Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by Richard Schott, Senior Chief of National Programs at Child Care Aware® of America. Rich is a 25-year veteran and retired colonel in the United States Marine Corps.
Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of visiting Langley Air Force Base to take a deeper dive into Child Care Aware® of America’s U.S. Air Force Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). For those of you not already familiar, the Air Force EFMP serves approximately 736 families stationed throughout the country in need of quality child care services. Many of these families have children diagnosed with moderate or severe special needs that require unique child care considerations and sometimes require specialized continuity of care. This program, free for eligible families, provides parents with brief, but vital relief from the daily tasks that come with a special needs child.
Upon arriving at Langley I met with Ursula Santiago, a U.S. Air Force EFMP-Family Support Liaison. As an EFMP liaison, Ursula regularly attends Langley Air Force Base newcomer orientations with the responsibility of making parents aware of the EFMP program and encouraging eligible families to participate. Ursula showed a wealth of enthusiasm toward the work that she does. As a mother of an EFMP child herself, Ursula understands first-hand how a little bit of time to yourself or with a spouse can make a world of difference.
“We try to fill in the gap and connect military families with what they need. I can honestly say that everyone involved has a heart to help. The Respite Care program gives families relief when they need it most.” said Santiago. “It has saved marriages.”
While at Langley, I also had the pleasure to meet with staff from The Planning Council, Child Care Aware® of America’s partner agency. I visited their office and had a chance to speak with some of the case managers who work with EFMP child care providers, Air Force families at Langley, and Navy EFMP families in Norfolk, Virginia. This dedicated group of individuals listen with intensity and work with sensitivity when connecting parents with their ideal provider. The intake process may start with simple paperwork, but it moves quickly to over-the-phone conversations and in-person meetings between case managers and families. Case managers make every effort to completely understand the needs of the child, the capabilities of the provider, and the type of support both need to maintain such a close relationship for many years.
Everything I’d seen that day—from Ursula, to the case managers, to my own work—came together when I met Emma. Emma is a child enrolled in the Navy Exceptional Family Member Program. She has a condition that requires her to wear a back brace. I met Emma in her home, along with her mother and child care provider. Emma’s happy interactions with them made it clear that her provider was more than an occasional caregiver, but a trusted partner in Emma’s care and a critical relationship in her development. In one month, they would celebrate five years together. And those five years are what make the of the EFMP liaisons, The Planning Council, and everything that we do here at Child Care Aware® of America so inspiring. I returned home with a deeper sense of both pride and responsibility. The Exceptional Family Member Program is an invaluable system of support for families. To the providers, it’s more than just a job; it is about the relationships and the commitment to care. And to me, it’s a promise to building relationships that will positively impact the lives of children and families.