FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - Fort Wainwright's Child, Youth and School Services concluded their month-long celebration of military children with a Month of the Military Child carnival Saturday at the Youth Center.

More than 1,000 children and adults attended the entirely free event featuring door prizes, dress-up photos, program information, arts and crafts, birdhouse and planter building, a speed and agility obstacle course, duck pond, bubble blowing, clowns and balloons, other games and a teen fashion show.

"It's really good to get out to have time with family and your kids and not have to go far or pay a whole lot," said Spc. Sam Williams, 539th Transportation Company, 17th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, who attended the carnival and built a birdhouse with his 3-year-old son.

The goal of the carnival was to celebrate military children and provide fun family activities that parents, children and siblings could do together, said Gerri Withers, CYSS Parent and Outreach Services director and carnival organizer.

Events like this are particularly important for military families who face unique challenges, she said. An event like this is "really just strengthening the family bonds and showing our appreciation to children and families for all of the sacrifices they make by being a part of the military community," Withers said. "They truly are our heroes at home."

While fun and family celebrations were the focus, the carnival and the month-long commemoration are just part of the ongoing commitment CYSS leaders and staff have to caring for children at Fort Wainwright, said Tammy L. Ford, Fort Wainwright's CYSS coordinator.

"I think we touch lives every day," she said. "I believe that we make memorable moments in the lives of military children."

Their overall strategy to provide consistent, quality care includes a commitment to rigorous inspections and certifications at every facility and all Family Child Care providers.

"All of our programs and all of our facilities are Department of Defense certified," Ford said. "And all of our eligible programs are nationally accredited."

The Army sets the standard for what parents throughout the country, not just military families, should expect from child care, said Heather Bauer, CYSS program operations specialist. "We are required to be accredited by an outside agency," she said. "So it's not someone from the Department of the Army who comes and gives the national accreditation, it's an outside agency
and that (provides) checks and balances."

In addition to national accreditation, they have regular and unannounced inspections from Safety, the fire department, health department, Department of Public Works and their headquarters, as well as their own internal inspections.

CYSS is also a safe, comfortable environment for children with special needs, Bauer said.

"Part of the seamless delivery (of care) with all of the age groups is that we also integrate special needs children," she said.

They work with the Exceptional Family Member Program manager, the public health nurse, parents, pediatricians and anyone else who might have insight into a child's special need to determine the best way CYSS can meet the needs of children and parents seeking care.

"We sit down as a group of subject matter experts and determine if there are any accommodations that CYSS needs to make to meet the needs of child," Bauer explained. "It could be that we need to purchase an additional piece of furniture or we need to be aware that they need assistance with toileting, dressing or a physical need. We do all that we can to meet their special needs. In all of our programs we don't have any special needs rooms. CYSS believes in mainstreaming and integrating."

CYSS also offers school liaison services for parents through two school liaison officers on the installation. They assist parents with testing questions, guidance counselor issues, bus deviations, school locations and other school-related questions or issues parents have, Bauer said.

The scope of CYSS services is vast, encompassing care, programs and services for children ranging in age from 6 weeks to 18. Whether children receive CYSS care in a home-based setting from an FCC provider, the Child Development Center, School Age Services, Youth Center or through any of the other CYSS programs and services, the goal is the same; to provide quality, seamless care that parents and children can depend on at Fort Wainwright and from installation to installation, Ford said.

"The thing is, we can't fail because we are taking care of the one thing that is irreplaceable - children," she said. "So we can't fail. It's not an option. And we believe that and we live by that every day."