WASHINGTON - As military families move frequently and face a host of concerns, finding child care can be one of the greatest challenges, Barbara Thompson, director of military community and policy's office of family policy/children and youth/special needs, said yesterday.
To streamline and standardize what can be a daunting search, the Defense Department unveiled MilitaryChildCare.com, an online resource to help military, DoD civilian and contractor families find an array of military-operated and military-subsidized child care options for children between the ages of 4 weeks and 12 years, Thompson said.
Child Care Affects the Force
"Child care is a workforce issue that impacts the readiness and retention of the force," Thompson said. "As families relocate to other areas, it's really challenging to make sure your child care needs are being met, and this tool gives parents an opportunity in advance to find those child care spots that will work for the family."
MilitaryChildCare.com is a "single gateway" for families to enter as they request child care, she noted.
Of the 200,000 children DoD serves in child care, more than 50 percent are younger than age 3, Thompson said.
"It's very difficult to find infant and toddler care in the civilian community," she said. "[DoD has] young families with young children and we really feel that we're providing a high-quality environment for those babies and toddlers [with the website]."
Families can customize their search, put their children on waiting lists and monitor requests for placement, Thompson said.
"The idea is that you have choices, and you see the array pictorially of what's available at those locations," she noted.
A help desk online and at 1-855-696-2934, toll-free, is also available to help personalize families' searches, she added.
Pilot Program Expanding
The website initiative used focus groups comprising child care staff and parents, with a goal of making the website functional and intuitive to make sure families can easily navigate the system, Thompson said.
A pilot program was also conducted in the study at numerous installations over the past 18 months at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for the Air Force, Hawaii for the Army, Hawaii and San Diego for the Marine Corps, and Hawaii, San Diego, Key West, Bahrain, Meridian and Singapore for the Navy, she said.
Recently, 13 more installations were added to the website in addition to the pilots.
They are Naval Air Facility El Centro, California; Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada; Naval Air Station Joint Readiness Base Fort Worth, Texas; Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas; Naval Air Station Joint Readiness Base, New Orleans, Louisiana; Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California; Naval Air Station Lemoore, California; Naval Support Activity Monterey, California; Naval Base Ventura County, California; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; Naval Station Everett, Washington; Naval Base Kitsap, Washington; and Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington.
The child care website is expected to be fully functional worldwide in September 2016, Thompson said, adding that it will remain a work in progress as it takes in feedback from parents for improvements.