Military families may soon have an easier time enrolling their children into on-base CDCs, thanks to a new policy created by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in February.
This major change comes after Esper heard from military families recently.
“Child care is very important, so I want to put dollars there and I want to make sure we get the policies right,” Esper explained at a February town hall meeting with the Association of the U.S. Army. “I’ve got a lot of military kids who are not in on-base child care, and they should be. So it’s things like that I’m going to change, either from a funding perspective or a policy perspective.”
Military Families Get Priority Access to CDCs Following Review of Services
Effective June 1, 2020, active duty US military families will be given a higher priority to accessing child care at on-base centers. At that time, they will be bumped to the second-highest priority category, right behind the children of the actual CDC staff.
It is important to note that this category is going to be reserved for children of single active duty parents or in families where both families are actively serving in the military.
The categories are as follows:
- CDC staff
- single AD parents/dual military families; AD families with two parents who are working full-time
- families with an AD parent + parent working/seeking at least part-time employment
- families with an AD parent + parent attending school at least part-time
- DOD civilian families
- Space-A: all other eligible families
Making Space for Priority Access Families
The biggest change might impact families below second priority, technically labeled as Category 1B.
Starting June 1, families lower than Category 1B could be removed from their spots in on-base child care centers to make way for a student in the top two categories. This would only happen if there are no other on-base CDC spots available and/or the Category 1A or 1B family would be facing a wait time of longer than 45 days.
If a child is going to be removed from the program, their family will be given at least 45 days notice of the change.
Prior to this change, DOD civilian employees were generally given the same priority as active duty families.
Access to Cost-Effective Child Care Major Barrier for Military Families
“It’s a readiness issue, when you have active-duty members who can’t get to work because they can’t find child care. That’s a huge problem,” commented Nicole Russell, government relations deputy director of the National Military Family Association.
Military families have long felt the pinch of limited availability to CDCs, especially in areas of low civilian personnel turnover.
Russell noted that families can face exceptionally long wait times in the National Capital Region, San Diego, Norfolk and Hawaii.
Lack of access to child care often prevents military spouses from seeking or continuing employment or higher education.
Russell believes that making this change in prioritization categories will better serve military families as their nonmilitary partner seeks higher education or employment.
“We’re pleased that DoD is recognizing the hardship that child development center wait lists pose for military families.”
The NMFA has pledged to monitor the implementation of this new policy going forward.
“Through frequent moves and the demands of military service, our military families should be prioritized when moving to a new duty station and/or when a spouse gains employment,” the NMFA shared in a published statement. “We will closely monitor the implementation of this policy as we continue to advocate for all military families.”
Making Military Families a Priority at CDCs
After receiving feedback about the necessity and lack of access to quality child care, Esper has made major changes in both policy and practice.
In addition to the new CDC category prioritization structure, Esper has also pledged to shorten the hiring wait time for new CDC employees.
He cites the wait time in the hiring process as one of the reasons for open, but unavailable spots at many CDCs.
“In many cases the reason why our child development centers are not at full capacity is that we have an insufficient number of providers,” he said.
To combat this, Esper is committing to lowering the hiring period from an average of over 130 days in 2019 to under 60 days. This is anticipated to help fill open staff positions and allow CDCs to fill additional child care spots for eligible families quicker and more effectively.
“The DoD’s system of child care was established to assist service members as they face the unique challenges associated with the demands of military service,” Esper wrote in his February 21 memorandum. “Over time, child care access expanded to serve the total force, but we must not lose sight of the service member and mission requirements.”