Changes to Department of Defense managed child care programs will affect Kaiserslautern Military Community families starting Sept.1.
In February, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper released a policy change memo stating, “The DOD’s system of child care was established to assist Service members as they face the unique challenges associated with the demands of military service. Over time, child care access expanded to serve the total force, but we must not lose sight of the Service member and mission requirements.”
The revised policy raises the priority levels for most military customers. As a result, single and dual DOD Civilian employees will be in a lower child care priority category than their active duty counterparts.
Not unique to Ramstein, the availability of childcare for overseas military families and DOD employees has been an ongoing challenge. Some off-base German care centers remain out of reach to parents due to limited capacity and language barriers. Recognizing the struggles specific to overseas families, Ramstein team members ramped up efforts in recent years to create more provider availability.
“We are doing everything we can to problem-solve from all angles. We’ve worked with agencies to expedite the hiring process for caregivers, increased starting salaries of Non-Appropriated Fund child care employees and got a once-closed building back up and running for youth programs,” said Melissa Wesley, 86th Force Support Squadron child and youth services flight chief.
In 2018 the first-of-its-kind 86th FSS Key and Essential Family Child Care Provider Initiative incentivized military spouses to become certified child care providers. According to Wesley, that program opened 12 full-time child care spots and numerous spaces for additional evening and weekend care.
With the policy change on the horizon, the 86th FSS has a dedicated four-man team charged with further developing and designing future courses of action.
“We are looking at all options,” Wesley said. “We are thinking very creatively and outside the box.”
This week, the 86th Mission Support Group began notifying all families enrolled in Air Force child care programs of the policy change. The new priorities apply to all children currently enrolled in DOD child development centers, school-aged care programs and family child care homes.
Due to the KMC’s blended community, several Air Force families utilize Army child care programs and vice versa. The DOD policy applies to both services, but implementation and timing may differ depending on the branch.
“While these categories are scheduled to go into effect on 1 September, we (Department of the Army Child and Youth Services) still have not received operational guidance or the business rules for implementing the new categories,” said William Jason Etchell, U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz CYS Coordinator. “We are told this will come soon and will include a process for affected patrons to request an exception to policy.”
Etchell said that a memo went out to all Army CDC patrons Aug. 10 to notify them of the priority changes and included a message from the Installation Management Command-Europe Director, Mr. Tommy Mize.
“The intent of these changes ensures military members receive priority access to child care,” Mize wrote. “We understand there may be concerns with the possibility of children being supplanted or displaced from on-post Child Development Centers because of these changes. We also understand off-post options are limited and that Army Fee Assistance is not available in Europe. (Our) leaders are aware of these concerns.”
“Once we receive (implementation) guidance, we will notify customers who may be affected by these changes and work within our authorities to support them,” he added.
Wesley said the vast majority of Air Force customers are already in high-priority billets that cannot be supplanted; however, according to the new policy those occupying a lower priority billet could be supplanted.
“Another big change is in the past once you were in the program, and a valid user of the program, you would not be supplanted,” Wesley explained. “Now, if an individual in a higher priority spends more than 45 days past the date they needed care, then another person lower on the wait list would be supplanted.”
Supplanting requires families enrolled at a CDC or SAC with the lowest priority and most recent placement dates to be moved out. However, supplanting does not apply to FCC homes. If a customer is supplanted, the family will receive a written notification in order to give them time to arrange for care or to reactivate their original request with their most recent enrollment date as the request for care date.
“We are doing absolutely everything we can to assist families who may be impacted by the new policy,” assures Wesley.
In the near-term, COVID-19 restrictions have halted supplanting for both branches servicing families in the KMC until further notice. Both Etchell and Wesley reinforced that supplanting will not take place if an installation’s facilities are operating at reduced capacity to meet health protection guidelines.
Families already enrolled or on a wait list for a CDC or SAC on MilitaryChildCare.com require no additional action. All new requests for care must go through the MCC site.
For questions on policy changes, contact your appropriate Child and Youth Services provider. Air Force programs can be reached at DSN 480-6007 or commercially at 06371-47-6007.