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DoD Plans to Boost Access to Military Child Care

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2006 – The Defense Department will use a multifaceted approach to boost the availability of child care services for military families, a senior official said here yesterday.

"We project the (child care) needs as greater than what we're offering at this point," Jan Witte, director of DoD's Office of Children and Youth, told American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

The ongoing realignment of U.S. forces from longstanding overseas bases in Europe and elsewhere to stateside installations and high operational tempos caused by the war against terrorism are placing demands on the military child care system, Witte said. Consequently, DoD wants to "jump-start" its military child care programs to provide more spaces for the children of active-duty and reserve-component servicemembers.

"Currently, we're using a multipronged approach" to increase military child care capacity, Witte said, noting DoD will continue to build on-post facilities.

"And we're also doing some contracting with civilian centers off the installations" to address lengthy waiting lists at some military bases, she said.

DoD has also provided funds to the services to obtain modular buildings to help meet immediate child care needs. Witte estimated that more than 4,000 new child care spaces will be created through new construction and the use of modular buildings.

"They're just starting with those, and we're really hopeful that this will really be a way to get some spaces quickly," she said.

DoD now spends about $434 million on military child care each year, Witte said. More than $60 million in supplemental funding has been employed in the past three years to extend the hours of child care services, including weekend and evening care, and to run summer camps for military children with one or both parents deployed overseas. She said another $90 million in funding is earmarked to build new child care centers.

The armed services also have added many programs in the past few years, such as videoteleconferencing facilities and computer labs that assist military children to communicate with deployed parents, Witte said.

Efforts are ongoing to address an estimated shortage of about 27,000 military child care spaces remaining after the 4,000 new spaces are factored in. The focus, she said, is to increase child care services at installations experiencing high deployment rates, at bases gaining troops through overseas redeployments, or at installations affected by long child care waiting lists.

"Child care across the nation is at a premium," Witte acknowledged. "Finding those spaces at the right places is a challenge" for both military and civilian families.

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