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4 Things to Know: Hiring Freeze Child Care Closures

A federal hiring freeze put in place in late January by President Donald Trump is having some surprise ramifications on a few military bases worldwide. But what do you need to know?

First, here's a little background. The late-January hiring freeze impacts all federal agencies and is designed to last at least 90 days. The result has been that some bases are feeling a big worker pinch, specifically when it comes to child care. That's at least in part because child care services on bases already have retention problems and require a long lead time for hiring due to background checks and other training.

So what is going on? And how does it impact you?

Hiring Freeze Child Care Closures - What You Need to Know

There is a freeze exemption for child care workers -- but it doesn't work the way you'd think. In early February the Defense Department announced that 16 categories of employees are exempt from those freezes -- including child care workers. But that doesn't mean base officials can just go ahead and hire the people in those categories. (Wouldn't that be easy? Silly, nothing is that easy.)

Instead the military services have ordered that base officials get permission from top service officials that the positions they are filling are, in fact, needed. That means instead of just hiring those child care workers, bases had to get the green light from the Pentagon. That delay added to the delays already in play. In short: double trouble. 

The result? Big hiring delays, a child care shortage and program closures. Because base officials don't have enough child care providers and getting them started on jobs takes so long even after they get permission to hire them, they just don't have the manpower to keep programs open.

And even though Army Pentagon officials said Feb. 23 that everything was good and the Army programs wouldn't be closed, base officials are saying something different. On Fort Knox, Kentucky that means officials still plan to shut down hourly care and part-day programs until further notice effective Monday, Feb. 27. On U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, Germany, that means they are closing until further notice part-day programs starting March 1. And on Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, officials plan to shorten the hours for school aged care and the teen center starting mid-March, according to a post on their Facebook page (although Navy officials said they hope to ultimately avoid that change). 

Will more bases see child care program cuts and closures? Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force officials have said they don't expect anymore closure announcements -- but the announcements have come anyway. The best way to keep up with what your base is doing is to check with your local programs. It is my sense that no one is immune, and this is not the result of poor planning on the base commanders' faults. Sometimes the red tape involved in the process and the trickle down effect of top-level decisions simply have unintended consequences. 

What should you do if you need child care? Trust me, I've got two kids and a full time job. I know nothing is worse than child care plans that fall through when you need them most. I've personally relied on hourly care before. This is not a small thing. If there's a silver lining, it's that everyone on your base is in the same boat. Now is a great time to leverage child care swaps and group in-home care. Think about going in with a few others for a temporary nanny share. I know that's not ideal -- and I know it's easier said than done. None of this is great.  

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