Fort Monroe Family Covenant
A toddler plays on the equipment outside the Child Development Center at Fort Monroe, Va.

FORT MONROE, Va. - The Army Family Covenant that was signed here in late 2007 emphasizes the commitment of Army leadership to "providing Soldiers and Families a Quality of Life that is commensurate with their service."

One of the ways this small military garrison that has few deployed personnel and is scheduled for closure in 2011 has lived up to that promise is through the programs provided by its Child, Youth and School Services division.

Despite trying economic times and BRAC restrictions on new construction, services with a focus on children have not diminished and actually have the potential to become more robust, according to Susan Searles, the installation's CYSS Director.

One of the ideas being explored by Searles and her staff is the creation of a Child Development Home. The plan - still in its infancy - would make use of vacant quarters on post to house a program for infants, toddlers and preschool-age kids. The hope is to significantly increase the number of available child care spaces available to military parents.

"Making use of an empty building means that we can expand, and possibly double, the infant and pre-toddler program without a whole lot of cost or the need for new construction," Searles said.

With the support of installation leaders, CYSS also reduced its participation fees. The basic registration cost to be a member of the program was waived last year, for example, and that benefits all families who are eligible for enrollment, Searles noted.

In support of the families of all mission level 1, wounded or fallen Soldiers - the primary focus of the covenant - CYSS is allotting four free instructional classes per child and two classes for all others. Parents also can receive a waiver of fees for two team sports for kids of mission level 1, or one sport for mission 2 and 3 level personnel.

A 20 percent reduction in fees has been implemented at School Age Services and the Child Development Center for regularly scheduled, full- or part-time care for employed custodial parents, guardians of children of deployed OEF/OIF Soldiers or DoD civilians for mission level 1. Sixteen hours of free hourly care per month and additional hours at a rate of $2 per hour are available for families of mission level 1, 2 or 3 and wounded or fallen warriors.

"I think the families feel better supported since the signing of the covenant," Searles said. "They haven't specifically told us, but we've noticed their reaction when a spouse is deploying and we explain to them all the types of support we can offer. They seem pleasantly surprised and grateful.

"That makes me feel good because it means we are providing the types of services families need," she added. "We have programs that care for infants through high-school youth, just as any other installation, and we are always looking for ways to ensure they are in line with the needs of our families."

Searles said she also wants to upgrade transportation from area schools to the School Age and Youth Services programs to better meet the needs of families and employees on- and off-post.
The first step toward this goal was sending out post-wide email surveys. Once completed, they will allow CYSS to better grasp the number of kids at area schools who would benefit from being bused directly to Fort Monroe.

"We provide a safe environment and have positive skill-building opportunities for kids. We are also certified annually, according to DoD standards, by Northeast Region inspectors. Along with this, two of our programs are nationally accredited by an independent civilian agency," Searles acknowledged.

Beyond all that "serious stuff" though, CYSS offers its youth participants a wide range of fun and challenging experiences ranging from college tours and cooking clubs to field trips and sports/fitness activities. There was even a Wii tournament in January. Family Fun Nights are scheduled from time to time, which include activities like Karaoke singing, games and contests. The next one is scheduled for mid-February.

Searles plugged her agency's support of the Parents Night Out program as well. Its goal is simple ... providing safe and low-cost child care (free for family members of deployed troops) so mom and dad can relax, enjoy a movie, spend time together, meet friends or whatever. One is scheduled for the end of this month.

"I think what we do has a huge impact, even at an installation as small as ours," Searles said. "It takes a lot of stress off military families when they know their loved ones are being cared for in an environment that offers so many fun and personally rewarding opportunities. In my opinion, that's what the Family Covenant is really all about."

Page last updated Fri February 6th, 2009 at 16:33