Photo by Senior Airman Ryan Sparks, Grand Forks Air Force Base Public Affairs
While the availability of child care has been an issue raised repeatedly over the past seven years that MFAN has administered the biennial support programming survey, we as a country have not moved the needle on this problem. In fact, 2019 data reflects that the problem is, in fact, worse rather than better than it was in the 2017 survey. At that time, 69% of active duty family respondents reported having difficulty accessing child care while 11.5% reported it was easy to find care.
In a COVID environment, an already challenging situation is further exacerbated.
Guidance regarding what businesses and programs can and cannot operate can vary from state-to-state, base to base, town to town, and industry to industry. Many child care centers are closed or operating with limited availability in order to provide the necessary social distancing recommended by the CDC. Schools across the country are working to adapt to hybrid or all-virtual instruction and parents are being asked to choose between imperfect options all around.
Military spouses who have not been impacted by mass furloughs and layoffs due to COVID now still find their employment situation tenuous. They are worried about how to work from outside the home with insufficient child care. Or, if they’re “lucky” enough to be able to work from home, that home must now serve as a business, school, and daycare center all in one with a parent tasked with being a fully present employee while also solely responsible for care of younger children and/or supervising school curriculum simultaneously. Single parent service members face the impossible task of being “ever ready” for both the military and their children concurrently.
Even, in the unlikely event that a military family is able to put a solid plan in place based upon the current circumstances, a single positive COVID test at a school, daycare center, or place of work — and the subsequent closures and quarantines that would follow — would lay that entire plan to waste.
Approximately 1.2 million children under the age of 13 will require child care as a result of this pandemic – affecting military families across the country and negatively impacting force readiness. This is why last week, MFAN signed on to a bipartisan letter by Representative Debra A. Haaland (D-NM) and Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL) calling for DoD to close child care gaps for military families.
Specifically, the letter calls for engaging local communities and local and state governments to partner to creatively solve this problem and for guidance to commanders at all levels regarding flexibility with scheduling. You can read the full text of the letter here.
There are families not covered in this letter – recruiter families, Guard and Reserve families, etc. for whom MFAN will, as the voice of the modern military family, continue to speak. And our data tells us that across military demographics we still have work to do with child care after this crisis is over. But for now, MFAN is proud to sign its name on a letter that crosses both sides of the aisle to support many of our military families at this challenging time.