JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, ALASKA -- Since late 2004, the Armed Services YMCA of Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and other locations nationwide has offered year-round support to families and children through a program known as "Teddy's Child Watch."
During the fall of 2018, the program's name changed nationwide to "Children's Waiting Room."
"Even though the name has changed, parents can expect this great program will maintain the same high level of standards it always has," said Soha Dobbins, a Children's Waiting Room child specialist. "We are so grateful that parents trust us with their priceless treasures while they tend to their health needs."
Nationally, the program is expanding, and the Armed Services YMCA wants to provide a uniform approach for its continued success.
It is also an initiative, in part, to show participants the standards for the free child watch service they can receive at any of the 10 locations already in place across the nation, said Brina Lynch, ASYMCA of Alaska program director.
The Children's Waiting Room offers parents with hospital appointments a safe, temporary child care solution for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Children signed in can stay for up to two hours daily while parents attend scheduled medical appointments in one of the hospital's clinics.
The program was created at JBER in response to a need identified from a survey conducted to find out what was causing service members to miss appointments.
"A goal for all military branches is to reduce the number of missed and cancelled appointments," Lynch said. "Our main mission is to do whatever we can to support our service members and we're always looking for ways to help. Since this program and 'Y on Wheels' began, the base has seen a 42 percent reduction rate in missed appointments. We are so happy to see our efforts contribute in such an impactful way."
All service members, retirees, or anyone with hospital access and a scheduled appointment can use this program. So far, during 2018, more than 200 children on average have been cared for per month, and more than 2,700 were cared for in 2017, Lynch said.
Because the service is in such high demand, the ASYMCA of Alaska strongly recommends visiting the facility, filling out the two-page registration form and providing a current shot record prior to needing the service.
"Even though we accept walk-ins, we highly encourage individuals to call ahead and reserve a time slot as soon as they are done booking their appointment," Lynch said. "Based on the age of the participants, we maintain a safe child-to-staff ratio so we can provide a quality experience."
While reservations are preferred, the ASYMCA staff understand emergencies do come up and will take last-minute appointments should staffing permit.
"The main thing I hear from parents is how our program allows them to focus," Dobbins said. "Instead of having to divide their attention between the care of their young child and what the doctor is trying to provide to them, their minds can be on the appointment completely. They can have peace of mind knowing we are well-qualified to take care of their children."
The Children's Waiting Room is staffed by part-time ASYMCA employees vetted and background-checked by national YMCA standards.
The program is open Monday through Thursday from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Friday from 7:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and every third Thursday of the month from 8:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. All children must be picked up before closing.
For more information about the program or to make an appointment, call 580-6455.