Leonor Ayala (right) teaches children about musical instruments in her home. She was named Family Child Care Provider of the Year at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., for her creativity and dedication to children. (Linda LaBonte Britt/Air Force)
Despite fears that civilian furloughs would force airmen to scramble for child care services, Air Force officials say exemptions to the furloughs, announced May 14, will help them keep day care center doors open.
Air Force civilians who provide child care services are among the Defense Department personnel faced with furloughs through Sept. 30. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said employees will take 11 days without pay starting July 8.
Senior Air Force leaders told members of Congress in April that civilian furloughs could force the service to reduce hours of operation, reduce the number of children in certain age classes to maintain the adult-to-child ratio, and even force working parents to adjust their work hours or find off-base care.
Civilians make up about 25 percent of the child care support staff at Air Force installations and nearly 100 percent of management and administrative teams responsible for health and safety standards.
But Candace M.E. Bird, chief of Air Force Child and Youth Programs, said the service was saved from taking drastic measures by some of the exemptions that Hagel included for specific groups of DoD employees. Civilians who work in direct care, such as desk clerks and food-service personnel at child development centers, are among those exempted from the furlough, allowing the service to minimize the impact on child care centers, Bird said.
“Furloughed child care management staff will adjust their schedules to facilitate continued operations while still ensuring appropriate safety, health and supervision procedures are in place,” Bird said in an emailed response to questions.
Bird also noted a building boom that has added 6,300 new spaces in recent years, cutting the wait list for families who need child care. Since September, the Air Force has reduced its waiting list by nearly 1,000 — from 4,153 to 3,190 by April 30.
In the face of sequestration, Air Force officials hope to continue to increase the number of child care spaces at large bases such as Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; and Travis Air Force Base, Calif. All have wait lists of 70 to more than 200 children. Five other bases also have construction underway: Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va.; Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.; Geilenkirchen Air Base, Germany; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany; and Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.
Bird said child care waiting lists at bases fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including changes in mission and operations tempo at a particular location, pending construction and higher demand for infants.
“We have significantly drawn down the need for new construction.,” Bird said. “We have a few remaining locations that we will continue to prioritize for new construction.”