‘It’s impossible to get childcare during a crisis,’ military families struggle as coronavirus interrupts benefits

COVID-19 is compounding the already challenging issue of childcare for the military as some essential employees that still need to show up for work are wondering where they can keep their children.

About 1.6 million children have a parent in the military, which means young kids whose parents maintain nuclear facilities, are doing some intelligence jobs or any other work that needs them to be on-location may need to be put in childcare centers. Even more children may need care because of schools closing due to the coronavirus.

“It’s difficult to get childcare without a crisis, it’s impossible to get it during a crisis,” one Air Force spouse told a recent Pain Points survey by Blue Star Families. “My special needs child requires four Pediasure a day to avoid having a feeding tube. The stores are limiting Pediasure sales and they are running out. What do I do?”

Carolyn Stevens, director of the Defense Department’s military family policy, says in the time of coronavirus, dropping a child off at a child development center isn’t exactly easy.

“The issue that is facing all our childcare programs is how do we support our essential and mission-critical personnel while maintaining a safe environment for children and staff members who are taking care of them,” Stevens said during a March 27 webinar hosted by the Association of Defense Communities and Blue Star Families. “We are seeing programs having to make these very tough decisions where they are assessing both local conditions, conditions dictated by state governments, guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and taking all of that into account.”

Currently installation commanders have the authority to decide what centers are open depending on the situation. Unfortunately, that can leave some essential employees without childcare.

Some installations have completely shut down child development centers. Others have limited hours or reduced capacity, it all depends on the installation, Stevens said.

“We’ve had people in our poll telling us that they have a military mission-critical family member and an emergency nurse, who is civilian mission critical, and they have no access to childcare, Kathy Roth-Douquet, co-founder and CEO of Blue Star Families told Federal News Network.

According to the Pain Points Survey, 11% of military families are paying for childcare during the coronavirus outbreak that they can’t use.

Some organizations are trying to fill in some of the gaps. The YMCA Armed Services is bringing some daycare services to bases. However, the capacity is limited because only 10 people can be in one room based on CDC guidelines. That leaves one staff member and nine children per room.

Other organizations like Zero to Three provide online resources on where to find childcare.

The issue is a microcosm of a broader childcare challenge in the United States. There is a lack of care in the country and since some centers need to close because of COVID-19, they are taking on economic stress.

The stimulus bills signed into law this month provides $6.5 billion for childcare companies to keep them afloat, support providers, pay salaries and offer childcare to families with essential employees.

Military service members and families are encouraged to go to the Military OneSource website for the most recent childcare information.

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