Military Times

Extended child care is making a difference for working military parents

An hour or two a day may not seem like much, but that extra available child care is making a difference for military working parents.

In many cases, the added flexibility is relieving stress that happens when work commitments stretch close to or beyond that 6 p.m. closing time. Too often, parents found themselves racing to pick up their children at military child development centers.

"If I don't get to day care on time, I feel like I'm a horrible mom. But if I leave work early, I feel I'm letting down my coworkers," said Navy Lt. Rita Johnson, an intelligence officer stationed at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia. She and her husband are among hundreds of military parents who have benefited from some Navy and Marine Corps child development centers extending their operating hours to 14 hours a day during the week.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has extended those extra hours of operation to all the service branches. The services are in various stages of implementation.

Johnson's husband Charles, a former Navy chief who is a newly-minted ensign, works an hour away at Naval Air Station Oceana's Dam Neck Annex.

At times, she said, she needs to stay late because of operational needs. "People downrange rely on headquarters to get things done," she said. The extra hour the child development center is open gives flexibility at the end of the day for her husband to get through the traffic back to Little Creek, to pick up their 14-month-old son Wesley. It also helps when she's on travel.

"It's great knowing that the flexibility is there. It helps relieve the stress from trying to get from one base to the other safely," she said.

The child development center at Little Creek now opens at 5 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. For some, the extra hour at the end of the day is most helpful; for others, it's the hour at the beginning of the day.

The Navy ran successful pilot programs at Little Creek and two other bases, starting a year ago, and is now in the process of expanding it elsewhere.

"All the comments from parents using it have been extremely positive," said Greg Young, director of Navy child and youth programs. "In some cases, they've been able to modify their work schedule, or increase their physical fitness activities, or pursue more educational opportunities."

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the new hours Jan. 28 that, as part of his Force of the Future initiative.

Hours of operation for all DoD child development centers will be extended so that they overlap the normal working shifts of service members by at least two hours. The hours will be consistent with the work patterns of a majority of service members at each specific installation. In most cases, that means 14 hours of continuous operation. It varies, but traditionally military CDCs have traditionally been open 12 hours a day, on weekdays.

Where's it offered

The services are working toward implementing the new policy of extended hours, but some are further along than others.

Marine Corps: Has implemented the policy at all its child development programs, which include child development centers and school age care, as required by the Navy, according to Belynda Smith, children and youth programs section head for the Marine and Family Programs Division. She said officials have found that 5 percent of those in the child development program use the extended hours.

Navy: Has implemented the program at nine installations, said spokesman Scot Cregan:

  • Naval Base Kitsap, Washington (Bremerton CDC)
  • Naval Base Point Loma, California (Patrick Wade CDC)
  • Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia
  • Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas
  • Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida
  • Naval Technical Training Center Corry Station, Florida
  • Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, California
  • Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada
  • Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, Virginia

By the end of June, additional centers are scheduled to be onboard:

  • Naval Support Activity Mid-South, Millington, Tennessee
  • Naval Base Coronado (all centers)
  • Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan
  • Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut

Army: Working on its implementation plan and expects to start increasing the hours at some locations in October, according to Army spokesman Dave Foster. Officials expect to complete their rollout of the extended hours at locations where it's needed by the end of 2017.

They're analyzing a variety of factors regarding child development centers and school age center requirements and getting input from soldiers and installation leaders to determine where and when hours need to be increased from 12 to 14 hours and what resources will be required. Officials expect to complete the analysis by the end of May.

Air Force: Expects to begin implementing the extended hours in fiscal 2017, said Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske. Officials are developing implementation plans to determine what necessary extra resources are needed, such as additional staffing, building modifications, and funding. Officials are determining the timeframe for completion and locations for the program.

It began with the Navy

The Navy's pilot program was part of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative to improve services across a number of readiness and wellness areas. Before officials began their pilot program, they surveyed parents whose children were in child development centers at the three pilot program locations — Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Point Loma, and the Bremerton CDC — to determine their needs. Of those, 30 percent said they would use the extended hours, Young said. The pilot programs at those three bases tested 16-hour days, with CDCs open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In the pilot program, 15 percent of the parents actually used the extended hours; the bulk of parents needed extra hours from 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thus, the Navy determined the need was for 14-hour days of operation.

"We'll continue to survey parents as we did in the beginning, and if we need to go up to 16 hours per day based on local needs, we will," Young said.

Children won't be there 14 hours a day

The extended hours don’t mean that children are in the centers for that entire time, Young said. Even before the extended hours, with 11 hours of operation, on average parents were using the child care for nine to 10 hours a day. The Navy has a rule that children can’t be in child development centers for more than 12 hours a day unless there are special circumstances such as mission needs. That’s based on national studies that show leaving a child longer than that is not healthy, Young said.

In his memo, Carter said children will receive up to 12 hours of care per day. Foster said the Army is working with the other services to develop common standards that set consistent conditions, fees and penalties for parents who violate the 12-hour policy.

Marines like it, too

Marine Corps officials have also received positive feedback from parents.

"We have two CDCs," said Amy Banks, family care branch manager at Marine Corps Air Station and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., in an email statement. "We received positive feedback from parents with the hour extension in the afternoon and additional late afternoon snack. Several of the myriad reasons parents gave for utilizing the additional hour included going to the gym, spending time with a spouse or other child, running errands without interruptions, completing schoolwork, and participating in command activities.

"Extending hours improves family morale for busy working families by allowing parents to complete tasks, knowing their children are in a safe place."

can cut for space: Some parents find the extra hour in the morning is beneficial. "I can make it to work and PT on time and don't have to get a babysitter. The down side is they open at 500 but don't have breakfast until 800,"  said Sgt. Isher Householder, stationed at Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, in an email.

At Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Marine Sgt. Lorena Castillo said having the extra flexibility at night has saved her three to four hours a week, and she doesn't have to come into work on the weekend.

Maj. Steven Allshouse, at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, said his job requires him to be in early and work late most nights.

"I would not be effective in my job without the extended hours," he said in an email.

Previously, starting at 5:30 p.m., he was stressed because of late meetings and issues that tend to arise. Now, he said, "I am able to focus on my duty responsibilities and not stare at the clock worried about making it on time to pick up my children. I used to have to sprint from my car to make the 1800 closing time.

"This is a huge combat multiplier for me, my Marines and unit. I know my children are well taken care of by both the CDC and the youth center. I couldn't balance it all without them."

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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