The Darnall Child Development Center is unlike any other on post.
Designed to simulate the home environment, children play games in a plush living room, share snacks on a covered back porch overlooking a grassy play area and eat meals together at a dining room table next to the kitchen, where the staff cooks the food.
“Parents really like the home environment,” said Kim Bleakley-Sias, child development services administrator for Fort Hood’s Child, Youth and School Services. “Some parents like the child development centers, because they get kids ready for the school environment, but some parents really like this smaller, multi-age environment.”
Built at a cost of $2.4 million, the Darnall center opened in July, and currently has nine full-day care slots for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years.
The center’s capacity is 20 children, but the remaining slots are left open for soldiers in the Warrior Transition Brigade to utilize during doctor appointments.
It was originally intended to provide 24/7 child care to accommodate shift workers, but for now the center operates on the same traditional schedule of the other on-post centers.
“Part of the reason is the demand is not quite there,” Bleakley-Sias said, while standing in the mostly unused female bedroom in the center.
With blue painted wardrobes and striped pink and yellow bedspreads, the room sits ready for up to seven girls to spend the night. A boys’ room down the hall is decorated with owls and also sits empty.
The center will be used to its full potential, the administrator said, “once we have demand for shift work or overnight care.”
Parents interested in the service can be added to a wait list at Parent Central Services.
Lacey Eide, of the Fort Hood Fire Department, switched her 5-month-old daughter Adriana from Meadows to the Darnall center in anticipation of the shift work care, and fell in love with the homey atmosphere.
“It’s great. I wouldn’t ever go anywhere else,” she said, after spending her lunch hour with Adriana. “It’s a smaller one-on-one environment. ... It was a lot easier to leave her here.”
Despite the age range of children — currently between 6 weeks and 3 years for full-time care — each child goes through the same daily lesson plans as children at Fort Hood’s larger, more school-like centers.
“We have some children here that can’t really adapt to the big environment of a child development center,” said Alicia Rooman Wilson, who oversees the facility and hourly care for wounded warriors’ children.
“I love to see children develop and also children ... who learn to adjust to be with others. That’s what I like to see, a group of kids just getting along.”
The Darnall Child Development Center is located near Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. Once 24/7 care is activated there, it will also be utilized for emergency child care, Bleakley-Sias said. This could include a parent needing emergency surgery while their spouse is deployed or in training and unreachable.