The COVID-19 pandemic will prevent more than 1.2 million preteen children of servicemembers from attending full-time school, meaning 40% of the active duty force “may be in desperate need” of child care, according to an Aug. 6 letter from 35 House members and 10 advocacy groups, including MOAA, to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The letter asks DoD’s top civilian “to work with community leaders, veteran service organizations, and state and local governments to develop and implement creative solutions” to what could become a significant readiness issue. It also asks Esper to provide new guidance “encouraging creative scheduling and maximizing teleworking,” efforts that could relieve some of the child care strain.
“Congressmen from all over the country signed onto this bipartisan message, which shows how critical this support is to military families,” said Eryn Wagnon, MOAA’s director of government relations for military family policy and spouse programs. “The impact of this crisis on military families has implications for military readiness and DoD needs to put money, resources, and new policy efforts toward a solution.”
While this problem is not unique to military families, it comes with child care resources already taxed: More than 18,000 military children were on child care waitlists for DoD-run Child Development Centers (CDCs) in 2019, per a Congressional Research Service report – a number that doesn’t take the strain of the pandemic into account. Families that can’t get into a CDC can seek care on the economy using fee assistance; however, there is also a waitlist to secure this assistance for the Navy and Marine Corps.
MOAA has advocated for increased resources to provide more care options for military families that fit their needs. Increased DoD support for Family Child Care (FCC) providers is one way to expand availability while providing many military spouses with potential career support. The House version of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes one such support mechanism – housing preference for FCC providers making a PCS move. However, this isn’t enough.
A Military Times article on the Aug. 6 letter outlined other ongoing DoD efforts, including a Sept. 1 change giving higher priority to military families for available child care spots. Learn more about those efforts here.
Without proper funding and resources, these child care concerns can become readiness issues, the letter states. Single parents and dual-military couples could be forced to choose between military career plans and family needs, while civilian-military couples could see military spouses cut back on work hours or leave their career paths entirely, adding to the ever-present concerns of spouse unemployment and underemployment.
“These quality-of-life issues are intertwined,” Wagnon said. “A lack of child care support, especially as many families struggle to balance work and duty schedules with a child’s virtual education, quickly becomes a retention issue — one that disproportionally impacts female servicemembers. MOAA looks forward to working with DoD on creative solutions to this problem.”