RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- Ramstein is rolling out a first-of-its-kind program in the Air Force aimed at easing the chronic shortage of child care providers in the Kaiserslautern area.
This is how it will work: Military spouses who volunteer and qualify to be a family child care provider will move to the top of the waiting list for on-base housing.
In exchange, they'll sign a contract agreeing to provide child care of up to 50 hours a week per child, for up to six children, for at least 18 months.
Candidates will have to pass stringent background checks and complete up to 40 hours of training, among other requirements. Homes will be subject to safety, fire and public health inspections.
Under the program, announced this week, up to 10 new Family Child Care providers may be designated "key and essential" personnel and earn priority placement for military family housing on Landstuhl, Vogelweh and Ramstein, base officials said.
They'll be matched to available homes according to their spouse's military rank and number of command-sponsored dependents. They can request a base, though wait times are longest for Ramstein.
FCC candidates in the program can turn down the first base home offered but will lose their priority placement if they refuse a second time.
Senior officers in pay grades 0-6 and above and enlisted quarters for E-9s are not included.
"We're trying to develop this as an incentive for people to volunteer to help … get the mission done here," said Lt. Col. Kathryn M. Kilker, 86th Civil Engineer Squadron commander.
"That's why we're able to say this is ‘key and essential' because it's mission needs so that we can take care of the families so people can go to work."
Base housing is an incentive in the Kaiserslautern military community, where only about 1,500 homes are on base, compared to about 12,000 in the area off base, officials said.
Families who are deployed overseas for the first time say they prefer on-base housing, said Heather Lewis, housing management assistance chief.
"A lot of them say that, with children, they like to be around other American kids and walk to school," she said.
Wait times for on-base housing vary by rank, housing type and base. Ramstein has the longest wait time -- more than two years for some categories.
Currently, there are only eight licensed FCC providers in the Kaiserslautern Military Community. All of those are off-base and at capacity, officials said.
"This is a test case," Kilker said. "We're going to see how this goes. We are the first … in the Air Force to do this."
FCC providers are particularly sought out by shift workers, who need care after hours when base child development centers are closed.
But the lack of day care in the largest U.S. military community overseas affects all families seeking child care.
Even families where both parents work and single-parent families aren't offered day care immediately, with wait times depending on a child's age and type of care needed, base officials said Thursday. Spaces on Ramstein are most in demand, they said.
Families a year ago described to Stars and Stripes some of the measures they've taken to find care so they could go to work, including taking their kids to the office or having a grandparent live with them.
At the time, there were more than 400 children on the Air Force and Army child care waiting lists in the community - 206 children on the Air Force CDC waiting list and 225 on the Army's list.
About 140 children are currently on the Air Force waitlist for child care, said Michael Simones, the CDC/FCC manager for the community. The Army numbers were not immediately available.
Simones said child care programs are still recovering from the 90-day federal hiring freeze instituted in 2017 by President Donald Trump.
"It killed us because it included (non-appropriated fund workers)," Simones said. "It's taken us to this point to catch up."
The new program is the most recent effort by base officials to shrink wait times for child care, said Lt. Col. Natosha Reed, 86th Force Support Squadron commander.
The average hiring time for base child care workers has been reduced from two months to one and base officials recently created more than 90 school-age program spots by opening a building that had been shuttered for years.
Compounding the shortage of child care spaces on base are fewer opportunities for American children to attend public German day care centers.
A law passed in 2013 mandated that every child in Germany over the age of 1 has the legal right to child care. While German day care centers can take Americans, even if they're given a lower priority than Germans, many in Kaiserslautern and surrounding areas choose not to do so.