US military offers model for child care dilemmas threatening economic recovery | Notice
Major-General (Retired) Jessica Garfola Wright
As companies seek to rehire their workforce and individuals seek to return to work, the availability and affordability of quality child care is, once again, a concern for many working families. . Without access to affordable, high-quality child care, the workforce will remain depleted and businesses will struggle to reopen. Policymakers should look to the military as an example on how best to rethink a child care system that supports the workforce and thereby stimulates the economy.
The history of child care in the military begins in the late 1980s. The US Department of Defense realized that the move to the fully voluntary military radically changed the composition of the force to include more staff with families, families with all working parents and women. As such, child care quickly became a labor issue for the military.
The old child care system for military families was marred by long waiting lists, serious quality gaps, low salaries and qualifications for teachers and staff, as well as allegations of child abuse. The main concern was that, with the changing face of the military, the problems associated with a poor quality child care system would negatively affect the recruitment and retention of troops.
In response, Congress passed the Military Child Care Act in 1989, which spurred and invested in much-needed reforms that led to the current high-quality system that is often cited by experts as a “model for the nation.”
Today’s Military Child Care System (MCCS) provides quality, access and affordability to our military families. MCCS suppliers are expected to meet Department of Defense health and safety certifications and national accreditation standards. A career ladder that links salaries to training and upgrading the skills of teachers and staff has dramatically reduced turnover, seen as a key factor in the quality and stability of child care.
On the access front, the military continually assesses care needs and makes long-term plans to increase capacity. As for affordability, public subsidies and private fees billed on a sliding scale put quality care within the reach of active-duty military families.
If these issues of quality, access, and affordability sound familiar to you, it’s because Pennsylvania struggles with all three. Only 42 percent of Pennsylvania’s child care capacity meets quality standards. Without quality, children do not receive the enrichment that prepares them for success in school and in life, and employers do not get the full attention of their workers.
Lack of access is apparent among the 57 percent of Pennsylvanians who live in child care deserts. Access is particularly limited for families with infants and toddlers, rural residents and parents who work evenings and nights – another limiting factor in economic recovery.
Then there is the cost. Few working families can afford the average price of $ 11,650 per year for in-center care.
These problems are now compounded by the fact that the pandemic has forced more than 650 Pennsylvania child care providers to shut down permanently and many cannot reopen completely due to their own staff shortages.
Retired Admirals and Generals from Mission: Readiness see solutions in the military’s example of how to invest in the state’s child care system to better support working families. Substantial increases in federal funding for child care through the US bailout offer state policymakers an opportunity to strengthen the system and ensure affordable access to more families returning to work to short and long term.
In the short term, the Wolf administration should prioritize some of the new federal funding for child care to:
- Expand high quality contract slots for another 3,000 infants and toddlers;
- Advertise the Commonwealth Subsidized Child Care Program and ensure that no family waits for services;
- Eliminate co-payments for families receiving subsidized care and ensure that child care providers are reimbursed for this loss of income;
- Provide additional payment to subsidized providers to help recruit and retain staff; and,
- Pay subsidized child care based on enrollment, not attendance, and apply this retroactively to providers who suffered losses during the pandemic.
Going forward, the Wolf administration should also identify issues impacting the programs and professionals who provide those services and develop a longer-term plan to meet those needs using the rest of the federal stimulus funding.
By looking to the military’s lead for high quality child care, Pennsylvania can address issues of quality, access and affordability that will have lasting impacts on children, families and children. Commonwealth businesses.
Major General (Ret’d) Jessica Garfola Wright, served as the 50th Adjutant General and Under Secretary of Defense for Pennsylvania Personnel and Readiness.