WASHINGTON -- All of the Army's Child and Youth Services centers are now open at a reduced capacity, as CYS draws closer to normal operating conditions after closing more than half of their facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
"Slowly but surely, CYS is getting more and more children into care," said Helen Roadarmel, the Army's CYS program manager. "The majority of our programs are in the health protection condition bravo, which means they are inching closer to that 75% capacity."
Last May, Roadarmel reported that a total of 71 CDCs were open and providing child care services for essential personnel, with another 12 centers fully open and operating under normal conditions. An estimated 1,900 children were involved in CDC programs during that time, she previously said.
In total, CYS has 179 CDCs supporting children 5 years old and younger that are dispersed across 68 Army installations.
"Child and youth services are a force enabler that decreases stress between mission requirements and parental responsibilities," said Dee Geise, chief of the Soldier and Family Readiness Division in the Army's G-9 office.
"Although the centers and [family child care] providers had to operate at reduced capacity, they indeed operated and continued through this whole pandemic," Geise added during a media event Wednesday.
Taking care of people
The Army's top priority -- people -– continues to drive current and future CYS programs and services, Geise said. Child care is one of six lines of effort under the Army Quality of Life Task Force and a proven enabler for Soldier readiness, recruitment, and retention.
"Over the past year, the Army has made significant investments in its commitment to increasing access to child care," Geise said. "We are building two large child development centers in Hawaii and one in Fort Wainwright, [Alaska]. We have a plan to build six additional CDC over the next five years."
Each new facility can support close to 340 children, which will add up to 1,000 total spaces to the CYS program, Roadarmel said. The three locations are under various stages of development by the Army Corps of Engineers and are expected to open by mid-fiscal year 2023.
The Army also approved a new bonus system for family child care providers in June to incentivize and maintain home-based care services throughout the force, Geise said.
FCC providers can now receive up to $1,000 if they successfully relocate their home business to a gaining installation, CYS officials said. Personnel can also receive a one-time recruitment bonus of up to $1,000 if they successfully open a home-based care facility.
Both bonuses will be paid over a 12-month period and can be forfeited if the FCC provider closes or loses their certification during this time, officials said.
Acting Secretary of the Army John E. Whitley, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville, and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston recently acknowledged the hard work and dedication of all CYS staff and FCC providers.
"The events of 2020 and 2021 created unique challenges for the entire Army team as we navigated the difficulties of a worldwide pandemic while sustaining the Army's mission," the three leaders wrote in a letter to them.
"Each of you has been an integral part of the effort to maintain a ready and resilient force as you cared for our most precious asset: our children," the letter read. "Caring for America's children is an important calling that directly impacts total force readiness."
The letter recognized April as the 35th anniversary of the Month of the Military Child. It also stated that this year's theme focuses on resilience in a changing world and that the CYS team was part of the Army's ready and resilient force.
"We support and salute you for your devotion and service to the U.S. Army," the letter read.
Getting back to normal
This past year has been a challenge for all CYS personnel and Army families, said Christina Brown, a CDC training specialist at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
"When we opened back up, there was a lot of anxiety and fear," Brown said, adding that the facility reopened in June after a brief shutdown.
"I had to make sure that I was there for my team and that I was transparent,” she added. “I had to make sure that all of our cleaning protocols [and] enhanced health screening procedures were in place."
The Fort Jackson CDC is the only Army location that is regularly open for 24-hour care, as it directly supports Army basic military training, Brown said. Army drill sergeants often work irregular hours, making the CDC an essential service for installation personnel.
"I feel like the staff was happy to be back and ready to serve our families. Overall, it was a hard experience, but it was a good experience," Brown said.
Now that youth and teen facilities have finally reopened, Matthew Baptiste-Phillip, a CYS program assistant in Vicenza, Italy, was happy to see the return of both kids and staff.
Like most CYS programs, Baptiste-Phillip said he relied on social media and technology to engage with kids enrolled in youth services. He did the best he could to keep them interested and entertained.
"We recently just had a kid that came back [that] we haven't seen in forever," he said. "She was excited to be back with us, and it is just heartwarming to see these kids have smiles on their faces and be proud to be back in the facility. It is just absolutely amazing."