By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey , 166th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 01, 2013
NEW CASTLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Delaware -- Caring for their children remains a necessity for our National Guard members at all times, but this responsibility has historically presented a challenge for parents during military drill weekends.
To help address this need, starting this past June all Delaware Guard members have had the opportunity to take advantage of low-cost, high-quality, and state licensed drill weekend child care at a facility in Newark, Del., just 10 miles southwest of the New Castle Air National Guard Base.
The facility selected, Tender Loving Kare Child Care & Learning Center (TLK), is located off state routes 896 and 40, at 22 Peoples Plaza Shopping Center, Newark (Glasgow), Del., 19702. It is next to a Wells-Fargo bank and a dental office. There is ample parking and easy access to the center entrance. Families are encouraged to tour the site, in business for 19 years, to make sure the center meets their child's needs. The facility website, http://www.tenderlovingkare.com/, provides many informative details.
TLK is open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday of each drill weekend (normally the facility opens at 6:30 a.m. Monday-Friday). TLK averages 200 to 225 children daily in their weekday program, and has the capacity to serve 229 children. The drill weekend child care is available to Guard and reserve members in Delaware and in surrounding states.
A military family is charged a maximum fee of just $10 per weekend, which covers all family members, and that single weekend flat fee remains the same whether a parent brings one or more children, from infant to school-age, or whether their child is in the facility for one day, two days, or partial days.
The drill weekend child care is a partnership between the Delaware Department of Education and their Head Start Collaboration Office, and the Delaware National Guard Youth Programs office.
"This partnership was initiated because Delaware was one of 13 states granted a DoD Military Child Care Liaison, said April Hill-Addison, director, Head Start State Collaboration Office, Delaware Department of Education. "Working with Head Start and other partners this pilot project became a way for the community, Head Start and other childcare partners to support our military families. The funding has come from the Delaware Department of Education Early Childhood Initiatives, the Delaware Head Start Collaboration Office, and the Delaware Early Childhood Council, with other stakeholders and partners interested in participation."
To register, all Delaware Guard members may contact Jill Foster, assistant director, TLK, directly at (302) 836-1411. She will email the necessary forms. A parent may bring the forms and $10.00 (cash, check, or credit card) to TLK on a drill weekend.
"Families may preregister for any upcoming drill weekend and then call on an as-needed basis. For the most part, the registration deadline is one week prior to drill weekend so that the proper amount of staff can be secured," said Patricia Crilley, lead child and youth coordinator, Delaware National Guard Children and Youth Program.
The weekend fee also covers the cost of all food, an added bonus for busy parents.
"We provide all meals for drill weekend child care - breakfast, morning snack, lunch and an afternoon snack," said Foster, who has worked at TLK for 16 years and is one of three assistant directors.
Word of the drill weekend child care offering is slowly spreading to Guard members. Communication was temporarily disrupted by the 16-day federal government shutdown which began Oct. 1, with resulting furloughs of a number of Guard personnel and rescheduling of the October drill.
About 18 children of Guard members - the largest number of children participating so far - were enrolled in TLK child care during the Guard's September drill weekend.
Initial reports from Guard members about their children's experiences at TLK are positive.
Technical Sgt. Olivia Short is a full-time human resource specialist in Delaware National Guard Joint Force Headquarters, who drills on weekends in Delaware Air Guard H.Q.. She has three girls, a newborn just six months old, a seven- and a nine-year-old, and each is enrolled in the TLK Newark facility on drill weekends.
"I had a nice tour and met all the individuals who would be interacting with and watching my six-month-old," said Short. "My infant is all smiles," after a day spent at the facility. Short said the center staff worked on stimulating all senses when interacting with her child.
"I really like how they are very compassionate with the kids," said Short. "I was impressed with the curriculum, even for the infants. The staff show interest in the kids and teach them things."
Her girls get to visit during the day with their siblings, two brothers brought by their father, Staff Sgt. Terence Johnson, a Delaware Army Guard member.
Staff Sgt. John Grieten is a traditional Air Guard member who works in the small air terminal of the 166th Logistics Readiness Squadron. A single father, he has taken his two kids - his nearly nine-year-old daughter and his 13-year-old son - to the center for two drills in a row.
"It has been an overall positive atmosphere" said Grieten. And, it has been "polar opposite" from the child care he used to take his children to, he said. "It has been absolute day and night." He said that staff at TLK show, through both facial expressions and words, that they are happy to see his kids when they arrive through the doors.
"My kids went in smiling and came out smiling," said Grieten. He explained that his kids were "wiped out - and that's a good thing. There is no greater comfort than to know your kids will be given stimulation for their body and mind. The staffers were very interactive with the kids."
"Everybody at TLK has been tremendous; they behave as if they want to be there for the kids," said Grieten. "Take your kid there just once. Your child will be raving about it. I would highly recommend it."
Staff Sgt. Robin Borja, who works on the commander's support staff in the 166th Civil Engineer Squadron of the Delaware Air Guard, takes her five-year-old son to TLK. Her child attended full day child care at TLK all summer, and currently attends before and after school child care as well drill weekend child care.
"I love them [TLK]," said Borja, who said her son begs to go there. "They are great, and very informative. My son likes it, and that is all that matters for me." She indicated that the staff ensures children have opportunities to play with each other. "He gets to interact with kids, and the teachers are friendly. It is just a really good atmosphere for kids," said Borja.
She said the center's additional inclusion of two meals in the drill weekend child care (meals not available on weekdays), and not just snacks, "makes it more convenient for me" when getting herself and her son ready in the morning.
Parents typically focus great attention in knowing who cares for their children when they are not present.
Foster explained some of the procedures, staff training and program features of the facility during a tour she provided to 166th Airlift Wing public affairs staff.
The building has a secure entrance; parents, staff and visitors must be buzzed in. The main entrance opens into a lobby with a main desk facing the doors. In fact, one of their full-time staff is a retired Air Force medical technican.
Foster indicated that TLK is licensed by the State of Delaware, "and, we have a 'Star Level 4' rating," said Foster, referring to the state program named 'Delaware Stars,' affiliated with the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood Education in the University of Delaware College of Education and Human Development.
Delaware Stars for Early Success is a State of Delaware funded initiative. According to their website, Delaware Stars is "a Quality Rating and Improvement System used to assess, improve and communicate the level of quality in early care and education and school-age settings. Delaware Stars is a five-tiered rating system. Programs begin in a 'Starting with Stars' phase and then are rated from 2 to 5 Stars."
The TLK facility in Newark is one of 450 child care facilities listed on the Delaware Stars website. Of that number, 35 facilities have a Star Level 5 rating, 120 facilities have a Star level 4 rating, 46 facilities have a Star Level 3 rating, 205 facilities have a Star level 2 rating, and 44 facilities have a "Starting with Stars" rating.
Foster said that TLK follows all State of Delaware Office of Child Care Licensing health policies. And she noted the convenience of the Glasgow Medical Center, a Christiana Care Health System affiliate, just a few blocks away.
Foster also said that TLK follows 'Delaware First,' the state's professional development system for early childhood education. The Delaware Dept. of Education website indicates that this training is "an integral component of Delaware's licensing regulations and Delaware Stars, the state's quality rating system."
TLK also follows the standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an organization focused on "promoting excellence in early childhood education," according to Foster.
Foster said that the drill weekend program, as well as their weekday program, adheres to Delaware teacher-student ratios that require two teachers for the maximum number of children in each age group.
For school-age children (ages 6 and older) the maximum is 30 children, with one teacher per 15 children. For pre-K (ages 4-5) there is a maximum of 24 children; for age 3, a maximum of 20 children; for age 2, a maximum of 16 children; for one year olds, a maximum of 12 children; and for infants, a maximum of eight children.
TLK teachers must meet the qualifications for early childhood education teachers in accordance with the Delaware Department of Education, the Office of Child Care Licensing (part of the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families), and Delacare - Rules for Early Care and Education and School-Age Centers.
"We encourage parents to call us, and we can provide a tour and answer any questions," said Foster.
Unlike many active duty bases, the New Castle Air National Guard Base (like Guard bases nationwide) does not have an on-base child care facility. Members must rely upon a spouse, family member or trusted friend to lend a hand, or go through the juggling act of finding child care or a baby-sitter on drill weekends. For decades this has presented one more challenge for all of our full-time and traditional Guard members with children.
Locally, for example, just one county to our south in Delaware, the Dover Air Force Base Child Development Center reports on their website that they are a child-oriented indoor and outdoor facility that provides developmental care and learning experiences for children ages six weeks through 5 years of age, and is closed on weekends.
Making the Newark/Glasgow child care facility available to Delaware Guard members has been a development in the makings for over a year.
Leadership acted after listening to requests from Guard members with young children.
In Delaware drill weekend typically occurs the first weekend of each month and involves approximately 3,000 service members (including some from units in surrounding states).
"There has always been a need for drill weekend child care, and our active duty counterparts have always been afforded that opportunity," said Dawn Peet, director of the Delaware National Guard State Family Program.
"Finally, a solid program has been implemented this year.
"It is a wonderful benefit to our Guard members," said Peet. "I believe the numbers will grow once the word gets out!"