SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC, UNITED STATES
In-depth interviews, background checks and extensive training is only the beginning of what goes into the detailed care the 20th Force Support Squadron Child Development Center offers for each enrolled child.
The CDC strives not only to provide a safe and nurturing environment which promotes the physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of young children, but to also provide diverse, nutritional meals to help boost their development in every aspect.
With the children staying at the CDC between eight to 12 hours a day, five days a week, the Air Force worked with a nutritionist and biomedical group as well as a child and youth specialist to create a healthy standardized menu for every CDC Air Force-wide.
“It covers health, of course, that’s always first,” said Dennisse Jones, 20th FSS CDC director. “USDA requirements have to be met in every meal, and each meal must provide cultural diversity.”
Dietary restrictions and preferences are also taken into consideration for the provided menu. For example, no meal contains nuts for children who may have nut allergies, and one vegetarian meal per month is served to all children.
The recipes for every meal are also Air Force regulated and are based on a low-sodium and low-sugar diet.
“That’s why when we have pancakes, we don’t serve the syrup; they just have pancakes and they have a fruit, a natural sugar, to go with the pancakes,” said Jones. “It’s a more health-conscious recipe being used, and the kids really do like it. We also like to serve the kids some things they may not be exposed to at home. There are several reasons why we do that. One is, it’s required we provide those meals for menus by the Air Force, also it’s to expose children to new things they would normally not have the opportunity to try.”
Some examples of the culturally diverse foods served are quinoa, brussel sprouts, rice, collard greens and baked breaded okra.
Five weeks’ worth of meals are planned, scheduled and served before starting the cycle of meals over. Seasonal menus are planned with a spring to summer menu and a fall to winter menu.
“We’ve had parents who always want to bring cupcakes for their child’s birthday, but we have to say, ‘I’m sorry you can’t do that because we cannot allow outside food in this center,’” said Jones. “The main reason is for the safety of the children because we have so many children with food allergies. When you bring in something from outside, we don’t have any knowledge of what’s in it.”
However, Jones continued, parents are always welcome to join their child for meals and snacks as well as just visit to check on their child throughout the day.
“We plan parent involvement activities, that gives a little snack to the parents, and a couple of them I have intentionally planned around lunch, so parents will come and see their children eat and play,” Jones said. “There’s always a purpose or reason behind each activity. It is mainly just to get parents to come see and spend time with their kids as well as allow the parents time to do that. I know the mission comes first and the mission requires the parents be at work. We understand that, but I also know supervisors will let their troops go to the CDC to attend a parent involvement activity.”
The CDC hosts parent involvement events every month of the year. The events range from planting flowers in May to a “Fun in the Sun” water play day in August and special events for every major holiday. These events are intended to get parents involved with their children, whether it includes going to the center to do something with their child or doing something at home and bringing it back to the center.
“You can do something with your child during the day,” said Jones. “It does a lot for your child and for you. We want to share as much of your child with you as we can while you are at work.”
The CDC also holds a free Give Parents a Break or Parents Night Out the first Friday of every month as well as a parent advisory committee meeting every quarter. The PAC meeting is where the CDC distributes information to parents who can then ask questions.
“The CDC offers a lot of involvement activities,” said Airman 1st Class Leshania Anderson, 20th Fighter Wing judge advocate adverse actions paralegal. “Layla gets sent home with a lot of stuff! For example, they had the Valentine’s Family Fan Mail activity last month, but they have a lot of in-person events as well. I definitely appreciate the at-home ones because, most of the time, I can’t attend the in-person activities with the hours I work.”
CDC staff understand the high-demands required of military members and that deployments and temporary duty assignments will arise. The staff also understands these times may be difficult for their spouses and children left behind.
During these times, the CDC and 20th FSS Airman and Family Readiness Center provide military family life consultants for families transitioning with their military member leaving or returning home.
“They are licensed psychologists and keep no records,” said Jones. “Anytime you have any issues with your child or your family and you just need some advice or some support, you can always meet with them and get some ideas.”
Jones went on to say the CDC conducts lunch and learn workshops for parents where lunch is provided and the parents can speak to the consultants about reintegration for pre-and post-deployments as well as certain topics, like biting and potty-training.
“We have so many avenues of support for military families you wouldn’t get anywhere else,” said Jones.