This article by Doug G. Ware originally appeared on Stripes.com. Stars and Stripes serves the U.S. military community by providing editorially independent news and information around the world.
WASHINGTON — The Army is launching a pilot program designed to help Reserve soldiers find licensed child care providers, which has become an increasing problem for many military families in recent years, officials announced Thursday.
The Army said the “innovative” program will begin in two locations – eastern Iowa and western Missouri – so Reserve families in those areas can find child care during drill weekends and annual training periods, said Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, who leads Army Reserve.
“The Army recognizes the impact that child care has on the lives of our soldiers and their families,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen, deputy chief of staff for installations. “Through increased initiatives to identify and secure accessible and affordable child care options, we enable our military parents to fulfill their responsibilities without sacrificing the well-being of their children.”
Finding and affording child care has been a major issue for families that are stationed in locations that don’t have enough qualified providers. It’s a problem that is often mentioned when military leaders seek feedback from service members’ families on quality-of-life issues. A central part of the problem for some is there aren't enough providers on base, which forces families to search for private, more expensive child care away from the base.
Under the Army’s new program, reservists will be able to find help through the WeeCare Company, which bills itself as “the largest child care network in the United States” that is “committed to providing families with access to quality, affordable care.” Service members who enroll, for example, will be able to access a mobile app with which they can find local providers, according to the company.
“Technologies also include an advanced matching algorithm that provides real-time child care availability, saving families time and eliminating paperwork and wait lists,” the Army said Thursday.
The Army did not say when the program will begin or end, though it will start in West Liberty, Iowa, and Clay County, Mo. West Liberty is in far eastern Iowa about 15 miles northwest of the Iowa-Illinois border and Clay County includes a section of Kansas City, Mo., a city with more than 500,000 people, according to the 2020 census. The Army also did not say why it chose those locations.
The Pentagon has made several efforts in recent years to address the lack of child care for active-duty and Reserve military families. Earlier this month, it announced all active-duty troops — and some reserves — will be able to open flexible spending accounts to pay for child care, beginning in January. Only Reserve and Guard troops on Title 10 orders — meaning they are assigned to active duty by the president — are eligible for those accounts. Officials said at the time that the Pentagon could eventually expand the flex spending accounts to include all Reserve and Guard troops.
In May, Army Col. Phil Lamb, former commander of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., called the difficulty finding child care “the No. 1 quality-of-life issue” at his base. Another official said the waiting list for on-base child care had more than 700 families on it, at the time.
Officials said the Army’s forthcoming child care pilot program was established with an intergovernmental support agreement, which are deals the military strikes with state or local governments to provide a needed service in a given location.
“Shaping the Army Reserve of the future requires the support of both military and community leaders,” Daniels said. “We are grateful to the organizations participating in this unprecedented partnership for providing trusted, accessible, weekend child care to our soldiers.”
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