Supporting service through parenthood

Published on Department of Defence (author)

Location(s): HMAS Harman, ACT

Topic(s): HMAS Harman

Warrant Officer Graeme Gibney, of the Personnel Support Unit - ACT, presents a teddy bear to Able Seaman Cryptologic Linguist Sara Korevaar van der Meer and her family. (photo: Unknown)
Warrant Officer Graeme Gibney, of the Personnel Support Unit - ACT, presents a teddy bear to Able Seaman Cryptologic Linguist Sara Korevaar van der Meer and her family.

For Navy parents, maternity and paternity leave can often be a period of disconnection from a strong team environment. Since 2012 the network of Navy’s Personnel Support Units has tried to bridge the gap, providing a community for new parents across the nation.

Warrant Officer Graeme Gibney, of the Canberra Personnel Support Unit, based at HMAS Harman said ensuring members continued to feel supported while their career wasn’t their primary focus wasn’t an easy task.

“For some, this time can be a stressful period especially where new mums feel isolated from their normal work-based supports, perhaps isolated from extended family, and at times separated from their partner due to service requirements,” he said. 

Serving mothers are posted to the units so that they can have the flexibility to take leave for an extended period, and the opportunity to manage new family responsibilities and work on return.

Personnel Support Units provide opportunity for new parents to meet each other and share experiences, with some running weekly coffee catch up programs. This program provides an opportunity for new parents to build their support networks whilst being visited by subject matter experts who provide information about their return to work. Navy’s Flexible Work Cell is a regular contributor to the discussions. 

Another small but meaningful gesture has been a reminder of the Navy family for those on leave, with the gift of a Navy teddy bear for the new addition.

“The teddy bear scheme is focused on ensuring that members on maternity leave know they are not alone and that the Navy is thinking of them,” Warrant Officer Gibney said. 

“The initiative reinforced that Navy valued the contribution of women and supported them throughout all stages of their careers.”

After the initial stock of bears were given away, Navy’s charity, Keeping Watch provided a grant to fund the continuation of the initiative.

Keeping Watch was created in 2013 as an additional mechanism through which the Royal Australian Navy Relief Trust Fund provides comfort, recreation and welfare for a permanent or reserve member. 

Sometimes returning to work as a new parent is a challenging experience, particularly whilst still trying to breast or bottle-feed a child. The Navy Guide – Breastfeeding in the Workplace was released in December 2017 and aims to provide the tools for managers, supervisors and parents to start the conversation early, regarding feeding intentions, ensuring expectations are met and support is provided.

To ease the transition back to work, parents are now also being offered assistance through Defence Community Organisation to find child care places and are able to negotiate flexible work routines to accommodate care arrangements.

Those with children with special needs can also ask for assistance to negotiate extra support on posting to a new location or to establish care providers and networks on arrival.