ARLINGTON, Va. — When a New Jersey Air National Guard member needed someone to take care of his newborn daughter one morning last May while the child’s mother was at a doctor’s appointment, Judy Novak stepped up to the plate — for free.

Novak, a licensed child care provider who lives in Toms River, N.J., was helping the reservist as part of Operation Child Care, a nationwide program to offer members of the reserve and National Guard components some respite from child care while they are home from Iraq or Afghanistan on R&R (rest and relaxation) or emergency leave.

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies in Washington, D.C., launched Operation Child Care in May.

The organization, which is a national network of more than 850 child care resource and referral centers located in every state, is partnering in the program with the National Association of Family Child Care, the National Child Care Association, the National Cooperative Extension System, the National 4-H Program, and the Child Care Bureau, which falls under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Operation Child Care has 6,000 volunteers standing ready to participate, according to DeVere Kutscher, a spokesman for the NACCRRA.

Bright Horizons Family Solutions and KinderCare Learning Centers — chain operations that include thousands of their child care centers across the country — are also participating.

Volunteers must commit to a minimum of four hours of free care, with the maximum “depending on the generosity of the [individual] provider,” Kutscher said in a Wednesday telephone interview.

“Some volunteers have offered up to 70 hours” of their time to the program, he said.

The volunteers must be certified and licensed by their resident states — a process that depends on each individual state’s own rules.

But beyond those requirements, Operation Child Care’s sponsors are trying “to leave [the program] as open as possible, and not put too many restrictions on it,” Kutscher said. “We want to encourage people to use the program.”

Because Operation Child Care is so localized, the national association has yet to gather data on how many reservists have used it, Kutscher said.

Anecdotally, however, “we’ve seen some really nice stories” coming from different states, such as Novak’s experience, he said.

Novak said she heard about the Operation Child Care when her Ocean County, N.J., Children’s Home Society contacted her by mail, asking for volunteers.

Although she already spent more than her required four hours caring for the reservist’s newborn, Novak said in a Wednesday telephone interview she’s ready and waiting to do it again.

“Sometimes if you feel you can do a little something in a circumstance like that, you want to do it,” she said.

Operation Child Care Q&A

Here’s information on how to use Operation Child Care:

Who is eligible? Any military reservist who is coming home to the United States for R&R (rest and recuperation) or emergency leave. You will need to show your orders to your provider.

Who do I contact? Call the Operation Child Care hot line at (800) 424-2246, or go to and fill out the request form. More information on the program can also be found at

Then what happens? The local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency in their home area will contact eligible reservists. Some child care agencies will help make the connection between volunteers and users of the program; others will offer a list of phone numbers and addresses of the volunteer providers in their area. Users will also get a list of questions to ask potential child care volunteers.

How do I know these child care volunteers are qualified? Only legally operating, licensed, certified child care providers may volunteer for the program. Each state has its own requirements for licensing.

How much time will I get? Volunteers must offer a minimum of four hours, but there is no maximum. Reservists should discuss this when they contact their chosen volunteer provider to set up the child care appointment.

What should I ask potential providers? Ask for references and contact information of parents of children that they currently or previously cared for; whether your child will be participating in planned activities while in care; and what your preferences are (e.g., no television, etc.). You should also ask if food will be provided for your child, or if you will need to provide the food if there will be outside activities.

For a full list of issues to consider before you call, go to Reservists will also be offered suggestions when they contact the Operation Child care hot line.

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