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The Department of Defense (DoD) supports the largest employer-sponsored system of high-quality child care in the country. Through accredited child development centers (CDCs), family child care (FCC) homes, youth programs, and other before- and after-school programs, the DoD provides care to over 174,000 military children aged 0 through 12 years.

To evaluate the system’s ability to meet the child care needs of military families, DoD needs information on the magnitude of potential need. For a number of years, the DoD has been using a formula that translates the basic demographic characteristics of the military population into an estimate of the potential need for child care (see the companion monograph Providing Child Care to Military Families: The Role of the Demand Formula in Defining Need and Informing Policy, MG-387-OSD, by Joy S. Moini, Gail L. Zellman, and Susan M. Gates). The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) asked the RAND Corporation to collect data on child care need and child care use, assess the validity of the DoD formula, and recommend improvements to the formula. Data for the assessment came from a 2004 survey of military families about child care issues.

This technical report describes and analyzes the data from that survey. It documents survey methods, defines three outcomes of potential interest to DoD (reported child-care usage, unmet child-care need, and unmet child-care preference), presents detailed results of an analysis of these outcomes among military families, and analyzes the relationships between these outcomes and military readiness and retention. For example, the data identified an important relationship between unmet child-care preference and propensity to leave the military: Families that express unmet child-care preference — that is, they are using one form of child care but would prefer another — are also more likely to report that child care issues might drive them to leave the military.

This report will be of interest to officials responsible for DoD child-care policy and other quality of life issues. It should also be of interest to child care managers in other federal organizations, child care researchers, and child care policymakers at the national, state, and local levels who grapple with the issue of estimating the need for child care.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND technical report series. RAND technical reports may include research findings on a specific topic that is limited in scope or intended for a narrow audience; present discussions of the methodology employed in research; provide literature reviews, survey instruments, modeling exercises, guidelines for practitioners and research professionals, and supporting documentation; or deliver preliminary findings. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure that they meet high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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