so they can get the speech, occupational or physical therapy they need. If they are older children, then I will work to get them the counseling sessions and other services they need.”

When a Soldier with an exceptional family member is relocated, the Army will ensure they are assigned to an installation where their child’s special needs requirements can continue to be addressed.

“Contacts will be made within the community to make sure services can be provided before that child is moved,” Taylor said. “It’s becoming more difficult because fewer and fewer providers are taking Tricare.”

Taylor works with military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, educational, housing, personnel and medical services to families with special needs. She also works with Fox Army Health Center to ensure identification, screening and enrollment for families, and with such community organizations as the Mental Health Association and the school systems’ special education department to help families get the services and support they need.

And, she helps families deal with situations that can arise because of the care of a special needs child.

“A lot of times parents have to spend so much time with the special needs child that other children in the family feel they are missing time with their parent or they feel left out,” Taylor said. “When that happens, sometimes the family needs counseling to get through that, and I will match them with a counselor who can help them.”

Taylor also works to keep families informed of new programs or changes in benefits, such as the Echo Program that now provides Tricare benefits for the applied behavior approach to treating autism, and the recent expansion of exceptional family benefits to the children of retirees.

The program also provides respite care services so that parents can have some free time, and educational services to help parents and families better understand the needs of their exceptional family member.

To get benefits for their exceptional family members, Soldiers must follow program guidelines, including updating their exceptional child in the program every three years. Taylor is available to help families ensure that all records are up to date.

“Because we are a small office, we do a lot of one-on-one with our families,” Taylor said. “That can help a lot when you are working with families with special situations.”

Editor’s note: For more information, call Army Community Service at 876-5397.

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