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by Melissa Bower, Ft Leavenworth Lamp Staff Writer
January 31, 2008

Shamya has one child for each of her husband's deployments: Robert, 6, James, 5, Aidan, 3, and 1-year-old Liam.

If not for programs that integrate her with other deployed spouses and the Parents as Teachers "Heroes at Home," she wouldn't know many people at Fort Leavenworth, she said.

"I had no one here, no friends and family," the Army wife said.

Shamya said the Parents as Teachers group gives her children opportunities to participate in playgroups. Staff at PAT is certified and can give Shamya tips on proper development of her two youngest children. She receives at-home visits from a PAT staff member to check up on her infant, which she said helps her make sure Liam is hitting his developmental milestones.

Bobbie Bower, coordinator for the Parents as Teachers program in Leavenworth and Fort Leavenworth, said funding sources provide two separate PAT groups: one for children with deployed parents and one for any military family. However, Bower said PAT staff didn't require separation of the two groups.

"We are not wanting to separate our military families," she said.

In Kansas, PAT groups help infants to age 3. Any child can be a part of one of the PAT groups, regardless of income or military status.

"We provide research-based information so parents can make decisions on how to raise their children," Bower said.

Staff at PAT are required to have their bachelor's degree and experience working with children, but Bower said a few are working toward masters' degrees in education or related fields. Leavenworth PAT staff includes a registered nurse and a former school counselor. Staff gives parents ideas for appropriate toys based on the age of the child, health tips and suggestions on how to help their child develop properly. In addition to playgroups, parents can ask staff to visit them at home to check on the child's development. Other benefits include health screenings, parenting classes and resources.

Families in the "Heroes at Home" program get special treatment compared to traditional PAT groups. Bower said parents can ask for more frequent home visits - such as every three or four weeks instead of every six to eight weeks - and enroll in more playgroups. An agreement with Nurturing Families, Inc. allows PAT staff to tape a visitation session with the child, which can be shipped off to the deployed parent. She and her staff also have access to research about children in military and deployed families.

"About half of our staff are spouses of retired military," Bower said. "But it's not the same military because there are more deployments today."

Popular playgroups are held regularly. Inside MacArthur Elementary School at the January playgroup, staff set up activity centers appropriate for toddler children. Play sessions include activities such as scooters, freehand coloring, a sandbox filled with rice, crafts, reading and picture books, games and puzzles.

Kayla Herman has three children in the on-post PAT program: Tierney, age 2, and her twin infant brothers, Skylar and Brenton.

"She has baby brothers, so being around kids her own age is always fun," Herman said of Tierney. Although the girl has had 13 surgeries for a specific birth defect that affects her windpipe, although she seems like any happy 2-year-old.

Tracy Powell said her 15-month-old daughter Corinne mostly just needed to get out of the house.

"What I think she likes the most is being in a big open space where she can run around," she said.

While Shamya counts the days her husband will be home to help raise their four children, Bower said research shows that will be a difficult adjustment for some families. When the parent comes home and tries to re-establish his or her place in the family, it can be a stressful time.

"They just need to realize it's a 'new normal,'" Bower said.

She said the most important thing for children of deployed parents and military children who move frequently is a positive attitude by the parents.

For more information about the Heroes at Home PAT group, call 684-5135.

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