Having a new baby in the house is a pleasure and a challenge for most parents, but the added stresses of military life, including distance from extended family, frequent moves and deployments can create special concerns. To help new parents cope with the challenges and ensure that the crucial developmental years are as smooth as possible, the military has developed the New Parent Support Program. The program helps parents — including expectant parents — develop the skills they need to provide a nurturing environment for their children.
Each service branch must provide home visits for at-risk families, but installations may also offer New Parent Support Program services that reflect the needs of military families in the area. Overall, the program provides information, support and guidance by helping parents:
- Build strong, healthy bonds with their infants and toddlers that will lay the foundation for their social and emotional development.
- Manage the demands of parenting, especially when impacted by deployments and other military operations.
- Remain flexible and responsive when managing the stressors of daily life.
- Build a strong support network.
- Respond to infant and toddler behavior sensitively and be attuned to their developmental needs.
- Find concrete services in the local community in time of need.
Eligibility and Enrollment
The New Parent Support Program is easy to join and available on most military installations. The program's services are available at no cost to active-duty service members and their families who are expecting their first child or have at least one child under 3 years old (5 years old in the Marine Corps). Service members who have separated from active duty may still be eligible for the program depending on the nature of the separation. If you are permitted to use a military treatment facility, you may be entitled to program benefits on a space-available basis.
Most military families are self-referred to the New Parent Support Program. However, some families may be encouraged to participate in the program by other sources in the military community who believe the family may benefit from the program, including a chaplain, medical professional, neighbor or commander.
If you would like to participate in the program, you can enroll through your installation's Family Advocacy Program or family support center. To find the program nearest you, go to the military installation locator and select New Parent Support Program from the drop-down menu of programs and services.
If you don't live near a military installation, there are similar programs for new parents available in many locations. Ask your pediatrician for help finding a support program for new parents in your community, or call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647. You can also visit the Military OneSource website and select the Counseling Options tab for information about non-medical counseling sessions at no cost to you. These may help with solution-focused topics, including those associated with becoming a new parent. Military OneSource also offers additional resources about parenting and childcare that may be beneficial to new parents.
Types of Services Provided
The needs of participating families are assessed through screening tools that help the New Parent Support Program service providers understand a family's unique needs. Most participating families use only basic services, including parenting classes, resource materials, playgroups and visits with a program staff member.
On occasion, families may be struggling with high stress, multiple challenges related to military operations, fewer parenting skills or social isolation. These families may qualify for a higher priority for service or more intensive services. What classifies as an intensive service varies from one installation to another, but it generally refers to frequent (more than three) home visits, formal referral to other support agencies or a follow-up by a provider in the Family Advocacy Program.
The New Parent Support Program is staffed by nurses, social workers, or home visitation specialists, and is supervised and monitored by the Family Advocacy Program manager, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and — at the installation level — the Family Advocacy Program. The program focuses on providing one-on-one support for new and expectant parents through home visits, but some installations may offer parenting classes and groups. Services vary by service branch and by installation, but they can include:
- Home visits — Private, in-home support for new parents is the main focus of the program. As a new parent, you may feel more comfortable asking questions and expressing your concerns about parenthood, including sleep, nutrition, behavior management, breastfeeding and other stressors in the privacy of your own home. Due to limited time and resources, ongoing home visits can only be guaranteed for families who are most vulnerable.
- Referrals to other resources — Sometimes you may need the assistance of additional services offered through the military health care system, your installation or the local community. Program professionals can help you find and take advantage of those services that suit your needs best.
- Prenatal classes — Prenatal classes help parents know what to expect when the baby comes home from the hospital. Topics include feeding and nutrition, bathing and preventative health care. Your installation may offer classes on a regular rotation or according to demand.
- Parenting classes — Hands-on classes for the parents of infants and toddlers focus on a variety of parenting issues, ranging from discipline to feeding. Most classes are open to both parents, but some installations offer classes specifically for new fathers, helping them adjust to life with a new baby and take an active role in parenting. Like prenatal classes, parenting classes may be offered regularly or according to demand. In order to accommodate working parents, classes will most likely be offered in the evenings or on Saturdays.
- Play groups. Structured activities in program play groups help children improve their social and motor skills. The play groups also help new parents get to know one another and develop a support system within the military community. Play groups may also be available to families with school-aged children.
The registered nurses and licensed social workers of the New Parent Support Program are obligated to report maltreatment or suspicion that you may harm yourself or others under the duty to warn. Anything else that you share with a program staff member is confidential, including health-related information, which is protected under The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Feel free to discuss personal issues with the staff so that they can better help you with your parenting concerns.