SEMBACH, Germany --In a perfect world, there would be no need for Emergency Placement Care providers, but as anyone who has ever looked into the eyes of an abused child can attest, we do not live in a perfect world.
EPC is a program designed to provide temporary 24-hour care for at-risk children when the child cannot be safely cared for by their natural parents or legal guardians.
EPC providers offer a temporary safe haven for the children to be cared for while the family risk assessments are being conducted by Social Work Services.
"Child abuse" and "neglect" are powerful words that can instantly evoke graphic images in a person's mind, but the perpetrators are often not simply "bad" people.
"Lack of knowledge of the developmental stage of a child and high levels of stress are the two most common reasons for child abuse," said Brandi Stauber, Installation Management Command Europe Family Advocacy Program manager.
To combat this, when a child is placed with an EPC provider, SWS begins evaluating the parents, assessing both their strengths and weaknesses and developing treatment options designed to help parents provide a safe environment for their children.
"That's our ultimate goal; to help the family successfully raise their children in a safe environment," said Stauber.
Stauber said that's why the program is designed to be temporary, ideally less than 90 days. It's also why EPC providers are so important and so needed.
"We have 16 locations across Europe," Stauber said. "What we are hoping for is that at any given moment at any location, if there was an incident to occur where children needed to be temporarily removed from their homes for safety reasons, we would have a home available to provide care."
EPC providers need to be at least 21 years old and pass a background check, but Stauber said the most important qualification is having a passion for reaching out to a family in need.
Heather Kiplinger had such a passion when she signed up for the program in Wiesbaden a few years ago.
"I lost my mom very young, so any child that has to be away from their parents saddens me, really," Kiplinger said. "If I could be a good home for someone else, I would love to be that good home for them."
"It's not going to be about monetary incentives or because it looks good on a resume," said Stauber, although a daily stipend is provided to reimburse expenses. "It's really about finding a way to embrace your community and wrap your arms around these families who are in great need."
"It's about knowing that you are contributing to your community and strengthening and supporting military families at a level that is difficult but can be very rewarding," she added.
Kiplinger can attest to the truth of those rewards. She and her family served as EPC providers for a pair of siblings over several months.
"Taking them in at a time when they were scared and afraid of being taken from their mother, and giving them a happy home for a bit, was an awesome reward," she said.
Stauber also pointed out that the long-term benefits to both the children and their parents can be life changing.
"We all have the opportunity to help each other," Stauber said. "For this program to work, it really does take a community of individuals to support these families who are in great need."
EPC tries to match up children with the best possible families, with some homes perhaps being better suited to teenagers while another may be ideal for a child under three. But in order to have that flexibility, the program needs more families trained and certified.
"We have to be very careful about whom we select, and it's a pretty detailed process to be approved, but the rewards, to be able to provide a safe place for children to thrive during a moment of crisis, are worth it," said Stauber.
Stauber said that although the training and certification process is quite extensive, the information is invaluable to any parent. Besides CPR, training can include classes on child development, appropriate disciplinary techniques, and the dynamics of child abuse and neglect.
"Hopefully, a child will never need to be placed with the EPC provider," said Stauber, "but if they do, then we have that availability."
To begin the application process for becoming an EPC provider, contact your local Army Community Service Family Advocacy Program manager.