1,000 Coast Guard Kids May Get Kicked Out of On-Base Care as DoD Reorganizes

United States Coast Guard Academy Child Development Center.
Photo of events at the United States Coast Guard Academy Child Development Center Jan. 5, 2012. (U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley)

About 1,000 children of active-duty Coast Guard families could lose their spots at base child development centers (CDCs) under a new Defense Department policy effective June 1, the Coast Guard commandant told Congress on Tuesday.

The DoD announced Monday its plans to give active-duty families priority spots for base CDCs and create three main priority levels with subcategories.

"We were caught up in that," Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told lawmakers in a House Committee on Appropriations hearing Tuesday. "We went to pretty much the lowest rung on that. I'm not sure if that was an unintended consequence or not, so I intend to have some high-level discussions with my DoD peers to find out what was the real intention there."

The lowest-priority category will grant spots on a space-available basis. Priority 3 includes the Coast Guard, DoD contractors, Gold Star spouses and DoD civilian employees who have a spouse looking for a job or are in school.

Related: Military Families Get Access to Hundreds More Child Care Centers in Pilot Program

Bases will begin sending out supplant notices June 1, giving the families notified 45 days to find alternative child care.

This decision comes as Defense Secretary Mark Esper reshapes policies to focus on mission readiness.

"Over time, child care access expanded to serve the total force, but we must not lose sight of the service member and mission requirements," Virginia Penrod, acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, said in a statement. "We must ensure that our military members and families have the support needed in order to be mission ready."

Schultz told the hearing that one reason the Coast Guard might have been excluded is that the service is required by law to prioritize its members and civilians over DoD service members.

"If you sort of did a quid pro quo -- you look across there a little bit -- DoD military folks are below some of our folks," he said. "So if they did that as a baseline, I would say this doesn't look so egregious. You can kind of see it."

Despite this, Schultz said he wants to understand why the Coast Guard was excluded. "Worst case, I would advocate to grandfather folks that are in there so that we're not displacing folks with 45-day warnings."

Last year, the Navy told Congress it had 8,000 personnel on the child care waiting list. While the Army did not specify its number, officials said some families had waited six or more months.

Nicole Russell, National Military Family Association government relations deputy director, said some families are signing up at several surrounding bases, therefore artificially inflating the number of families waiting. Families also join waitlists before their permanent change-of-station move, increasing the perceived wait time.

Under the new rules, the highest priority will be CDC staff themselves -- labeled as 1A -- and families where one or both parents are active duty or the spouse is working full-time, classified as 1B. These two categories, 1A and 1B, cannot be supplanted by the others.

Category 1C includes active-duty families with a spouse working part-time or looking for work;

families where the spouse is a full-time student are classified as 1D.

DoD civilian employees or those with a full-time working spouse are the next step down, Priority 2 -- just above the lowest category.

Russell said that, while the Coast Guard exemption is already raising concerns among those families, it's a good change overall.

"I think this new policy truly prioritizes the active-duty, military family," she said. "Child care is, unfortunately, a problem for many families in the U.S., but I think this truly recognizes and puts the family first."

A complete breakdown of the new priorities can be found here.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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