Army takes a deep dive into childcare after receiving complaints

Childcare in the Army may get an update after the service’s top civilian leader receives a holistic report on the benefit at the end of this month.

Army Secretary Eric Fanning said he ordered the review of childcare after hearing numerous concerns from soldiers to the point where it was brought up more than all the other concerns combined.

The review will give the secretary a feel for the state of childcare in the Army and where there are problems.

The review encompasses all aspects of the Army including the reserve and National Guard components.

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“I hear you that this is an important concern, we’re committed to making sure that you have access to good, quality childcare and we are doing a review of that even as we speak,” Fanning said during an Oct. 5 speech at the Association of the United States Army Conference in Washington.

Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Daily said he is currently working on how to improve childcare in the Army by demonstrating the need and requirements.

“It’s very difficult if you can understand the complexity of hometown America and how dispersed these guard and reserve forces are and you can’t center them necessarily around the guard or reserve centers either because soldiers are further dispersed inside their geographic locations where they are stationed,” Daily said. “There’s no answers yet and I think this is a tough challenge that we are going to put the right people on … I think it’s going to be a unique situation and a unique solution for each community we have to work it in and we are going to rely heavily on the leadership in the guard and the reserve to find that solution.”

Daily added that $534 million of the $1.1 billion Army budget for families goes to taking care of children. It is the top expenditure in that account.

Earlier this year the Army fixed most of the problems that left thousands of military families waiting for months at a time for their promised childcare subsidies.

The Army Fee Assistance program paid stipends averaging about $300 per month to 10,000 soldier and Army civilian families who do not have access to childcare on military bases. The program fell into disarray after it was transferred to the General Services Administration.

Still, the Defense Department as a whole is trying to better its benefits programs.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter directed the military’s child care facilities will extend their operating hours as part of the Force of the Future initiative. The change was in response to complaints that the child development centers’ (CDCs) schedules don’t match up with the 50-hour workweeks that are common for non-deployed service members.

Pentagon surveys showed that nearly half of military families who use the CDCs had to pay outside child care providers to make up for the gap in child care availability, so all of the centers will stay open for at least 14 hours a day.

“In some respects our child care options today reflect the needs of a different era, when only one parent worked outside the home,” Carter said. “As we looked at this issue, we saw a strong link between dissatisfaction with child care and our difficulties with retention. So whether we’re talking about single parents or families where both parents work outside the home, child care hours should be as responsive as possible to work demands.”

Fanning said the Army ran some pilots this year on the change and is fully funded in the future for the Force of the Future benefits.