By Shelley MacDermid
Director, Military Family Research Institute
Thirty-eight percent of active-duty women and 44 percent of active-duty men have children. Yet in the 1980s, the military child care system was in shambles. The annual employee turnover rate was 300 percent, exposing soldiers’ children to the constant churn of new and untrained child care workers. Many centers were in violation of health and safety standards.
In 1989, the Military Child Care Act established new standards and funding formulae for the children of our armed forces. Government spending for military child care increased from $89.9 million in 1989 to $352 million in 2000. Within 15 years, the military went from having centers that didn’t even meet basic health codes to having the highest quality child care in the United States.
Today there are 900 day care centers and 9,000 family child care centers serving over 200,000 military children each day. Child care is available for infants and child up to age 12. In the civilian world, only 10 percent of all full-time employees have access to employer-provided child care centers, a figure that falls to just 3 percent for men and women earning less than $15.00 per hour.
Ninety-eight percent of all military child development centers, before- and after-school programs, and summer child care options are nationally accredited. This makes the child care centers accountable for producing uniform, quality care. Child care centers are subject to inspection at any time. All child care workers in the military receive standardized training and support, and must undergo extensive background checks. In contrast, fewer than 10 percent of all day care centers and fewer than 1 percent of in-home day care facilities in the private sector are accredited.
One of the best predictors of quality child care is the level of wages and the rate of turnover for child care employees. By 2001, entry level wages in military child care had risen to $8.00 per hour, compared to $7.40 an hour for civilian center workers and $5.00 per hour for family care workers. The turnover rate had plummeted from 300 percent to 30 percent annually. By comparison, the private sector child care employee turnover rate exceeds 40 percent.
The military provides child care to all enlisted and civilian contracted employees’ children. The tuition is based on sliding scale fee chart. Families earning up to $23,000 per year pay between $40 and $53 per week per child. The price gradually increases by pay category. A family earning between $44,001 and $55,000 pays $74 and $86 per child per week and families making $70,000 or more pay a maximum of $114 per child per week. These child care benefits also extend to military reservists who are either active duty or those who are performing inactive duty training.
It’s amazing what government can do for families when it puts its money where its mouth is.
The Council on Contemporary Families is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing the press and public with the latest research and best-practice findings about American families. Our members include demographers, economists, family therapists, historians, political scientists, psychologists, social workers, sociologists, as well as other family social scientists and practitioners. Founded in 1996 and based at the University of Miami, the Council’s mission is to enhance the national understanding of how and why contemporary families are changing, what needs and challenges they face, and how these needs can best be met.
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