Category Archives: Military kids

Our Military Family Adoption Story

lori-brown-guest-post2Adoption within a military family is often confusing, and can leave you feeling alone on an island. How do I start? How much will it cost? Is this right for my family?

For 19 years, my husband has been active duty with the Marine Corps. We have 2 typical kids, ages 18 and 16, and we also have an exceptional family member, Hunter, who is 13 years old with special medical needs.

In September 2011, we met Hunter’s school nurse, who was in the process of adopting a special needs little girl. She introduced us to the world of foster and adoption. After quite a bit of talking to each other, and to our kids, my husband and I realized we had room in our heart, and in our home, for another child. This was the beginning of our adoption journey.

Most military families aren’t aware that no matter where they are stationed, adoption through foster care is possible – even if you are stationed OCONUS. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal, unlike foreign adoptions which can cost more than $20,000.

Military families are strong, adaptable, and resourceful, making them perfect candidates to be foster/adoption parents. There are many county, state and foster agencies that love to work with military families, so check around your area to find an agency that works best for your family. Don’t be discouraged if some don’t work out initially.

After a few ‘false starts,’ we found a great Foster Family Agency that appreciated our experience as special needs parents. They also understood that as a military family, we have a special ‘skill set’ that some might not have. My husband and I attended multiple classes specific to foster, adoption, special medical health needs, and CPR/first aide in order to become licensed as a foster home. At the end of that, we were able to become a licensed foster family. In our hearts, we knew that we wanted to foster and adopt special needs children.

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We were blessed to be matched with our daughter, Destiny, who is now three years old, shortly after becoming licensed. In her young life, Destiny has faced multiple of medical procedures with no one by her side. She was born with several birth defects, including a heart with no left ventricle.

Destiny had been in the foster care system for 17 months with six failed potential adoption matches. On paper, Destiny’s medical history is scary. When we first learned about Destiny, we asked to meet with her doctors to get some of our questions answered. After only 2 hours, my husband and I knew we could meet Destiny’s medical needs, so we moved forward with having her placed in our home.

Since Destiny came to live with us on February 1, 2012, she has made great advances developmentally, emotionally, and medically. She had many sensory issues to work through due to her lack of exposure to everyday things in the real world. Prior to Destiny being placed in our home, she had never touched carpet, tile, grass or sand – things we see and touch nearly every day.

She had two open heart surgeries before coming home to us. In July 2013, Destiny had her third surgery with us by her side the entire time, and she pulled through it with flying colors! She has a lot of fear related to abandonment, but I think she has come to realize the promise we made to her was true: we would always be by her side, and she would never have to go through any medical procedures alone. Destiny is still delayed developmentally, but has made huge strides and is now only six months behind her typical peers.

Destiny is loved and adored by our three older kids. We are very thankful we learned about adoption and fostering. Our family will most likely adopt again, but for now we are doing foster and foster respite care.

I want to encourage other military families to look into becoming foster parents or foster/adopt parents. The children within the foster care system range from newborns to age 18. There are all races, some with special needs, but a lot more with no special needs.

Even though our homes may change every few years in a military family, yours could be the ‘forever home’ that a foster child is waiting for.

lori-brown-guest-postGuest Post by Lori Brown, Marine Corps Spouse

Early Childhood Education: How important is it to you?

military-family-2-kidsAs a mom, I am in the habit of thinking that whatever age my kids happen to be is THE most critical stage in their development. This makes sense, of course – when they were little I worried about reading readiness, while nowadays I stay up nights fretting about SAT scores. And certainly, every age and stage is an important part of a child’s growth and development.

Increasingly, though, research is demonstrating the importance of the early years. In fact, according to the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC), 80 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age five.

Knowing this, it makes sense that quality child care and early education programs can have a huge impact on our kids’ development – and conversely, a lack of good early childhood education can threaten a child’s long-term academic success.

Busy parents – especially in military families – need the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment while they are at work. Some military families are able to enroll their children in their installation Child Development Center. Other families find care outside the installation through the Services’ fee assistance program administered by Child Care Aware .

Still, we know that the demand for quality child care is far greater than the supply. And for many families, the cost of quality child care or preschool is far out of reach. For this reason, our Association was pleased by President Obama’s recent proposal to expand access to pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs. We want to make sure all of our military kids have access to the quality early child care and education they and their parents need and deserve.

The ECEC wants to let our government leaders know how important early childhood education is, and they need your help! They have launched a campaign, Strong Start for Children to show Congress how much early child education means to children and families.

Do you have a great story about your child’s experience in child care or preschool? Email info@ececonsortium.org and your story may be included in the campaign. Find out more at the ECEC’s Strong Start for Children page for parents. Every day, policymakers make decisions that impact you, your children, and your ability to access high-quality and reliable early care and education to meet your family’s needs. Make sure your voice is heard!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

FAQ Series: How the Interstate Compact affects school aged kids

kidsclassroomYou have questions, we have answers!

This week we respond to your frequently asked questions about the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, more commonly known as the Interstate Compact.

Q: What is the Interstate Compact?

A: The Interstate Compact is an agreement among states that allows for the uniform treatment of military children transferring between school districts and states. As of August, 2013 it has been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. It addresses issues that may affect military children as they move to a new school district, including enrollment, placement, and graduation requirements.

Q: Who is covered by the Interstate Compact?

A: The Interstate Compact covers children of active duty service members enrolled in grades K-12 in public school. Children of National Guard and Reservists are covered when the service member is in active duty status. Children of retirees are covered for one year following the service member’s retirement. Note that the Compact only applies to public schools. The Compact does not apply to private schools and does not address home schooling.

Q: My child is old enough to start kindergarten in our old location, but the new state has a different cut-off date. What can I do?

A: Under the Compact, if your child has enrolled in and attended kindergarten in your previous state, he should be allowed to continue kindergarten in your new state. However, this only applies if your child actually attended kindergarten. If your child was old enough for kindergarten in your previous location but you moved prior to the beginning of the school year, the new district is not required to allow him to start kindergarten.

Q: My child was receiving special education services at our old school. Will he continue to receive them at our new school?

A: The new school should provide comparable services based on your child’s current Individual Education Plan (IEP). This is required both by the Compact and by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The new school is permitted to evaluate the student later to ensure appropriate placement.

Q: We had to move midway through my child’s senior year. Will he graduate on time?

A: An important goal of the Compact is to ensure that students graduate on time, even when they have to move during their senior year. For this reason, the Compact states that districts should waive specific course requirements for seniors as long as similar course work has been completed. If a waiver is denied and there is no way to complete the required course work on time, arrangements should be made for the student to receive a diploma from the previous school district.

Q: I don’t feel as though my school is following the Interstate Compact. What can I do?

A: It’s not uncommon for teachers and administrators to be unfamiliar with the Interstate Compact. Your installation’s School Liaison Officer can help you work with the school to resolve any questions about how the Compact should be implemented. Each state also has a Compact Commissioner responsible for helping ensure that the Compact is adhered to.

Q: Where can I go for more information?

A: The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission website includes FAQ’s and other resources, including printable and downloadable brochures for parents, teachers, and school administrators.

What is your family’s experience with the Interstate Compact? Share your story in the comments below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Back to School: TRICARE options for college students

collegeboyYou’ve spent the summer months searching for the perfect dorm room essentials: mini-fridge, extra-long twin sheets, and the perfect papasan chair. But what are your college student’s TRICARE options?

Dependent children are eligible for regular TRICARE benefits while in college full time until their 23 birthday or until graduation, whichever comes first. After that, children may qualify to purchase TRICARE Young Adult.

The service member must update the dependent child’s “student status” in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) to maintain the student’s TRICARE eligibility past age 21.

Before sending a son or daughter to college, it is important for military families to review their child’s health care options because some TRICARE options will work better than others. Here are some tips to consider:

Location. Where is the school located? Is it in a Prime Service Area? Contact the regional contractor for the TRICARE region where the school is located to determine if the school is in a Prime Service Area.

Transportation. Will your son or daughter have a car at school? Will your child be able to get to his or her assigned Primary Care Manager (PCM)? If enrolled in Prime, your child will need to see his or her PCM or additional fees will apply.

Cost. TRICARE plans have different cost sharing components and your student may need a split-enrollment in order to receive care while at college. A split enrollment allows some members of the family to be enrolled under one plan and other members of the family to be enrolled under another type of plan. For example, the family may be enrolled in TRICARE Prime, but the college-age student may be enrolled in TRICARE Standard. Or the college student may disenroll from Prime at his or her home location and re-enroll for Prime at the school location. Please review disenrollment options carefully. Students may be subject to a one-year lock-out if disenrolling from Prime and will not be able to re-enroll in Prime at their home location when returning for the summer. Families should check with their TRICARE contractor for more details.

On Campus Options. Many colleges and universities offer student health plans. Student health plans are considered other insurance, so TRICARE will be the secondary payer to any student health plan. TRICARE Standard and Extra work best with student health plans.

Visit our website for additional information about TRICARE options for college age kids.

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Operation Purple Camp: 2013 season wrap up

Our 2013 Operation Purple Camp season wraps up this week! The National Military Family Association has collaborated with outstanding camp partners to continue supporting military kids throughout our 10th year of camp. We’ve heard great stories and look forward to sharing some of the memories and friendships that were made this summer. This camp season once again demonstrated the personal and financial commitment of our partners who joined with us to provide a no-cost, fun-filled week of camp for more than 1,200 kids. If you would like to support our Operation Purple camps, please visit www.militaryfamily.org to donate.

“Being @ OPC is lots of fun and I wish I could do it every year of my life!”—Daphne, Operation Purple camper

theresaPosted by Terry Buchanan, Youth Initiatives Director

Inside Operation Purple Camp: Inglis, FL

OPC-8-8-13-postMilitary children experience multiple moves, change schools and friends and deal with challenges during their parent’s deployments. It is hard for civilian children to understand them. Luckily, kids whose parents are deployed get a chance to relax and forget about their worries during the Operation Purple Camp in Inglis, Florida. Here, children from all branches of Service are united as one big cheerful family.

Operation Purple is no ordinary camp. At the Caruth Camp in Inglis, everyone looks forward to receiving the military children and engaging in fun activities especially designed for them. When entering the campground you are greeted by a large American flag, which is put up especially during Operation Purple week. One of the highlights of the campground, which the kids seem to enjoy, is a welcoming military robot at the dining hall entrance. Next to it, on the wall of honor, the kids bring photos of their parents and post them with pride. The room is decorated with photos from various activities, but one banner that says “Kids Serve Too,” stands out as a central theme for the camp.

“This as a whole [Operation Purple Camp], I feel it gives children an outlet, not just any kind of outlet, a safe outlet to breath, not to worry,” says Patricia Nelson, Caruth Camp Director. She explains the kids here are very busy throughout the day with various activities, ranging from archery to canoeing and everyday award celebrations. To the kids, she is also known as Miss Nelson. To her, the children are everything and she goes to great lengths to make sure they are happy. She sometimes goes and picks up the children out of the state, in order to make it easier on the families who live far from the camp. “I try to give back to some of the parents who continually give their support and services to us here,” she says.

Miss Nelson considers herself as a grandma to the children and she gives them her unconditional love. Every child who goes to camp is given a bear, also known as “Miss Nelson Love Bears,” she says smiling. “That bear is something they can hold on to and take home with them in remembrance of what we did here on camp,” she adds.

But a bear is not the only thing children take back with them from this experience. “The important part is that they get to bond with other branches,” says the Military Family Life Consultant who is specifically assigned to Operation Purple camps.

The Caruth Camp is ideally located in a very picturesque part of Florida. The nature trails and natural springs provide a unique sense of tranquility. The camp is spread across approximately 240 acres, which was all donated. The cabins where the children sleep are modern and equipped with air conditioning. Moreover, local staff always makes sure the place is impeccable, teaching the children how to protect the environment, explains Bill Rappleyea, Deputy Sheriff. He is one of the passionate sheriffs on campus who dedicates part of his duty hours and his time off to spending time with the children on camp. As he offers a tour of the entire campground, he says how he is very excited to have military kids from all over the country. Part of his mission is to show that law enforcement is a friend, using fun activities such as CSI crime solving. He believes it is wonderful for the military children to be around other children who understand what they are going through.

All these activities are made possible exclusively through donations to the Operation Purple program and the individual camps. Deputy Sheriff Rappleyea emphasizes how any donation is essential: toys, cloths, toothbrushes, etc. “They always find a use for it,” he says. A simple donation can change the lives of children all over the country. To donate to Operation Purple camp, please visit http://www.militaryfamily.org/donate. In order to support Caruth Camp and make a donation, please visit http://www.youthranches.org

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Tampa, Fl

A Video Glimpse of Operation Purple Camps

We have spent the week recognizing the 10-year anniversary of Operation Purple Camps. We’ll leave you this Friday with one of our favorite clips so you can see just how special this program is.