HEIDELBERG, Germany - Since October 2008, the Army Family Covenant has delivered more than 150,000 free hours of respite care in Europe, along with saving Soldiers and their families more than $1.5 million while participating in Child, Youth and School Services activities.

Indeed, since the Covenant was established roughly 18 months ago, significant progress has been made, said Army leadership, in maturing a program that has provided more than a million free respite care hours at garrisons worldwide.

Closer to home, in the past year Installation Management Command-Europe has provided eligible families 150,424 free hours of respite care, saving them $297,000, said Cherri Verschraegen, region program manager for CYS Services.

"And we provided those same eligible families with an additional 36,880 hours of care at a 50 percent discount, saving them another $101,265," said Verschraegen.

Additionally, 1,929 SKIES instructional classes and 1,705 free sports registrations - all free - have saved families another $273,521.

"When you add up all of the benefits we have provided from October 2008 to May 2009, we have saved families $1,570,606," noted Verschraegen. "I would say this is a significant program for Army families; it contributes not only to their stress relief but also to their financial health."

Overall, the Army Family Covenant now provides free respite 16 hours per child per month for children of Soldiers serving downrange, starting 30 days prior to the deployment and 60 days after.

Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation officials are quick to note that parents need not be current CYS Services patrons to use deployment-cycle-support respite care, and that any custodial parent or legal guardian caring for a child on deployed Soldier or Department of Defense civilian is eligible.

Such care is provided in numerous ways, including: designated Child Development Center spaces; family child care homes; summer camps for school-age children; trained babysitters referred to parents by CYS Services outreach offices; and parent/child play groups.