Month of the Military Child highlights the important role military children play in the armed forces community. Military children and families make sacrifices and must overcome many challenges, especially as it relates to child care. Child Care Aware® of America is proud to support our military and to share just a few of these stories of hardship and triumph.
Month of the Military Child: Our Executive Director’s Story
By Lynette M. Fraga, Executive Director of Child Care Aware® of America
Fireworks went off when I was born…or at least that is what my Mom told me. I think it was more like flares than fireworks. You see I was born while my Dad was deployed to Vietnam. Apparently, nothing could keep my Mom, a very young mother, from calling her husband about his second-born daughter’s birth. Nothing. Despite his being in a war zone, on a mountain, in a tent, she demanded he know. She picked up the phone from her hospital room, dialed “0” and started from there. My mom exemplified the type of scrappy determination military families cultivate as they regularly uproot their lives in service to their country and in support of their active duty spouses.
My Dad served in the Army for 30 years. He enlisted young, married, and as a noncommissioned officer began a journey around the world. I am a very proud military child, and being military-connected has been a significant part of my life and my life’s work. I attended at least eight schools in several states and overseas. Some years I absolutely longed for what so many others seemed to have: a permanent home and life-long friendships that began in preschool or even earlier. Over time, I grew to love the new friendships I made along the way, the challenges brought by regular change, the opportunity to live in so many diverse places, and the resilience created by all my experiences. The ability to be both strong and vulnerable is a shared experience among military kids; fostered by lots of uncertainty and a culture that both connected me to a wide experience and inspired me to always look for ways to stretch myself and take risks in service to others.
Ironically, one of Dad’s last duty stations was in the Nation’s Capital. His assignment? Families. He became the first Sergeant Major devoted to what was then called the Army Community and Family Support Center – and child care was under his purview. Affectionately called the “touchy-feely” Sergeant Major, he took his role very seriously, and I can see his commitment, still, in the way he talks about one of his final assignments serving the nation he loves. He visited child care centers around the world, and participated in the fight for the Military Child Care Act (MCCA) passed by Congress in November 1989. The goal of MCCA was to improve the availability, management, quality, and safety of child care provided on military installations. By systematically implementing fee assistance for military families to help alleviate child care costs, dramatically improving the quality of programs, developing focused training for child care providers, and increasing health and safety measures for programs, the Department of Defense created the nation’s highest quality child care system that serves well over 200,000 children a day around the globe.
He couldn’t have guessed, back then, that the daughter born that day while he was on a Vietnamese mountaintop would one day find that her greatest professional honor was to likewise serve military families.
Dad, thank you, too, for your many years of service in many roles….
…From my perspective, the most important work you did was working on behalf of military children and families. You have made a difference, and our organization works every day to make a difference too. As for my Mom and my birth announcement, well…after several operators, much persistence, a few tears, and one satellite phone, “fireworks” did indeed go off on a mountainside somewhere in Vietnam when my Dad ecstatically heard the news.
During this Month of the Military Child, I applaud all military children for the challenges they face, the obstacles they overcome, and the resilience they demonstrate. I remember that life was often tough as a military child, and only a select few others understood and shared that life experience. I am grateful for all those who demonstrate their appreciation for these amazing children. To the families and their Service members, I offer my thanks for the sacrifices you make each and every day.
Based on my own experience working for the Department of the Army’s child care system over 20 years ago and the work our organization does today, I understand the profound difference these services make towards the mission of military readiness. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted recently, “Affordable, quality and accessible child care for our military families is a quality of life multiplier and a key to mission readiness. The Department is committed to supporting our families by facilitating access to reliable care for their young children.”
All military families should have access to high quality child care for their children – infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age. Yet the Defense Department’s child care system can serve only a fraction of the demand and too many military families cannot access high quality care for their children. If you want to make a difference for all military families, urge Congress to increase investment to serve military children while their parents are protecting our county.
To all those military children out there – you deserve fireworks! Happy MOMC!
CCAoA is honored to serve military families each day through its military fee assistance program, Exceptional Family Member Respite Program, militarychildcare.com, and other programs in service to our Nation’s military.
Raising Children in the Military: Patty’s Story
By Patricia Barron, CCAoA Board Member
April is also the Month of the Military Child and, as a military mom who raised three military children in an Army family, it is also a bittersweet reminder of how quickly time passes.
Raising my military children was not always easy, and many times I played the role of a single parent when my husband was away. Working outside the home was something I did often, but finding good quality child care was my biggest worry and challenge. If I couldn’t find child care, I couldn’t work.
Fast forward to the present, and not much has changed for our military families currently serving. Every year, child care is identified as the number one issue by the senior enlisted advisors of each branch of service when testifying on quality of life issues on Capitol Hill. And the issue only becomes more complicated when budget constraints limit resources.
As one Army spouse put it, “For us spouses at home, the days are long and lonely, and the jobs and careers are hard to come by. Or maybe there just isn’t money for full-time day care; perhaps our choice has been to stay home. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need a break. On a military base, grandmas are not here to care for the children, babysitters and date nights are hard to come by, and everyone else is in the same boat you are. Those precious few hours of being able to drop the kids off to play have been our lifeline to sanity in a world where literally nothing, from where we live to when we move, is in our control.”
Luckily, military families do have other options; the fee assistance and respite care programs provided by Child Care Aware® of America serve more than 10,000 military families per year. These programs were created to provide authorized military personnel with assistance in locating, selecting, and offsetting the cost of civilian child care when on-post child care is not available or is not a viable option for a service member and his or her family. And along with that assistance comes resources to support the child care search outside of the military gates. For military families, this public-private partnership between the Department of Defense (DOD) and CCAoA isn’t just a “nice to have,” it is a quality of life initiative that they truly can’t live without.
Find out more about the military fee assistance and respite programs here.
An Air Force Child from Birth to Adulthood: Adina’s Story
By Adina Young, Child Care Aware® of America
Being a child of a father serving in the U.S. Air Force looks glamorous (aside from being called an “Air Force Brat”)! I got to travel the world and see things most other children didn’t get to see. For instance, I lived in Italy for 3 years! My triplet sisters, Celeste, Courtney, and I were only 5 years old. and my older brother, Dennis, was 10.
As a young child, my mother didn’t work. My father was getting reassigned often or on temporary duty assignments (TDY) that often took him across the states and to other countries. It was always hard to find affordable child care for four young children – so my mother stayed home to care for us.
While we were living in Sumter, SC in 1986, my mother finally did find child care, but she could only afford to drop my sisters and me off for a couple of hours. She would run her errands, then pick us back up. On top of that, the child care provider only charged my mother for two children rather than three, but even then it was still extremely costly!
While living in Homestead, FL, my father and mother were looking to buy a home. With four growing children, it was difficult for them to save money with only one income. So my mother decided to return to the workforce. They were able to find child care but it was exorbitantly expensive, so my mother could only work part time, and on the days she worked, she had to leave her job to pick us up and take us to the child care facility, then head back to work.
As a child, I never had the opportunity to be fully integrated into a child care program due to affordability. I think I turned out alright, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been. Early childhood is a period of rapid development. Some research studies have documented the positive effects of early learning and caregiving experiences:
- Children who receive high-quality child care have shown better outcomes in socio-economic and health conditions as an adult, according to a 2016 Heckman report.
- Long-term analyses suggest that enrollment in early childhood education can increase earnings in adulthood by 1.3 to 3.5 percent, according to a 2014 report from the White House.
Affordable child care programs for military families and their dependents is important. These young men and women serve our country. Being able to afford quality child care should be the least of their worries.