By Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of Installation Management CommandApril 7, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. - The Army first observed the Month of the Military Child in 1986, to honor the youngest members of the Army community. As we celebrate it again this month, 25 years later and in the 10th year of ongoing conflict, recognition of the sacrifices and strength of our military children is more vital than ever.
The life of military children has always had its challenges, foremost among them being frequent relocations. Every time Families move, children have to make new friends, get used to new schools, and find new clubs and teams to join. A lot of military children take these changes in stride and some even thrive on them, but it is hard - kids have to rebuild their world every time and find their place in it.
Now, in this time of persistent conflict, the challenges are compounded - they are more serious and affect more Families. About 1.8 million children have a parent currently serving in the military. Since 2001, an estimated 900,000 children have had one or both parents deploy multiple times.
Our children are dealing with long and repeated separations from their parents. They are dealing with the happy but disruptive time when their parents come home and the family has to regain normalcy. Sometimes they have to deal with the worst thing children can imagine, the death of a parent. In the face of all this, for all of their contributions and sacrifices, our children need and deserve our best efforts.
From the highest levels of leadership on down, the Army has committed to providing Families with a quality of life that is commensurate with their service and sacrifice. For our children, that includes a commitment to ensure excellence in schools, child care and youth services - to ensure they have the support and care they need to develop into strong, resilient, well-rounded young adults.
Army Child, Youth and School Services is central to delivering on these promises. CYSS currently serves almost 300,000 children ages 6 weeks to 18 years in on- and off-post programs around the world. Through its Child Development Centers, School Age Care, and Middle School and Teen Centers, CYSS provides healthy and enriching environments that help children grow mentally, physically, socially and emotionally. For the school age children and teens in particular, the CYSS programs provide a whole world of topics to explore, including fitness, health, arts, science and technology, leadership, citizenship, life skills and careers. In addition, CYSS runs a robust sports program, with more than 112,000 children participating in team and individual sports and sports clinics.
To meet the greater need for services, CYSS has made tremendous efforts to increase access and offerings, both on and off post. On installations in the States and overseas, CYSS has constructed 150 new child care and 24 new youth centers since 2007. They have also introduced innovative programs such as Neighborhood Activity Homes, which provide places for older kids outside of traditional facilities.
Off post, CYSS has partnered with a number of local providers and national organizations to serve Families who live in areas far from an installation or in high-impact areas where the need exceeds the capacity on the installation. CYSS extends 16 hours of free care per month to the Families of deployed Soldiers, Wounded Warriors and Fallen Soldiers, a total of more than 1.08 million hours in fiscal year 2010.
The focus on increasing access does two things for our Families. When parents can take advantage of CYS S, it decreases stress on the Family. Parents know that when they are deployed, when they are working, when they are at medical appointments, their children are in a safe place. They can focus on what they need to do, knowing that their children are well cared for. Also, these programs provide our children with much needed support. They are in a caring environment with adults and peers who understand what they are experiencing, and they have the chance to pursue a wide range of interests and build their strengths.
In addition to providing quality out-of-school programs, CYSS is also focusing on supporting military children in school. Military children attend on average nine different schools before they graduate high school. The transition between schools can be rough when there are incompatible requirements to enroll, to join extracurricular activities or to graduate. It can be tough for students to settle in, when school personnel do not understand the issues - the stress of being the new kid yet again, the fear of separation, the disappointment that Mom or Dad is missing another game or recital.
Schools Liaison Officers are located at every garrison to help Families with these and other school-related issues. They play an important role in helping students make a smooth transition and succeed at their new school, by working with Families and school districts to meet needs and requirements on both sides.
In a new two-year pilot program School Liaison Officers at seven garrisons - Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Forts Benning, Bliss, Polk, Stewart, Hood, and Wainwright - will be joined by Military Student Transition Consultants. The consultants will be located in school district offices and work closely with the School Liaison Officers to build understanding between school districts, garrisons and Families about the needs of military students and to support efforts, such as mentoring programs, which help students plug into their new school. The consultants will be in place this May to support Families through the summer PCS season.
I can point to any number of other ways Army CYSS is doing a phenomenal job of supporting our children. In addition to daily child care and afterschool care which meet the highest national standards, CYSS provides special events and camps, both on post and far from any post. There's Tutor.com, where students can get online tutoring anytime and anywhere. There are the Military Family Life Consultants, who provide counseling to kids in school, and the Child Behavioral Consultants, who work with children in the afterschool programs, when they are having difficulties with their parent's deployment.
Army CYSS strives to provide a comprehensive range of services for Families to help grow strong and resilient children. However, this is only possible with the support of a number of dedicated, longstanding partners, including universities, nonprofit organizations, and local and state governments. They conduct research on the needs of military children, draft policies and legislation in support of military Families, develop curricula we use in our programs, provide training for educators, counselors and others who work with military kids, and provide services to military children who do not live near an installation. We must continue to reach out to them and communicate how they can help our children, because we cannot do it without them.
Month of the Military Child is an important observance, and a lot of fun. Installations worldwide are holding hundreds of fairs, parades, carnivals and other events throughout the month. I encourage you to get out in your community and join in honoring and celebrating our children.
The Army does not confine its commitment to children to one month a year - we owe our children more than that. They do not sign up for the challenges military life brings, and yet they are right in there with us, making sacrifices everyday and showing a lot of bravery. It's our job to do the best by them that we can, providing the care, support and opportunities they need to thrive in the face of challenges. Our children are our future: when they are strong, we are strong.