As a single or dual-military parent, you've probably already completed a Family Care Plan. While this is an essential document for deployment readiness, it is just one step toward preparing children and their caregivers for separation. Your deployment may mean that your children will change schools, move far from friends, and have to give up favorite after-school activities. By thinking through all the ways your absence will affect your children and their caregivers, you can work together to make this period a good experience for everyone.
Preparing for a sudden deployment
The prospect of deploying on a moment's notice is a very real one. Planning ahead as much as possible will help you, your relative, and your child to feel more secure and confident that everything is in order when you leave.
- Choose an interim caregiver. You may not have enough time after receiving your orders to bring your child to your relative or to wait for the relative to arrive at your home. Ask a trusted neighbor or close friend to fill in until your relative can take over. Be sure to name the interim caregiver in your Family Care Plan and include a special power of attorney in the event your child needs medical attention while under his or her care.
- Keep enough money in your savings to pay for travel expenses. With little time to make travel arrangements, you may pay a premium for fare to a relative's home or for your relative to travel to your home, especially if he or she will be traveling by air.
- Prearrange for your child's financial needs. Figure out how much money your relative will need to care for your child during your deployment. Work with your pay clerk at your unit's personnel office or use the myPay online service to set up an allotment or direct deposit to your relative's account. You can activate this upon your deployment.
- Have an information sheet and all documentation together. This should include the following:
- power of attorney for your child's caregiver
- your child's identification (ID) card (if your child is age ten or older)
- if your relative lives near an installation, a letter addressed to the installation commander requesting access for your child's caregiver
- instructions for your relative on how to use installation services — such as the child care program, commissary and exchange, recreation facilities, and medical treatment facilities — on behalf of your child
- contact information for your child's child care program, school, teachers, and any other programs or activities they may attend
- contact information for your child's pediatrician and dentist, immunizations records, and insurance cards (if they have insurance other than TRICARE)
- a list of medications with instructions on how to administer and refill prescriptions
- a schedule of your child’s weekly activities
- your command point of contact during your deployment
Preparing your relative
When a grandparent, aunt, or uncle takes on the role of parent, there will be a period of adjustment for everyone. You can help prepare your child and your relative for their time together by discussing and planning in advance for potential adjustment issues.
- Talk about how the relationship between relative and child will change. Your relative will need to set limits, impose discipline, and take other steps to keep your child safe, healthy, and thriving. This may be difficult at first for both your relative and your child to accept, especially if they are accustomed to seeing each other only on short visits.
- Let your relative know that behavior changes are normal for children as they adjust. Children may worry about what will happen to you and them. Younger children may become clingy and fearful. Older children may act out at home or school, have trouble paying attention, or have trouble sleeping. If these behaviors don't go away over time, your relative may want to seek help from the Family Support Center on the installation, a social services agency in their community, or Military OneSource.
- Suggest ways to make the home environment child friendly. Depending on your child's age, your relatives may need to childproof their home, provide a safe place for your child to play, or provide a quiet place for your child to study.
- Ask your relative to talk with teachers and other adults in your child's life. Teachers, caregivers, coaches, school administrators, and religious leaders should be aware of what your child is going through so they can be on the lookout for behavior issues and provide the extra support your child needs in order to get through this time.
- Encourage your relative to establish routines. All children need routines that let them know what's expected of them, including regular times for eating, sleeping, and homework.
- Emphasize the need for all household members to be treated equally. Your relatives may have children of their own at home who may at times resent your child, especially if they feel he or she is getting special attention. Ask your relatives to hold your child to the same household rules as the rest of the family.
Making the transition a smooth one
A parent's absence is never easy, but there are things you can do to make the transition less stressful for everyone.
- Arrange to have your relative move into your home, if possible. Your deployment may be easier for your child if he or she doesn't have to move away. A relative who is not a member of the military may move into military housing if the purpose is to care for your child during deployment.
- Be sure to give your family member power of attorney. As the substitute parent, your relative will need your permission to authorize routine and emergency medical care for your child, to enroll your child in school or child care, and to sign him or her up for sports and after-school activities, among other things. Your military Legal Assistance Office can help you with this.
- Make sure your relatives will be allowed on the installation. As your child's caregiver, your relative is eligible to receive services at any military installation. There may be times when your relative will need to bring your child to a military treatment facility or dentist. Your relative is also entitled to shop at the commissary and exchange. Contact your installation's personnel office to learn how to obtain a letter of permission.
- Connect your relative with your unit volunteer family support group. The family support network will allow them to meet other people in the same situation. Even if your relative and child are not living near your installation, the support groups will allow them to share information and feel connected to you and your unit.
- Arrange a line of communication with your relative. Set up a regular time for phone calls internet chats, and let your relative know how to reach you if your child wants to share with you something that happened in school or at home.
- If your child is changing schools, find out about school admission requirements. You may find out that your child needs proof of a certain immunization or has to pass a particular course to be eligible for the next grade.
- If your child receives special services, look for a similar program in the new location. A move could mean a disruption in services your child receives, such as a special Individual Education Program (IEP).
- Make sure your high school student won't miss any courses required for graduation. If your child enrolls temporarily in a high school in a different state, he or she may miss out on courses that are required for graduation, such as state history.
While it is never easy for families to be apart for an extended period, by planning ahead and anticipating the obstacles your relative and child may encounter during your absence, you can help to make this time less stressful for your child, your child's caregiver, and yourself.