FORT LEE, Va. – The Child and Youth Services program here has received DOD certification, an acknowledgement that it meets the department’s stringent training, health and safety standards for providing military childcare.“Of course, we’re ecstatic about the news,” responded Tamara D. Johnson, Fort Lee CYS coordinator. “Over the past year, many of our processes had to be re-examined from a COVID-19 standpoint. New health and safety requirements have been continually evolving, often on a daily basis. In addition, our staff had to navigate their own personal challenges throughout the pandemic.“Thinking back on all that has immensely increased my appreciation of this CYS team’s resilience, creativity and commitment toward quality childcare,” Johnson added. “It also has shown us all what it truly means to be part of a vital support system for military moms and dads who faithfully carry out their mission of keeping this country safe every day.”DOD certification is required for a youth services program to operate in a military community, Johnson explained. It confirms facilities are appropriately maintained, the staff is adequately trained, and measures are being followed that ensure youngsters have a safe and healthy developmental environment. Normally, assessments are in the form of unannounced inspections.Johnson said she’s also happy to report that all of her programs are accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a 90-year-old national non-profit organization comprised of early childhood development experts. To earn its approval, youth programs are required to meet standards that are grouped into 10 areas: relationships with children, curriculum, teaching approaches, child assessment, nutrition and health, staff qualifications, relationship with children’s families, relationship with the community, physical environment, and program leadership and management.“I can assure military community members that neither DOD certification nor NAEYC accreditation is automatic,” Johnson emphasized. “It represents a lot of preparatory work and positive performance, especially when evaluators show up at a facility without notice. The staff is going to get it right, though, because they know what it means to CYS children and their parents. Being certified and accredited means we’re part of a youth development community that is invested in ensuring quality learning opportunities for children everywhere.”Once again reflecting on a year that has been far from routine, Johnson said she is proud of the way her team has “stepped up to the plate and rose to the challenges.” What stands out in her mind is the rapid implementation of numerous COVID-19 mitigation measures that were flying at them from every direction during the worst days of the pandemic.The staff had to learn all new health and safety requirements while maintaining developmentally appropriate practices for CYS children here, she said. Like other providers of critical community services, they had to show up to work wearing a brave face even though many were frightened by the possibility of catching or spreading the virus.“That’s the part that warms my heart above all else,” Johnson said. “It is the love and affection that continues to be on display from our caregivers toward the children of Team Lee even in the midst of this awful pandemic.She then offered a final thought to CYS patrons. “We will always stay committed to sharing the ‘front lines’ with you throughout the most challenging times. We love children and are grateful for your service. We are committed to this mission.”