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Defense Department to Deliver More, Improved Child Care

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2008 – Last week’s ribbon-cutting at the largest military child care center underscores the Defense Department’s commitment to providing more and better child-care for military families, a senior defense official said.

A July 15 ribbon-cutting at Fort Myer, Va., marked the official opening of a new 50,831-square-foot facility that serves children from birth to age 12. The space can serve up to 438 children, with an atrium, activity rooms, computer labs, multipurpose room, kitchen, laundry and space for outdoor activity, post officials reported.

The new center represents another step toward the Defense Department’s goal of opening 20 new child-care centers this fiscal year, Barbara Thompson, director of the Office of Family Policy’s children and youth directorate, told American Forces Press Service. Over the next few years, this will provide 5,025 additional child-care spaces, she said.

President Bush called on Congress during his State of the Union address Jan. 28 to provide more quality-of-life support for military families, including expanded access to child care.

The result is an accelerated military construction program that squeezes six years of planned child-care-facility projects into fiscal 2008 and 2009, Thompson said. During fiscal 2008 alone, the department has committed $210 million to build 20 new centers.

The new facilities bring more capacity to the world’s largest employer-sponsored child-care system that already serves about 200,000 military children every day at 300 military installations in the United States and overseas, Thompson said.

These centers offer full-day, part-day and hourly child care, as well as part-day preschools and before- and after-school programs for school-age children. Many operate with extended hours to accommodate long military duty days.

But recognizing that 70 percent of military families live off base, defense officials also are seeking additional child-care spaces closer to their homes where it’s more convenient.

“We are looking at growing the number of spaces both on and off the installations, … and trying to see how we can partner with the civilian community to provide high-quality, accessible child-care space,” Thompson said.

As the military services strive to provide more child care, they recognize that quality is just as important as access, Thompson said. “It is the quality of the arrangement that is critical for children to thrive – and for families to thrive knowing that their children are well cared for,” she said.

Military child-care facilities regularly score high marks in the quality of care they provide, Thompson said. Ninety-seven percent of all military development centers are accredited by a national accrediting body, compared to about 8 to 10 percent of civilian facilities.

“So we have a very high track record of being the model for the nation,” Thompson said. “Not only are we the largest employer-sponsored program in the nation, but also the highest quality.”

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