SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
Dropping off a child at daycare can be bittersweet, but knowing the child is safe and well taken care of while at work can be comforting.
The 20th Force Support Squadron Child Development Center mission is to assist Department of Defense military and civilian personnel with balancing the competing demands of working and accomplishing the DOD mission by helping raise their children.
“We feel like you loan your kids to us for the day, and we don't take that lightly,” said Dennisse Jones, 20th FSS CDC director. “We are honored to do what we do, and it's a big responsibility.”
Air Force CDCs require their staff to go through a background check before being hired, then the new staff completes initial training as well as continuous training to keep their certificates current, ensuring parents their children’s safety.
“We want top-notch quality teachers,” Jones said. “The staff has to complete all the trainings. Some of them had to have their CDA, which is their associate's degree in child development. Several of our staff members do have their bachelor’s or associates in early childhood, elementary education or some related fields.”
Every new CDC employee must complete a total of 40 hours of training before truly becoming a caregiver. This includes 18 hours of observations and mentorship as well as completing a special task certification and recurring training form, which sums up to 22 training hours.
A few training tasks on the special task certification and recurring training form are orientation, nutrition in childhood, child abuse, and health, safety and sanitation.
Some annual training the CDC staff completes includes pediatric CPR certification, pediatric first aid certification and bloodbourne pathogens, AF infant safe sleep practices, as well as child abuse and neglect identifying, reporting and prevention.
As of March 1, Shaw’s CDC currently has 55 employees, including kitchen staff, the director and the two assistant directors. It also has 192 children enrolled with each child assigned to one of 18 classrooms. Military children between the ages of six weeks and 5 years are placed in classrooms, organized by age.
The six infant rooms contain babies aged six weeks to one year. The staff keeps a 4:1 ratio in each infant room, meaning one caregiver per four infants with no more than eight babies in a room.
The four pre-toddler rooms are for babies ranging from one-to two-years-old. Every pre-toddler room can hold 10 children with five babies per caregiver.
There are three pre-school rooms for toddlers aged three- to five-years-old. These rooms have a 12:1 ratio and can hold no more than 24 children.
The last two classrooms are the First Steps 4K classes intended for four-year-olds who did not meet the kindergarten birthday cutoff date. These classes can have up to 20 children with a 10:1 ratio and are held from 8 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
“There's also training on filling out the Form 1930; the form parents have to fill out in the classroom when you sign your child in,” Jones said. “There is a specific training for staff on what the proper way for parents to fill that in and what their responsibilities are to ensure that accountability and the safety and knowledge of where every child is at all times of the day.”
Children enrolled in the CDC participate in daily activities based off of the creative curriculum the teachers make, which includes activity and lesson plans centered on their observations of the children.
Every teacher fills out an Ages and Stages Questionnaire for every child. An ASQ is a list of guidelines where children in certain age groups should be developmentally.
“We train staff on a specific age group because there are certain milestones children should reach by a certain age,” Jones said. “If a child is not reaching a certain milestone, the teacher will plan an activity in the classroom using a creative curriculum geared specifically toward reaching that milestone.”
The teachers also send an ASQ home with the parents for them to fill out because most children behave differently for their caregivers than they do at home with their parents. The ASQ is meant for the parents and the teachers to both be involved in each child’s development.
The activity plans are individualized and specifically geared toward each child within their own classroom. Every activity plan is identified by a code and the child’s initials saying which child is being targeted on that activity.
“The teachers have to post their activity plans for each week outside the classroom door, so parents can stop and take a look’” Jones said. “They might be able to figure by the initials, ‘Hey, that's my kid.’ Then they can ask the teacher what the code is, and the teacher will be able to tell them what that code stands for and what they are working on with the child.”
Jones went on to say, while some parents may think or say taking their child to the CDC is expensive, the quality of staff training, staff education level, cleanliness and sanitizing requirements as well as healthy, USDA-approved meals is better quality of care given than most outside daycare centers.
“We understand for some people that fee can be high, but when you look at what kinds of things you get for the fee that you pay, you can’t get that anywhere else,” Jones said. “You can’t get the same support, experience, staff training, or education level of the staff anywhere else that you do get here for the same price. Other daycares cannot only charge you a dollar an hour and provide all of those things that we can here, so you really are getting your money's worth.”
Airman 1st Class Leshania Anderson, 20th Fighter Wing judge advocate adverse actions paralegal, said the caregivers at the CDC take the extra time and effort to do something other caregivers normally would not. Her daughter has a severe skin condition that most caregivers might not want to deal with because she consistently needs lotion applied to her skin, but the CDC staff give her the extra time and attention she needs.
“There will be a time where you come to pick up your child and they will not want to go,” Jones said. “Be prepared, they may call the teachers ‘Mommy’ when they start talking, but just take that as reaffirmation that your child is with the right people because they feel that comfortable with their caregivers.”