Spouses

Military leaders promise to extend child care hours, shorten wait lists at child development centers

Military families will see more flexibility in child care as defense officials move to extend the operating hours of child development centers to 14 hours a day.

Long-term, the military services are assessing needs and developing plans to expand child care capacity in areas where wait times exceed 90 days, among other things.

The hours of operation at CDCs 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, according to a DoD fact sheet. For example, if the normal workday is 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the child development center would be open continuously from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.

While the centers would be open 14 hours, each child would receive up to 12 hours a day of subsidized child care. Service members would have to pay the full cost of any child care provided in excess of 12 hours in a single day, said DoD spokesman Matthew Allen.

DoD subsidizes the cost of child care. Fees are on a sliding scale based on total family income; families with a lower income pay less for child care.

The centers are generally open 12 hours a day. The additional child care hours provided by DoD are expected to cost DoD an additional $230 million over the next five years, Allen said.

Information was not immediately available about the timeline for the start of the extended hours.

The military services will submit their implementation plans to the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. "Once all the plans are approved, the services will begin implementing the new hours based on approved plans," Allen said.

Hours of operation at some DoD child development centers have long been an issue for some service members because of their work schedules, their workout schedules, and a variety of other factors.

"Whether for single parents, for families where both parents work outside the home or for every mother or father in our military, child care hours should be as responsive as possible to work demands," said Secretary of Defense Ash Carter in an announcement of this and other new DoD initiatives to ease military family life.

"Nearly half of all military families have to rely on an additional child care provider to meet their needs, in part because the hours we provide don't match their demanding schedules," Carter said.

These child care initiatives were part of the Force of the Future reforms Carter announced Jan. 28 and were not part of earlier drafts for reform that were being considered.

But they were good news to military family advocates. "We are very pleased that the Secretary recognized the importance of child care to military families with young children. Extending CDC hours so they line up with service members' working hours will make a significant difference to a number of families," said Eileen Huck, government relations deputy director for the National Military Family Association.

The military services also will examine options for child care to increase "access and usability." That report is due by June 1, including:

  • More care to meet demand. Services will develop a plan to increase child care capacity in critical areas where wait-list times for child development centers exceed 90 days.
  • Get on the list sooner. The services will also ensure that troops can get on CDC waiting lists as soon as they have orders, rather than having to wait until they arrive at the next duty station. One new initiative already being rolled out, MilitaryChildCare.com, allows service members to get placed on waiting lists.
  • One application covers a hub. Service members will also be able to apply only once for multiple child development center waiting lists in areas of major military concentration.
  • And more on the way. Other initiatives include developing training for child care center directors on how to connect parents to other regional care resources, new parent mentor networks local forums for home-based child care, and parent advisory boards.

Military child care has been long been praised by many parents, but there is also the continuous complaint that it's difficult to get care at child development centers. A number of options are available, such as family day care homes, where installations are allowed to subsidize the cost of child care, and child care fee assistance programs in the civilian community.

Fees are on a sliding scale based on total family income. Families with a lower income pay less for child care.

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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