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NEWS | April 17, 2008

Child Abuse Prevention Month: New Parent Support Program provides education, services for Air Force families

By Robert Goetz Staff writer

Wherever Airmen are stationed, they may rest assured that a program will be available to help them meet the needs of their youngest children. 

The New Parent Support Program is a free service offered on bases throughout the Air Force to "support families in a variety of ways as they journey through the challenging roles of parenthood." 

"The purpose of the New Parent Support Program is to provide education, support and resource services for families with children from birth to 3 years old and for pregnant women," said Debra Spencer, NPSP nurse. 

The voluntary program's target population are military beneficiaries who are expecting a child, adopting a child or expecting a blended family, she said. Parents qualify based on a questionnaire they complete when they receive care at Wilford Hall Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center or through referrals from first sergeants and other sources. 

Ms. Spencer, a registered nurse, visits qualifying parents and families twice a month to educate them on pregnancy, childbirth, breast and bottle feeding, newborn and baby care, developmental stages and other pertinent topics. She also presents classes and is available by phone. 

No matter how experienced the parent, the birth of a new child brings new challenges, she said. 

"Each time a child is born, the parents become new parents because each child is different and brings a unique personality into the family," Ms. Spencer said. "This alone brings new challenges for each family." 

Some of the challenges for parents in their children's early years are coping with crying, feeding problems and financial issues. 

"Crying is the only way a baby knows how to communicate their needs," Ms. Spencer said. "If their needs are not met during the first year, it can cause a lifetime of mistrust. Babies need you to respond to their cries and that develops trust." 

The stresses of child-rearing can be overwhelming and may lead to abuse. Education plays an important role, allowing parents to understand why babies, toddlers and older children behave the way they do. 

"Knowledge of child growth and development enhances parents' understanding of their children and fosters tolerance," Ms. Spencer said. "Parents better cope with their children's stages of behavior, ensuring a healthy, responsive environment." 

Maj. Brian Everitt, Randolph's family advocacy officer, said the program gives parents a "solid foundation" for their role - no matter how many children they have. 

"Because children don't come with an instruction manual, the New Parent Support Program is the closest thing to that," he said. "It helps parents know what to expect. Even if they've had one child, with their second or third child they encounter new challenges." 

One of the reasons the program is vital is because it brings continuity to the Air Force, Major Everitt said. 

"Because the Air Force is a career, and to be able to return members to it, it's important they know they have the resources to take care of their families," he said. 

It's also reassuring to families of deployed members. 

"Knowing that you have someone like Debra really helps the family left behind," Major Everitt said. "It lets the person know that the Air Force will take care of their family."
To enroll in the New Parent Support Program, call 652-3340.