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    In the fight: Child development centers vital to the force

    Fort Drum children get creative for Month of the Military Child

    Photo By Michael Strasser | To celebrate Month of the Military Child, children at the Fort Drum School Age Center...... read more read more

    DC, UNITED STATES

    05.12.2020

    Story by Devon Suits 

    Defense Media Activity - Army   

    WASHINGTON -- Soldiers and families living throughout South Korea had been facing hard times as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continued to rise in mid-February. The rapid spread of the virus across parts of China and Korea was a cause for concern, as Army leaders in the U.S. monitored the situation closely.

    And while the U.S. reacted to the initial wave of cases in Washington state and California, U.S. Forces Korea leadership was forced to implement Health Protection Condition Charlie on Feb. 26, closing off all military installations from their surrounding communities.

    Camps Walker, Carol, Henry, and George -– consolidated together under U.S. Army Garrison Daegu -- were forced to limit activities throughout all locations. At the same time, leaders reduced the workforce to limit the virus' spread, said USFK officials.

    Ensuring the Army's mission also required a series of changes to Child and Youth Services, said Helen Roadarmel, the Army’s program manager for child, youth and school services. Youth centers were all forced to close, but many CDCs would remain open to support essential dual- and single-military families.

    Close to one-third of the CDCs remained open at height of the pandemic.

    "The CYS mission is designed to alleviate the conflict between parental responsibilities and mission requirements," Roadarmel said. "Child care is vital to the Army's mission. Soldiers need these programs to be safe for their children so that they can … have the peace of mind to focus on their mission."

    In total, 179 CDCs supporting children 5-years and below, are dispersed across 68 Army installations, Roadarmel said. Currently, the Army has more than 71 CDCs open and providing child care services for essential personnel. 12 centers are also fully open and operating under normal conditions. About 1,900 children are involved in CDC programs at this time.

    “CDC staff are on the frontline of the Army’s response to COVID-19,” Roadarmel said, calling those who continued to work in hotspots “heroes.”

    “Their service embodies the Army values and reinforces the mission essential importance of Army child care programs,” she added.

    PROVIDING SUPPORT

    It took close to a full week of deep cleaning and planning at the Camp Walker CDC before the facility could reopen and accept children, said Angie Reeves, the center's director. Dual-military and single Soldier parents were the priority. Households with two working spouses in need of childcare services could also receive support if granted an exception to policy by base leadership, she added.

    In addition to CDCs, 69 Army family child care providers continue to provide support out of the close to 180 in-home providers registered in the program, Roadarmel said.

    Based on mission needs, senior-level commanders govern the amount of child care support throughout their installations, Roadarmel added.

    Further, the Army is also supporting Soldiers and families using off-base care facilities -- through the Army Child Care Fee Assistance program.

    Families enrolled in the program receive monthly fee assistance, paid directly to a child care provider, to offset the cost of care. Families that require child or youth services, but are unable to secure a spot at their local installation, can apply for assistance through the program.

    "If a civilian provider happens to close and a family receiving fee assistance must continue to pay for their (child care) space, the Army will continue to pay the full amount," she said. In turn, "the family is guaranteed a space … once the center reopens."

    Many off-base care providers are individual business owners, offering a critical service to both Army families and their local community, she said.

    "Some providers are suffering out there," Roadarmel said. "If the Army can help a provider reopen" through sustained fee assistance, "we want to do just that."

    KEEPING THEM SAFE

    At the end of each day, CDCs are doing everything they can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of each child, said Mary Lewis, a provider at Redstone Arsenal CDC, Alabama.

    "I just love being with the children and engaging with their family," she said. "Having an opportunity to be one-on-one with the kids is outstanding. It is just something that drives me to help."

    With 20 years of experience as a care provider, Lewis is thankful for the opportunity to help during this hard time -- often pulling from her years of knowledge to help those around her.

    "The feedback from parents has been (extremely) positive," Lewis said. "The kids are still having fun … as we come together to take care of each other.

    "I'm fighting for the children to help them get back to a normal life."

    CREATING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

    New child care program guidance -- released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- has led to a wide range of changes to ensure the safety of all personnel, Roadarmel said.

    To limit external access to the facility, parents and staff members engage in a pickup or drop-off process at a CDC's entryway. At many locations, a staff member will check a child's temperature upon arrival to rule out any signs of illness before escorting that child back to the classroom.

    "We asked our parents to monitor their children for any symptoms, and tell them to stay home if they, or any member of the household," were to become ill, Roadarmel said.

    There is a heightened sense of safety at Camp Walker, and throughout South Korea, Reeves said. Aside from the kids, the staff is continually getting their temperature checked at different moments throughout the day.

    "We have taken a lot of extra steps and precautions ... especially when we are dealing with kids. Their health and welfare is important," Lewis added.

    Increased cleanliness and improved personal hygiene are critical priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic, Roadarmel said. Centers are required to conduct daily cleaning and disinfecting, with sustained vigilance toward cleaning frequently touched areas or objects.

    "We have increased the number of staff in our classrooms, to ensure our caregivers … are monitoring and caring for the children," while other members assist by cleaning and disinfecting the facility, Roadarmel said.

    At the Camp Walker CDC, 40 kids are currently in the program and 47 providers support it, Reeves added.

    CDC staff are also reinforcing proper handwashing procedures, Roadarmel said. Students learn the appropriate technique by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, all while singing a short song. Further, all personnel have increased their handwashing frequency to limit the spread of germs.

    Beyond improved cleanliness, social distancing recommendations have led to additional changes at each center, she added. Providers and staff are also required to wear masks during the day, encouraging the students to do the same.

    "Sleep mats and the cots for napping are put 6 feet apart," Roadarmel said. "We have also looked at rearranging furniture to" meet social distancing recommendations.

    The CDC staff is continually monitoring themselves for any signs of illness. If anyone tests positive for COVID-19, the facility will close immediately to be cleaned and sanitized. Reopening the facility is contingent on the approval of base public health officials.

    "We continue to update our families on all the actions that we're taking to ensure the health and safety of their children," Roadarmel said. "We are adjusting every time new guidance comes out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

    Finding enough daily supplies was an issue for many CDC locations, Roadarmel added.

    At Camp Walker, for example, Reeves said they had a hard time procuring touchless temporal thermometers. She worked closely with the local exchange store find the devices, and commissary to secure other supplies.

    "I feel like we have a great team. We have gone through this for a while now," Reeves said. "We love what we do, and that is why we keep going. We love our kids (and) we love working with them."

    REOPENING

    Installations in South Korea are looking to adjust some distancing measures, as the number of confirmed cases within the country continue to decrease, according to a USFK announcement May 6.

    Beyond South Korea, the Army is also looking into the necessary steps and procedures to reopen all installations gradually. Further, Roadarmel is considering ways to open CYS facilities, she said.

    "It is not going to be as easy as turning on a light switch," she added. "We haven't defined what normal is yet, but we are in the planning processes."

    The spread of the virus has impacted each location differently. Therefore, reopening youth services across the force will be granted on a case-by-case basis, she said.

    Ensuring that each facility is appropriately staffed and abiding by any safety protocols is essential to the way ahead.

    "At this point, the one thing that we have demonstrated is that child care is vital to the Army's mission," Roadarmel said. "Our leadership is committed to ensuring that these programs are available to our families, and they are at the highest quality available to them."

    (Story was originally posted to the Army News Service website on May 13, 2020, and may be found at https://www.army.mil/article/235547)

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    NEWS INFO

    Date Taken: 05.12.2020
    Date Posted: 05.29.2020 13:43
    Story ID: 369825
    Location: DC, US

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