Mission: Affordable Childcare – Navigating the Unique Challenges for Military Families

military baby, on an American flag, wrapped in a yellow ribbon

As a military family, you’re no stranger to challenges. But one hurdle that often catches military couples off guard is the complex world of military childcare. From astronomical costs to seemingly endless waitlists, childcare issues can quickly become a mission-critical concern. Let’s dive into the current landscape, explore available resources, and discuss strategies to make quality childcare more accessible for our nation’s heroes. 

The Childcare Crisis in Numbers 

The statistics paint a stark picture of the childcare challenges facing military families: 

  • According to a 2020 Blue Star Families survey, 44% of active-duty families reported that a lack of childcare has negatively impacted their ability to pursue employment or education.
  • The National Military Family Association found that the average wait time for on-base Child Development Centers (CDCs) is 6-12 months, with some families waiting up to 18 months for a spot.
  • A 2021 study by the RAND Corporation revealed that 79% of military spouses cited childcare as a significant barrier to employment.
  • The same study found that military families spend an average of 15.4% of their income on childcare, compared to the Department of Health and Human Services’ recommendation of no more than 7%.

These numbers highlight a critical issue: the current childcare system is struggling to meet the unique needs of military families. 

The CDC Conundrum 

Military Child Development Centers (CDCs) are often seen as the gold standard for on-base childcare. They offer quality care at subsidized rates, making them an attractive option for many families. However, the demand far outstrips the supply, leading to those infamous waitlists. Priority understandably goes to dual-military couples, or to families with both parents employed full-time. However, this makes it challenging for a military spouse seeking work to secure a childcare spot during the job search. 

Adding to the complexity, military families often face frequent moves and deployments, which can disrupt childcare arrangements and push them to the back of the line at new duty stations. 

Off-Base Options: A Mixed Bag 

For those unable to secure a CDC spot or living far from base, off-base childcare presents its own set of challenges. Finding providers who understand the unique demands of military life – including long or unconventional hours, last-minute schedule changes, and the need for deployment support – can be a mission in itself. 

Additionally, the cost of private childcare can be prohibitive, especially in high-cost-of-living areas where many military bases are located. Military families often find themselves competing against the civilian population for quality, affordable care.

Military Childcare Community Resources 

Fortunately, several organizations are working to address these challenges: 

  • Child Care Aware of America offers fee assistance programs for military families, helping to offset the cost of community-based childcare.
  • The Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood initiative helps families find quality, affordable care in their local communities.
  • The National Military Family Association (NMFA) advocates for policy changes to improve childcare access and affordability for military families.
  • Operation Homefront provides emergency financial assistance to military families, which can include childcare costs in times of crisis.

5 Financial Strategies for Military Families 

While systemic changes are needed to fully address the childcare crisis, there are some steps you can take to make childcare more affordable: 

  1. Childcare Share Programs: Partner with other military families to share nanny services or create a babysitting co-op. This can significantly reduce costs while providing care that understands the military lifestyle.
  2. Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs): If available through your benefits package, utilize a Dependent Care FSA to set aside pre-tax dollars for childcare expenses.
  3. Tax Credits: Don’t forget to claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit on your taxes, which can provide some relief come tax season.
  4. Side Hustles: As a temporary solution, consider flexible, work-from-home opportunities that allow you to earn income while caring for your children. 
  5. Utilize Installation Resources: Many military bases offer hourly care options or parent’s night out programs at reduced rates. While not a full-time solution, these can provide occasional relief.

Budgeting for Success with GoVA’s The Edge 

Navigating childcare costs requires careful financial planning. That’s where GoVA’s The Edge comes in. This free platform offers military families personalized financial tools and resources, including: 

  • Interactive Budgeting Tools: Visualize your expenses and identify areas where you can potentially cut back to allocate more towards childcare.
  • Savings Calculators: Set childcare savings goals and track your progress over time.
  • Financial Education Courses: Learn strategies for managing your money more effectively, including tips for reducing childcare costs.
  • Personalized Action Plans: Receive tailored advice for your unique financial situation, including how to balance childcare costs with other financial goals.

By leveraging these tools, you can gain a clearer picture of your finances and make informed decisions about childcare spending. Membership to The Edge is free to service members, Veterans, and spouses, so you can register for free today and start using these tools to manage your budget. 

Military Childcare: The Road Ahead 

While the childcare landscape for military families remains challenging, there is hope on the horizon. Increased awareness of the issue has led to new initiatives and policy proposals aimed at improving access and affordability. 

In the meantime, by staying informed, utilizing available resources, and employing smart financial strategies, you can navigate these challenges and ensure your children receive the care they deserve – without breaking the bank. 

Remember, you’re not alone in this mission. Reach out to your installation’s family support services, connect with other military families, and take advantage of resources like GoVA’s The Edge to build a solid financial foundation for your family’s future. 

Together, we can tackle the childcare challenge and ensure our military families have the support they need to thrive. 

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About Our Partnership with TowneBank Mortgage

At GoVA, we’re proud to partner with a lender that delivers peace of mind to those who have served and continue to serve our county. Together, GoVA and TowneBank Mortgage are committed to helping our military service members achieve their dreams of homeownership, as well as providing them with valuable resources along the way. As experienced lenders, TowneBank Mortgage understands the need for a quick and easy mortgage process, especially during life’s transitional moments. Headquartered in Norfolk, just miles from the world’s largest naval base, TowneBank Mortgage has had the honor of helping thousands of military families through their VA loan offerings. Their team is knowledgeable about VA products and the local market, and in-house operations allow them to respond to questions and concerns in a timely manner. Together, we can get you to closing in 30 days or less. Trust TowneBank Mortgage and GoVA loans to get you home.

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