FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Vital to children’s health is development, which occurs in the early years from birth to age 3.
As newborns grow into infants and infants become toddlers, they go through a series of developmental milestones such as first words, first steps and skills to wave “hello” or “goodbye.” The needs of children — physical, social, emotional and educational — affect how they develop and learn, speak, behave and even play.
The Air Force New Parent Support Program provides information, support and guidance to parents as they care for their newborns, infants and toddlers. The program helps military families learn about the growth and development of infants and toddlers, to prepare for the changes that come as a baby is born, grows and develops.
“Our children really are a precious resource,” said Margaret Walker, director of the Air Force Family Advocacy Nursing and New Parent Support Program. “It is recommended parents get involved in the New Parent Support Program to learn about caring for (their children) to maximize their growth and development.”
Funded by the Defense Department, the program is available free of charge to beneficiaries eligible for care in military treatment facilities, including those who are expecting a baby, planning to adopt a baby between the ages of birth to 3 years or have children in the home between the ages of birth to 3 years. Program services include information and education related to pregnancy; labor and delivery; infant and toddler care, safety, growth and development; parenting skills; couple communication; and stress management.
“What we find when we provide services to this population of families — new parents or expectant — is that it is such a very positive time in the family’s life. There is so much expectation and hope for the future,” Walker said. “Families are really open to information and support. Parents want to be the best they can be in this new job, which can be really challenging, especially for military families who may be separated from their own families and support systems.”
The Air Force New Parent Support Program is a component of the Family Advocacy Program and is staffed primarily with registered nurses and augmented by medical social workers. Support and guidance offered through the program focuses on growth and development, care, safety and feeding (including during the prenatal timeframe) for families with newborns, infants and toddlers. The program provides information on the typical development of a baby from birth onwards and the importance of certain types of support necessary for an infant’s healthy growth.
The program’s enrollment process begins with assessment of a family’s unique circumstances. Families can request specific information to assist in the new parent journey. Services provided are based on the assessment and family’s requests and may include referrals to community or other local services that are appropriate for prenatal families and families with young children. These services may include breastfeeding classes, car seat checks or the Women, Infants and Children Program.
Certain program services can be provided right at home. For example, program staff can provide information to help an expectant family set up their home nursery and baby-proof the home.
To get started with NPSP, families should contact the installation Family Advocacy Program office and ask for a referral to the program. Walker advises that the program has something for everyone, whether they’re newly expectant parents or a family that already has several children.
“It is such a privilege to be invited to be a part of the new or expectant parents’ experience — to help them learn to better take care of themselves, support their partners and take care of their new babies as they grow and develop,” Walker said. “We provide support for parents as they care for their young children in a military family setting.”
The New Parent Support Program is available at most Air Force bases. To find out more, visit Military OneSource, select “New Parent Support Program” and enter the name of your installation.