WASHINGTON - It's a few hours a month, but the break the Armed Services YMCA Respite Child Care program provides parents with a deployed spouse always is welcome. And since the program's Oct. 1 nationwide expansion, many more parents will benefit.
The Armed Services YMCA, as part of a Defense Department contract, provides health and wellness opportunities, including the Respite Child Care program, for reserve-component servicemembers and their families across the country through their local YMCAs.
This means deploying Guardsmen and reservists and their families are eligible for a full YMCA membership for three months before deployment, the 12 months of deployment, and three months after, said Mike Landers, deputy national director of the Armed Services YMCA.
"This entire health and wellness contract was designed for them because they don't have the infrastructure that the active-duty families that live near major military installations have," Landers said. "So the YMCAs, the Pentagon thought, would be a great place for them to be able to connect with other Guard and reserve families who have their same circumstance."
The Respite Child Care program, part of that contract, provides up to 16 hours of child care for families of deployed Guard and reserve personnel. It's meant to be a "short break" for the parent or guardian responsible the child's care, Landers said, and not a substitute for full-time or daily care.
"The respite care was designed to be an opportunity for the mom, whose husband is deployed, or the [dad] whose wife is deployed, to be able to drop their kids off to just have a little peace and quiet, to go to the commissary, to go shopping, to do whatever they need to do," Landers said.
During the first year, however, only the families in 10 pilot states were able to take advantage of the program, which must be offered through state licensed and certified programs and is free to parents. More than 220 children were served. Since Oct. 1, when the program expanded to all 50 states, another 200 children have taken advantage of the program.
"We saw a pretty significant uptick in the demand during the month of October," he said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of YMCAs that are now signed up to do this. I think we'll see a big uptick for the remainder of the year."
Armed Services YMCA officials said they would like to see those using the program establish a monthly routine. This, they explained, makes it easier for the participating YMCAs, since most don't have much excess capacity in their child care programs.