Military parents with young children report that the need for early care and education services, including child care, parenting classes and high-quality pre-kindergarten, tops their list of day-to-day needs, according to a new study by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.
The study, entitled “On the Home Front: Early Care and Education a Top Priority for Military Families,” found that the cost and long waiting lists for military-provided child care means many families do not get the services they need. The survey targeted 500 military households from all branches of service with children under age ten, including Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel, to evaluate the distinct challenges facing military families with young children. Frequent relocations and the cycle of deployment – preparation, separation and reunification – all cause disruptions that can have profound emotional and educational consequences for children in military households.
Families who use the Department of Defense's (DOD) Child Care Development Centers (CDCs) on military installations are very satisfied with them. However, fewer than half of eligible families take advantage of CDCs largely because of long waiting lists and cost, according to the survey. Results suggest that steps taken by the DOD to meet the growing demand for family services are welcomed, but more action is needed to support families, especially those in the Guard and Reserve.
“Military parents need reliable access to high-quality early care and education to reduce worry and minimize the disruption caused by frequent and repeated deployment,” said retired Army Major General James W. Comstock, who serves on the executive advisory committee of Mission Readiness, a national security nonprofit group of 200 retired generals and admirals. “Policy makers need to provide increased access to early childhood education to prepare military children for success in school and in life.”
The survey also found that 89 percent of military families surveyed overwhelmingly support free, voluntary, high-quality, pre-k programs for all children, including the children of our country's service men and women.
“The children of our nation's military personnel experience a unique set of social, emotional and educational challenges,” said Marci Young, director of Pre-K Now. “High-quality pre-k programs can provide stability and foster the skills these children need to cope with change and prepare them for kindergarten.”
The analysis represents the findings of a survey of 500 active duty, National Guard or Reserve service members or spouses of service members who have children under ten years of age. Families whose youngest child is between six and ten were asked to recall their experience when that child was under five. Individual interviews were conducted with five DOD personnel who oversee or work in child care programs for military families. Two focus groups were conducted in Virginia Beach, VA among parents of children under five who were service members themselves and/or the spouse of a service member. The Mellman Group conducted the survey research and Public Opinion Strategies provided focus group findings.