GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — Child and Youth Services here is struggling to cope with a surging demand for child care as families take advantage of free programs for deployed servicemembers.

Anita Payne-Landgraf, chief of the services at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr, said registrations with her office doubled from 2,000 children last year to more than 4,000 this year.

Part of the increase is probably due to the Army’s buildup in Grafenwöhr but Payne-Landgraf attributes the bulk of it to free programs for kids offered under the Army Family Covenant since last August.

Registering a child with CYS, normally $18, is now free for children of deployed personnel, she said.

“That was obviously a barrier to some people,” Payne-Landgraf said.

“With soldiers deployed, the parents need a break. In the last few months we have given away $17,000 of free child care (more than 4,000 hours) each month,” Payne-Landgraf said.

Grafenwöhr military spouse Wendy Berg, who has three young sons, said she’s planning to take advantage of the free child care and sports programs when her husband deploys later this year.

Berg said the child care is appreciated by military spouses who use the time away from the kids to workout or run errands.

Payne-Landgraf said kids placed in child care learn social skills that children who stay at home all the time lack.

“Research shows there are really advantages for kids to be in group care in terms of developing social skills at an early age — just learning to get along with other kids and share,” she said.

Department of Defense Dependents Schools teachers say they can tell the kids who have been in CYS programs as opposed to those who stay at home in terms of ability to adjust to group norms, Payne-Landgraf added.

However, children in group settings are more aggressive than children who stay home with their parents because they must learn to fend for themselves, she said.

“The Army has tried to compensate for this with training specialists who work with teachers and children to help them to learn to share toys and solve problems without hitting and those kinds of things,” she said.

Despite the large increase in CYS registrations there has only been a small increase in the number of kids’ sports teams in the garrison, she said.

“The problem is not having enough volunteers to put more team sports out there. We cut our registrations based on the number of coaches we have,” she said.

CYS is also having difficulty finding enough people to work as child care providers.

“We rely on the military spouses almost 100 percent for employment pool but we are getting fewer and fewer applicants (for CYS jobs). We just hired 10 new German (local national) teachers to help us. It is a challenge for us to hire military spouses. It is hard for a lot of them to work and balance that with being a single parent,” she said.

CYS has 68 positions vacant for people to work in child development centers and school age services and 14 vacant support and management positions for clerks or maintenance personnel, she said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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