Guest Post: An Intro to the Military’s Affordable, High-Quality Childcare Program
Guest post by writer and reserve military officer Diana Moga
The Department of Defense (DOD) boasts the largest employer-based childcare program in the United States. The program serves uniformed service members and DOD civilians. At an annual cost of $1 billion, approximately 200,000 children ages six weeks to five years old participate in the program. The subsidized service offers full-time childcare at a fraction of the cost compared to childcare outside the DOD program.
How has the Department of Defense come to offer the affordable, high-quality child care that has eluded many private and public sector organizations?
According to the Congressional Research Service Report on Military Child Development Program: Background and Issues, child care services are part of a broader set of quality-of-life benefits available to service members and DOD civilians. According to the DOD, childcare benefits support recruiting, readiness, and retention goals for the Department. In short, the DOD determined that subsidized childcare supports its mission in a wide range of areas.
DOD subsidized childcare evolved with the shift away from the practice of military conscripts. By 1973, the military consisted of an all-volunteer force and introduced new demographics to the services.
As more women served in the military, the DOD directed the services to stop the involuntary discharge of pregnant or custodial mothers. Changes in cultural norms writ large meant that the number of women participating in the workforce increased across the United States. More women participating in the workforce resulted in more dual-career families within the DOD.
After years of hosting informal childcare onboard military bases, the DOD issued a directive that formalized government responsibility for the installation of childcare centers. The morale, welfare, and recreation (MwR) program, which already existed to serve DOD families, became the logical place for childcare centers within the DOD organization. Congress first appropriated funds for new construction childcare facilities in 1982.
Since 1982, the DOD has expanded its childcare program, and today, the program offers more access with up to 12 hours of service per day.
There are several lessons that organizations can learn from the DOD childcare program:
1. The DOD takes a holistic view of the family.
As the service member profile shifted from males without dependents to males with families, the DOD considered families part of the same institutional umbrella. When the number of women participating in the workforce increased, the DOD saw an increased need to offer childcare benefits within the institution. As an organization, the DOD builds careers and community around employees and their families.
2. Demand for childcare services grew from employees within the DOD.
Informal childcare organizations on military installations could not meet the demand for childcare quality or access. Because the morale, welfare, and Recreation program existed to serve DOD families, childcare services had a natural place to land within the DOD organization.
3. The DOD recognizes that childcare improves readiness, retention, and recruiting.
The DOD recognizes that it must compete for talent. Access to quality and affordable childcare is a value that few other organizations offer. Because the DOD built childcare into the fabric of a system designed to support DOD employees, the organization is positively impacted.
Access to quality and affordable childcare supports employees and families and ultimately impacts organizational success. Stay tuned for more on how the DOD childcare program can serve as an institutional model for organizations.