WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015 – For many new or expecting parents, the stress of navigating the needs and developmental milestones of an infant or toddler can rival that of deployments.
But a well-established program not only provides many resources to help untangle the parental requirements of understanding the critical first three years of a child’s life, but also brings child care experts right into military families’ homes, Barbara Thompson, director of DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy, said in a recent DoD News interview. April is the Month of the Military Child.
Sponsored by the Family Advocacy Program, the New Parent Support Program is DoD’s secondary prevention resource designed for Army, Air Force and Navy parents who have a child under age 3 and Marine Corp parents with a child under age 5.
Expert Home Visitors
The program, Thompson explained, sheds light on fostering healthy child development through scheduled home visitation by licensed, trained child care professionals.
“It’s a special program for military families, because for the most part, they’re away from their extended family and bringing a new child into the world can be scary,” she said. “We want to make sure they have all the information and resources available to them to make that smooth transition into parenthood and support the child in his or her growth and development.”
The program aims to ensure children have the opportunity for safe and healthy relationship building with their parents.
“We know that attachment is a critical piece of the first year of a child’s development,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure that’s firmly formed, … because it has a huge impact on how they build trust with other people.”
Similarly, the program also helps to ensure that parents can leverage its resources on behalf of their children as they prepare them for school, Thompson said.
Qualified nurses and social workers use their extensive understanding of babies and parenting to create stronger relationships between parents and their young children. Word of mouth has helped to increase the program’s popularity, Thompson said.
“Parents who have the support of that home visitor share that opportunity and how that person has [facilitated] their attempts to learn how to read their baby’s cues and to respond to their baby in a positive way,” she added.
The First Three Years
Research has indicted that protective factors are critical in a child’s early development, particularly in the first three years of life, she said.
“We want to make sure that parents are equipped with those skills [and have] the opportunity for a strong attachment,” Thompson said, “and that [they’re] aware of child and youth development and the different stages and temperaments that children go through.”
Homes visitors service all components both on and off installations, as long as they’re in a status with access to a military treatment facility, Thompson said. Parents also can seek assistance from family support centers, which facilitate support groups, playgroups, prenatal classes and peer-to-peer exchanges related to children’s growth and development.
Home visitors pledge confidentiality, Thompson noted, unless there’s cause for concern pertaining to reportable incidents of abuse, neglect or domestic violence. She acknowledged the range of emotions associated with new parenthood and the virtues of having access to experts who can provide invaluable and preventative advice.
“[They can] listen to your needs, reinforce what’s normal and know that it’s OK to feel certain things,” she said.
A Supportive Partnership
The home visitor program, Thompson said, is a supportive partnership, with appointments parents can schedule at their convenience.
“They’re not there to judge or inspect to make sure your dishes are washed. … They’re there to help you learn about your baby,” she said.
The New Parent Support Program, the Military OneSource online resource, family support centers and family advocacy programs are fundamental Defense Department investments in enriching the growth of both parents and children, Thompson said.
“Parents are children’s most important teachers,” she added, “so if they’re modeling the right vocabulary, reading to their children and providing healthy snacks for their child — those things are going to be ingrained in that child for their future.”