Supporting Military Families with a Childcare Event

Abstract: 

Military deployment affects not just the service members deployed, but also the spouses and children managing at home without them. Many spouses at home (8 of 9 are women) are operating as single parents and also holding down a full-time job, often with little chance for a break. This practice from the Community Blueprint at HandsOn Network suggests hosting a "Mom's Time Away, Kids Can Play" six-hour supervised play event that allows moms some time to themselves without the financial burden of babysitting. It also allows parents and kids to connect with other military families who can understand first-hand the challenges of deployment.

Issue:

Research shows that during deployment military families experience anxiety levels higher than their civilian peers, and that this stress increases over time. Approximately 70% of military families live in civilian communities (as opposed to military installations) where they might lack the support and understanding of other military families who can relate to the inherent stresses of deployment. These parents can use a respite without the added cost of babysitting.

Action:

 Develop an overall strategy for planning the event
What kind of impact would you like to make with the "Mom's Time Away, Kids Can Play" event? How many families will you include, and how many volunteers will you need? Try to set a target number, allowing at least one volunteer for every five children. Who will help you plan this event and make it a success (e.g., friends, family, coworkers)? What is your budget?
 
Set the location, date, and time
Plan the "Mom's Time Away, Kids Get to Play" event at least six weeks in advance to allow time for advertising and volunteer recruitment — weekends are best, hours 10:00 – 4:00 recommended. Venue options include a local place of worship, daycare center or school, park, or community center — the ideal space will have indoor and outdoor areas available. Ensure there is an accessible bathroom and water fountain.

Plan the event:

Marketing

Set a cut-off date for family and volunteer registration one week before the event. Advertise to military and veterans in a variety of places, providing specific details (event date/time, meals provided, expected activities). Reach out to organizations that serve and support the military (e.g., Military OneSource, National Military Family Association, Post Exchange, Army Family Readiness Group, etc.), as well as local schools, churches, gyms, offices, newspapers, and radio. Ask organizations to post to their bulletin boards and share with their networks. Be sure to include contact information and registration details. Ask about food allergies or special needs so that you can provide accommodations.
 

Contingency planning

Monitor the registration as the event date approaches and send confirmation e-mails to registrants. Ensure you do not accept more RSVPs than you can support with volunteers, and vice versa. Ask yourself questions to plan for the unknown: What is the minimum number of volunteers we can have? What will we do if some volunteers don’t show up? What will we do if some families don’t show up? What will we do if a child gets hurt? What will we do if we run out of food?
 

Securing supplies

Basics: Sign-in sheets and liability waivers (for both volunteers and children), nametags, pens and paper, cots or cribs for small children, first-aid kit, and volunteer evaluation forms.
 
Activities: Have a variety of games, cards, puzzles, and arts and crafts materials. You might ask volunteers or attendees to each bring something from home; or it's possible to borrow or get donations from local sources. For older kids, provide a gaming station or movie area, if possible.
 
Food: Be prepared to provide at least a simple breakfast, such as coffee and doughnuts. Other ideas: ask for donations from local grocery stores or coffee shops; have a baking party the day before with volunteers; ask volunteers to bring something that serves two or three; make the event a pot luck, with each family bringing something. If only breakfast can be served, families should be advised to pack a bag lunch for each child.
 

Pre-event details

In the week before the event, reconnect with volunteers about the event date and time, the day's agenda, and their specific assignments (such as set-up, food and snacks table, games and activities, clean-up). When volunteers are not engaged in a specific assignment, they should plan to be interacting with the children.
 

Event day

Set-up: Volunteers come 45 minutes early for set-up; everyone should sign liability waivers. When families arrive, all children should be signed in, with nametags and forms filled out (including emergency information and any special needs).
 
During the day: Include inside time, outside time, introduction activities, interactive games, nap time for small kids, and organized snack/meal time. Parents can stay and talk with others or head out on their own to enjoy time away.
 
Wrap-up: Begin the process 15 minutes before the scheduled end of the event; volunteers can begin clean-up, and kids can be prepared to leave. Each child must be signed out by an adult; complete the clean-up; have volunteers fill out an evaluation form.
 

Recognize volunteers

Thank all of the volunteers verbally at the end of the day, and then follow up with a written note. It's important to let each one know how much you appreciate their time and effort. Additional recognition ideas include: Plan to recognize volunteers at your next special event; submit a press release to the local paper acknowledging their contribution; hold a separate gathering to celebrate their accomplishments together.
 

Reflect on the project

After the event, take some time to reflect on the experience and the impact you’ve had on the community. What did you learn about yourself or others? Reflection activities include: Talk with family and friends about something you learned during the service project; post a blog, write a poem, or submit a letter to the editor about the experience; lead a group discussion with volunteers on what you learned about military families, the effect of deployment on kids and spouses, what you will remember most about this service project, and how you can continue to make a difference in the community.

For more information:

Website: HandsOn Network, Community Blueprint: Family Strength

Related Resources: 

National Military Family Association

Military OneSource

Citations: 

Community Blueprint Network. (2012). Mom's time away, kids get to play. Retrieved from http://www.handsonnetwork.org/files/resources/moms_time_away.pdf

 


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