DoD Child Care Cited as Model for Nation
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2000, May. 17, 2000 When it comes to child care, military families have the best America has to offer, according to a study by the National Women's Law Center here.
Nancy Duff Campbell, group co-director, presented the report to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen here May 16 and cited DoD's child development program for its quality, affordability and availability.
The report, "Be All That We Can Be: Lessons From the Military for Improving Our Nation's Child Care System," shows how the military transformed a "seriously deficient" child care system into a national model for child care reform, Campbell said at a Pentagon press conference.
Sens. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Jim Jeffords of Vermont also attended the briefing and echoed Campbell's praise. They stressed the need for child care reform in the civilian community, where hundreds of thousands of families are on waiting lists.
Dodd, who hailed the military program as the nation's "gold standard," said people can't be expected to function well in any endeavor if they're worried about their children. Jeffords pointed out that absenteeism caused by poor quality child care costs American business more than $3 billion a year. Both salute the military's 10-year effort to provide quality care.
"Just a decade ago," Campbell said, "child care in the military was plagued by problems that are all too familiar to civilian families today. Tens of thousands of children were on waiting lists for care. Military families could not afford care even if they could find it. Caregivers lacked training and were so poorly compensated that they didn't stay long in the field, and the quality of care suffered."
Because the lack of child care affected recruiting, retention and readiness, the military committed the necessary resources and built a system that links child care centers, family child care homes, after-school programs and resource and referral services. The program currently meets 58 percent of military families' child care need, Campbell said, and the department is moving steadily towards its goal of meeting 80 percent of the need by 2005.
Cohen, who as a senator voted for the Military Child Care Act of 1989, acknowledged that Pentagon policymakers and military commanders alike have made child care a priority. He said DoD now offers about 200,000 children "comprehensive, credible and consistent" care.
"Where our force once was largely comprised of single men, today nearly half of our men and women in uniform are also fathers and mothers," he said. "We simply can't afford to have our service members worried about the basic well-being of their families."
Contrasting child care in military and civilian communities, Campbell called on state and federal lawmakers to learn from the military's success.
"The need is no less great, no less urgent, no less compelling for such a commitment outside the military," she said. "More than 95 percent of the military child development centers are accredited by outside experts, compared to only 8 percent of civilian child care centers. Today, all children in military child care centers are cared for by staff who receive basic pre-service training, unlike the children in 31 states whose laws and regulations require no such training."
Campbell noted that the Defense Department has also addressed affordability, with subsidies and sliding fee schedules based on family income. "As a result, the average weekly fee paid by military families is some 25 percent lower than the average weekly fee paid by civilian families for comparable center-based care," she said.
Military facilities pay better than civilian counterparts, she added. The entry level wage for caregivers at military centers is nearly $8 an hour and increases to $10 after core competency training. The average wage for a civilian caregiver is only $7.40 an hour -- a civilian provider in a family child care home earns only $4.70 an hour.
"It's time, indeed, past time, for the civilian sector to catch up," Campbell said. With 70 percent of women with children now in the labor force, demand for civilian child care is at an all-time high. Yet too often, it's unaffordable or simply unavailable.
"The military's experience teaches us that it doesn't have to be this way," she stressed. DoD has shown the quality of care can be raised by setting comprehensive standards and enforcing them with unannounced inspections, increasing provider training and pay, and helping providers meet the standards required by outside accreditation.
The National Women's Law Center report highlights six lessons civilian officials can glean from the transformation of DoD's child care system:
- Do not be daunted by the task. It is possible to take a woefully inadequate child care system and dramatically improve it.
- Recognize and acknowledge the seriousness of the child care problem and the consequences of inaction.
- Improve quality by establishing and enforcing comprehensive standards, assisting providers in becoming accredited and enhancing provider compensation and training.
- Keep child care fees affordable through subsidies.
- Expand the availability of all kinds of care by continually assessing unmet needs and taking steps to address them.
- Commit the resources necessary to get the job done.
For more information, visit DoD's Child Development Program Web site at http://dticaw.dtic.mil/milchild. Information and resources are also available by calling DoD's national clearing house at 1-888-237-3040.
For more information on the National Women's Law Center or to read the report go to www.nwlc.org or call 202-588-5180.