Military parents join ranks of heroes at home for the children of warriors 090217
PHOTO CAPTION: Peter Thayer watches as Parent Educator Kajsa Blansett teaches Emily, 15 months (left) and Rhys, 3, how make tie-dye butterflies with coffee filters, water and food coloring, using eye droppers.
- Photo by Rob McIlvaine, FMWRC Public Affairs
Military parents join ranks of heroes at home for the children of warriors 090217
By Rob McIlvaine
FMWRC Public Affairs
“Heroes at Home,” a military partnership with the Parents as Teachers (PAT) National Center, serving military Families at 12 garrisons since 2006, will be expanded this year to serve Families at 24 more garrisons.
This expansion includes additional parent educators, training, technical support and outreach to states heavily impacted by National Guard and Army Reserve deployments at military sites where Parents as Teachers-Heroes at Home (PAT-HAH) programs are already in place as well as the development of PAT-HAH programs in new locations across the country.
“Our mission is caring and it’s a mission we take very seriously,” said Shirley A. Young, Child and Youth Specialist with the U.S. Army Child, Youth and School (CYS) Services Center of Expertise who oversees staff training. “Supporting military Families, particularly those with very young children, strengthens our Army Families, our service members and our nation.”
The mission is more important than ever because of the frequent deployments which have turned some garrisons into “revolving doors” for Soldiers, according to Young.
Almost half of all active service members have children, with nearly 40% of these children under the age of five. Because more than a third of first-time military parents are 21 or younger, the pressure to recognize the child’s needs and where to go for help while serving our country becomes intensified.
“As a military Family, we lose our support network because of deployments and changes of station. As a result, we do not have the immediate assistance of Family and friends,” said Melinda Thayer, a mom of three at Fort Bragg, N.C. HAH provides a support network, teaches us activities so we can interact with our children, and helps keep us balanced through the extreme changes we experience as a military Family,”
Melinda and her husband, Capt. Peter Thayer, Delta Company, 90th Civil Affairs, first joined PAT-HAH at Fort Lewis, Wash., two years prior to being transferred to Fort Bragg. Although she had been in the Army, Melinda left active duty before they began having children.
Integral to the success of PAT-HAH are the Parent Educators, many of whom are military family members, who step up to help their fellow parents.
Kajsa Blansett has been a PE for two years. She previously worked as a pre-school teacher at the Child Development Center (CDC) in Vilseck, Germany when she was stationed there with her husband, 1st Sgt. Chad Blansett.
“When I got to Fort Bragg,” recalled Blansett, “I started looking for a job and saw an ad about the Parent Educator program, so I called up and spoke with Dr. Janet Crow. She filled me in on what the program was all about, and I became inspired.”
Dr. Crow, PhD, CFLE, recently joined Baylor University as a faculty member in the Child and Family Studies program. She was the PAT National Center project manager for “Heroes at Home” working with DoD and the Army to implement the pilot programs at the original 12 military installations. Currently, the project manager coordinating with Shirley Young at the national center is Kate DeKoning.
Crow’s 20-year career in childhood development, education and Family support (with 11 years specifically serving military Families,) in addition to being a military spouse, herself has given her inside expertise into the U.S. military, military Families, deployments and how the military lifestyle affects young children.
“Heroes at Home was her baby,” Blansett said. “Her vision was to have the program at all military installations so that when military families move from one garrison to another, the program would already be in place and could pick you up where you left off.”
“I went to the week-long training in St. Louis and learned how to work with Families and give them emotional support by building on each Family’s strengths through home visits,” Blansett said. “For me, this job is so rewarding. You see the difference you can make in their lives, immediately.”
Deployed parents enrolled in the program (Blansett visits 38 families per month) receive updates about their child’s development monthly. They also receive handouts on topics such as preparing for deployment, staying connected during the deployment, and preparation for reuniting after a deployment is complete. Information is provided through email or through regular mail to a parent’s deployment location as well as to the home.
“We also take videos of the family to send downrange to the deployed service member,” said Blansett.
For two years now, PAT-HAH has served hundreds of military families at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Wainwright, Ala.; Camp LeJeune, N.C.; Whiteman AFB, Mo.; and Norfolk Naval Station, Va.
Under the new contract, these 12 programs will continue with 24 additional sites added in the first year.
By the end of the first quarter, 2009, the following ten sites will be implemented: Fort Richardson, Ala.; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Benning, Ga.; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Polk, La.; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Eustis and Fort Story in Virginia. Fourteen more sites will follow later in the year.
PAT-HAH is based on the premise that parents are the first and best teachers. Following an intense certification process at the PAT National Center where PEs take the “Born to Learn” course, these parent educators will be able to help other military parents mitigate risk factors of military lifestyle, repeated deployments, separation and geographic single parenting.
“Before we enrolled with PAT-HAH, I was getting parenting advice by phone and struggling with being away from my friends and family and the help they could provide,” Capt. Thayer said. “No amount of talking about parenting can teach as much as the advice our Parent Educator can give on effective ways to speak to a child so she will listen.”
Heroes at Home Parent Educators are also trained in ways to facilitate continued connections between parents and their children during separations; improve parenting practices, enhanced parent-child interactions, and increased parent competence and confidence. PE’s help with early detection of developmental delays and other health issues, help prevent child abuse and neglect and increase school readiness and academic success by facilitating strong parent/school partnerships.
“We initially contacted PAT because our daughter was fighting us to get her way,” Melinda Thayer said. “Our PAT educator taught us by example how to interact with our daughter. I miss not being able to raise my children surrounded by my parents, relatives, and friends. PAT has helped our Family gain access to social activities for our children, demonstrated wonderful ways to teach our children through play, and has referred us on to other programs when our son needed extra assistance.”
“At many sites, we have been able to keep fathers or mothers who are currently stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan connected with what’s going on at home through webcams and video conferencing,” Young said.
The expansion of the program will not only provide additional support for military families with infants and toddlers, it will allow families to consistently receive Parents as Teachers services as they relocate around the country.
Stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky are Jessica Bryan and her son, Adrian. Her husband, Spc. Dave Bryan is currently deployed to Afghanistan.
“I know that our Parent Educator Angie Enlow and Parents as Teachers will never replace Family, but they are a close second,” Jessica said. “Dave and I, and our son, Adrian, are truly happier people to be part of a program made for military families like us."
Parents as Teachers National Center is the resource base and backbone of Parents as Teachers, based in St. Louis. It is a parent education and early childhood development program serving parents from pregnancy until their child enters kindergarten, usually age five.
The nonprofit National Center oversees approximately 3,000 programs offering Parents as Teachers services nationwide as well as in several other countries. Heroes at Home program is customized to address the needs of military Families, and is just one of the programs offered by PAT.
If military parents are seeking help but an HAH program is not available, they should check with Army Community Services to see if a similar service is available on their garrison.
For more information about Parents as Teachers, visit