1. Introduction and Background


Today, roughly half of all military members have one or more children below school age (Inspector General, 1990). In many of those families, both parents work; the percentage of military spouses in the general labor market climbed from 30 percent in 1970 to over 60 percent in 1988. Many other military spouses are themselves on active duty; dual military families (both spouses in the military) with children now represent 2.9 percent of all active duty personnel.[1] In addition, the number of single parents in the military has steadily increased.[2]

In the civilian sector, similar trends have led to sharp changes in child care arrangements. In 1977, only 35 percent of women with preschool-age children were in the labor force. By 1987, that figure had risen to 56 percent (U.S. Dept. Labor, 1989). During that same period, the proportion of all children in the United States under age five who were cared for in organized child care facilities increased from 13 to 24 percent.

As day care use has increased, it has begun to affect employers. Among civilian women with children under age 15, 7 percent in any given month reported work disruptions resulting from failures in their child care arrangements for their youngest child (U.S. Census Bureau, 1990). Although parallel information is not available for military parents, long and unanticipated duty hours suggest that it may be an even larger problem there.

These demographic and behavioral changes have led to expanded availability of military child care. The Department of Defense (DoD) provides child care as an essential service to maintain readiness, increase productivity, and improve morale. Two settings predominate. The first is the child development center (CDC), which provides care for children on a fee-for-service basis. CDC was designed to offer centralized day care at lower cost than is available in the private sector, and to provide care not offered by the private sector. The second type is family day care (FDC).[3] Here, military spouses trained as family day care providers are authorized to care for up to six children in the government quarters that they occupy. Fees are assessed by individual providers. Other arrangements such as before- and after-school programs and parent cooperatives, as well as resource and referral services, are also encouraged.

Child care is also provided through Youth Activities Centers on many installations. However, Youth Activities (YA) is not a formal part of CDS.

Military child care has become a significant enterprise, and is one that we assume will continue in more or less the same form. Reports of Fiscal Year 1990 capacity made to the DoD by the services reveal that there are now 690 CDCs throughout the world offering care for children as young as six weeks through age 12.[4] These same data reveal that the capacity for all CDCs and FDC homes was 129,030 children, a figure more than twice that estimated by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) in 1988 (GAO, 1989).[5]

Even with such growth, however, there remains substantial excess demand. DoD data indicate a waiting list of 59,858 names at the close of FY 1990, which is a source of considerable concern. At the same time, recent incidents of child abuse in several CDCs have raised questions about the quality of military child care. The growing perception of a "day care crisis" in the military has also fueled Congressional concern. The Military Child Care Act (MCCA) of 1989, Congress' response to these concerns, seeks to improve the availability and quality of child care provided on military installations. (See Appendix A for more discussion of the MCCA.)

To address such concerns, the DoD Inspector General (IG) recently launched the first full-scale evaluation of the quality and sufficiency of child development programs in the military (DoD, 1990). The inspection was conducted to review the criteria used for formulating and implementing policy for meeting the child care needs of military families. Inspection teams visited 70 installations worldwide.

The IG report concludes that the DoD has not formally decided whether child care is a benefit or an entitlement. In the absence of a clear policy, some commanders have decided to work toward making child care available to all. The report makes two key recommendations. First, it calls for a policy statement from the DoD that clarifies whether child care is an entitlement or a benefit. If the latter, it calls on the DoD to clearly define target levels and priorities for providing child care. This recommendation is designed to resolve potential misperceptions about whether parents should always expect to receive subsidized on-base child care. The report suggests that policy should more clearly communicate that child care is a benefit to supplement off-installation resources--not an entitlement program. The other key recommendation calls for the development of a long-range plan to meet the substantial excess demand for child care once a clear child care policy has been developed. This study builds on the IG report by examining Child Development Services (CDS) in more detail, and by focusing on issues associated with excess demand.

Study Objectives

Efforts to determine the extent and ways in which the military should be involved in promoting child care are often hindered by a lack of empirical research. Little information exists on the demand for child care, its costs, or the burden that child care fees impose on military families. Neither is there a clear sense of the unique services that military child care must provide, nor about the most effective ways to provide it.

To help provide such information, this study was designed as a first step to gather qualitative information and existing data on the quality and availability of child care for military families, as well as to address larger policy issues associated with the organization and delivery of child care. Specifically, its objectives were to:

  • Assess the extent to which existing child care programs meet the needs of military users in terms of accessibility, quality, readiness, morale, and affordability;
  • Recommend alternative ways to allocate existing resources to more effectively meet both military and family objectives;
  • Suggest new policies regarding the organization and structure of child development services; and
  • Examine excess demand for child care, particularly its implications for the size and scope of child care operations.

Organization of this Report

This section concludes with a brief description of the military child care system: how it evolved, what policy guidelines direct it, and how it is funded, organized, and administered. Section 2 describes our study methods, which include an examination of policy documents, secondary analyses of data from the RAND Arroyo Center Survey of Army Families, interviews with DoD policymakers, and site visits to military installations. Section 3 presents the data from our interviews. Section 4 presents the results of our secondary analyses of the Army Families Survey data. Conclusions and recommendations may be found in Section 5.


Prior to 1985, a considerable amount of child care was provided on military installations, largely through private organizations such as Wives' Clubs. This care was, by and large, loosely structured and minimally regulated. In 1985, the Military Family Act was passed by Congress to establish an Office of Family Policy within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This office, which operates under the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management and Personnel (FM&P), took on the responsibility for coordinating all programs and activities relating to military families. Its main goal is to enhance the well-being of military families by conducting surveys to assess their needs; designating an advisory committee (including family members) for assisting the DoD, increasing spouse employment opportunities through such policies as hiring preferences for qualified spouses, establishing funds for dependent student travel, expanding relocation assistance, amending food programs to make allowances for lower enlisted ranks, and establishing guidelines for the reporting of child abuse.

In recent years, FM&P has issued several family-oriented policy guidelines for child development programs. The DoD Instructions for Family Policy (DoD Directive 1342.17, December 30, 1988) laid the groundwork for implementing such policy, including child care programs. This document sets criteria for policies involving quality of life programs and family support services for DoD personnel and their families. It views the total commitment required by military service as a partnership between the military and the family. Such a partnership requires a comprehensive family support system to help families meet force readiness goals. The extent and nature of family support systems are determined at the installation level according to local needs. Programs included under family policy are: premobilization and deployment support, relocation assistance, special needs support, elder care, family advocacy, foster care, family life education, dependents' education, substance abuse prevention, family health and fitness, spiritual growth and development, emergency services, counseling, support and services for off-base families (outreach), consumer affairs and financial planning assistance, volunteer training and management, separation and retirement planning, family centers, and community development.

The DoD Instruction for Child Development Programs (DoD Directive 6060.2, March 3, 1989) establishes policy for services provided to minor children of DoD military and civilian personnel aged birth-12 years "as needed for effective operation and for accomplishment of assigned mission and tasks." Demand for such services is based on local needs according to five factors: (1) the number of personnel who require child care, (2) support of readiness by addressing military child care needs during deployments, mobilizations, and other missions, (3) alleviation of recruitment or retention problems related to inadequate child care, (4) absenteeism or productivity problems that could be alleviated by reliable child care, and (5) availability of services and rates comparable to those in the civilian community. According to this directive, CDS systems are established for the promotion of intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development of children.

Military child care programs are supported with appropriated funds that cover center construction and renovation, some percentage of center operating costs, and oversight of family day care homes. Under the MCCA, appropriated funds used for center programs must match fees paid by parents for CDC care. The Act also established a fee structure in the CDCs based on total family income[6] and mandated caregiver wage increases. Subsidies are authorized, but not mandated, to FDC providers under the MCCA.

At the DoD level, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Personnel, Support, Families and Education, and Safety is responsible for the development of overall child development services policy and for coordination among the different services. However, each service branch develops and implements its own separate and independent child care policies in accordance with DoD guidelines and administers its own program.

There are differences among the services in the way that Child Development Services are administered. The Air Force and the Navy include child care within Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR), which sponsors recreation activities such as bowling and golf, as well as libraries and youth activities. In the Marine Corps, child development programs were recently placed within Family Programs in the Human Resources Division (formerly in Morale Support). The Army has located CDS under their Community and Family Support Division, where it is managed with other family-oriented services.

The Air Force and Army systems are more centralized than those of the Navy or Marine Corps. Each Air Force installation with a CDC files a semiannual report with headquarters. This report includes program operation data such as capacity, hours of operation, hours of care for each type of service provided, daily attendance, enrollment, fees, staffing, and number on the waiting list. In the Army, installations file an annual report with headquarters that contains information about funding, staffing, programs, services, volunteers, facilities, population served, and corrective actions. Waiting list information is provided for validating requests for construction projects. The Navy in 1989 implemented a semiannual reporting procedure. The Marine Corps has no formal reporting process in place, although data are collected periodically through installation surveys.

Decisions about actual operation and management of child care programs are broadly interpreted at major/interim command and installation levels. Commanders have discretion over several key aspects of child care programs including use of unfenced (discretionary) funds, the mix of services offered, expansion plans, and child eligibility criteria.

[1]These data are drawn from the Defense Eligibility and Enrollment System (DEERS), current through December 31, 1990. They may be less reliable than other DEERS data because it is not clear if children claimed are accompanying parents, and because double counting of dual military marriages may occur because these data are not cross checked.

[2]DEERS data indicate that 2.9 percent of all active duty personnel are single parents. Whether children are currently accompanying their parent is uncertain, as noted above.

[3]The name for child care provided by military family members in military quarters on base varies across the services. We use the term family day care throughout this report because it is used by both the Air Force and Marine Corps. The Army calls its program family child care, whereas the Navy uses the term family home care.

[4]Department of Defense, unpublished reports from the services, September 1990. Military parents also have some access to day care in civilian communities that is free of military subsidy or oversight.

[5]To put capacity figures into perspective, recent data based on matches of active duty personnel records with DEERS data indicate that as of December 31, 1990, there were 453,696 dependents of active duty members aged 0-4 years. This figure represents all children, and thus includes some whose parents have not sought and will not seek military child care.

[6]How total family income was to be determined was not specified in the Act. For fiscal year 1991-1992, total family income was based on income reported on the latest copy of users' combined federal income tax form 1040, line 23; form 1040A, line 14; or W-2 tax statement.

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