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JBLM tackles child care challenges

Col. Phil Lamb, JBLM commander, spoke on ways he believes could lead to better access to child care for JBLM families during a symposium held at the Eagle’s Pride Golf Course in DuPont May 2. Photo credit: Pamela Sleezer

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD - With access to quality and affordable child care remaining a top concern at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, installation leaders met with child care program partners from across the state May 2 at the Eagle's Pride Golf Course in DuPont to discuss ways to combat the problem.

"This is the number one quality of life issue here," said Col. Phil Lamb, JBLM commander. "We are here today to knock down some barriers."

According to Candace Iavarone, child administrator for JBLM's Youth and School Services, there are more than 700 families waiting for an opening for their child at one of the child development centers on base, and those wait times can reach nearly a year for some age groups.

With that level of unmet need, Lamb said focus is now shifting to assist families with identifying child care providers off base that partner with the Department of Defense's child care fee assistance program, Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood.

MCCYN was recently expanded to allow for more providers to participate in the fee assistance program that covers the additional costs a military family would have to pay to utilize a civilian child care provider. Any provider within the state of Washington that meets DOD accreditation requirements may sign up to participate in the program.

Sandy Maldonado, director of Early Learning at Child Care Aware of Washington estimated that around 95 percent of child care providers surrounding JBLM meet those requirements, but only 13 percent are participating in the military's fee assistance program.

It is a problem that Olivia Burley, Washington military spouse liaison, has dedicated a lot of her time to researching. Burley has been contacting civilian child care providers in the surrounding JBLM communities to learn more about the program from their viewpoint, and she said many told her they are choosing not to participate.

Among their complaints regarding the program, Burley said civilian providers have cited extensive hours for processing documentation for the MCCYN payments, and a payment timeline that doesn't correlate with the providers billing schedule.

"These same providers already participate in tribal, foster and working connections state subsidy programs, but they are intentionally choosing not to participate in military fee assistance," Burley said.

While the symposium presented several areas of concern, it also provided the opportunity to share valuable information. Many learned for the first time about the website,, a DOD site that is the first stop for service members before they even arrive at their new duty station to connect them with their child care options.

Burley said the site has gone through many improvements recently and is now able to begin assisting service members within 24 hours of creating their profile on the site.

Command Sgt. Maj. Waylon Petty, JBLM command sergeant major, said he believed promoting the website would be a great first step in the right direction for incoming families.

"By promoting the website, we are setting them up for success," Petty said.

The meeting included several hours of lengthy discussion between program directors, and Iavarone said she couldn't have been happier with the outcome.

"We have had such amazing participation today, it's been incredible," Iavarone said. "We are all very happy with the turnout and response that we received today, and I'm very optimistic about the path forward."

Iavarone said further collaboration is already being planned. A special needs summit is planned for this fall, and Iavarone said follow-up child care discussions are being considered.

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