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Erin Becote, a teacher in the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, talks with children as they play in the center's sandbox.

Erin Becote, a teacher in the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, talks with children as they play in the center's sandbox. (David J. Carter / S&S)

Erin Becote, a teacher in the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, talks with children as they play in the center's sandbox.

Erin Becote, a teacher in the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, talks with children as they play in the center's sandbox. (David J. Carter / S&S)

Rose San Agustin, the program leader for the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, demonstrates a plank-walking activity to children.

Rose San Agustin, the program leader for the preschool room at Yokosuka Naval Base's Child Development Center, demonstrates a plank-walking activity to children. (David J. Carter / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Faced with a staffing crisis that threatened their ability to care for the community’s children, Misawa officials came up with a unique plan earlier this year: They put U.S. military personnel to work in the Child and Youth Services program.

The situation is not exclusive to Misawa. Nearly every overseas U.S. military base reported staffing shortages when queried in recent weeks. And many are scrambling to find ways to hire and keep employees.

Kelly B. Hruska, deputy director for government relations with the National Military Family Association, said there is a tremendous need for child care in the U.S. military community.

She said a little more than half of the 1.1 million children of military families identified in a 2007 census were 7 or younger.

Hruska said the Defense Department has long realized the need for top-notch child care, especially in overseas locations, and is still investing the money to build the centers.

The problem, she said, is the staffing.

“You can build them, but who’s going to staff them?” she asked.

Misawa officials said the decision to take 11 servicemembers out of their daily jobs and reassign them temporarily to work with the children beginning in September was easy because the base was “out of options.”

“It’s either that or artificially say, ‘Nope — I have a staffing capacity limitation.’ … And that means you are going to have to tell parents that they need to find a family child care provider” or seek off-base care in the Japanese system, said Col. David P. Wiegand, commander of the 35th Mission Support Group.

“We were not going to have sufficient staff to handle even all of our priority one folks,” he said. Military day care centers prioritize usage, giving single military parents and dual military couples first chance at care.

The troops assigned to work with the children were not in military uniform and underwent the same background check and initial training as every new employee in the CYS program, he said.

It was possible to put them to work because, as a remote assignment, Misawa is authorized to use both appropriated and nonappropriated funding in its child care programs.

As the center has gradually hired more civilians, the servicemembers have been sent back to their squadron, he said, and only a few were still working in early December.

Now, the push is on at Misawa to hire 30 Japanese employees, a $750,000 investment in stability.

Wiegand said that when he took command in July, he looked around the base and saw how instrumental Japanese employees were in other squadrons. Wiegand said he wanted that in the CYS program.

“If we could build a cadre of Japanese nationals who are qualified and certified … it would be a pretty powerful mix to bring to our child care programs here at Misawa,” he said.

Since Japan wasn’t going to agree to fund additional positions at Misawa, the base had to pay for them.

CYS officials with the Europe Region Installation Management Command — which has programs on 17 garrisons in Germany, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands — have struggled to keep their centers properly staffed following the heavy deployment schedules in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since 2004, the command has spent about $1.9 million a year bringing college students to Europe on short-term visas to work in the centers, said Cherri Verschraegen, who heads command’s program. She said 82 interns — the most since the program was initiated — are currently working at Army care centers across Europe.

The “obvious question” facing planners, Verschraegen said, is how they’ll staff the 10 new facilities that are going to be built in Europe, some as part of the restationing of U.S. forces.

She said the first thought is to bring more interns and to increase incentives for full-time employees.

Yongsan Garrison, in South Korea, suffers the same staffing shortages as other centers worldwide.

In April, garrison commander Col. Dave Hall signed an Army covenant introducing new incentives to hire and keep employees in the CYS program. The incentives included recruiting and retention bonuses, reduced child care fees for employees and free or reduced college tuition.

Melody Hill, director of Yongsan’s Child Development Center, said the efforts are “working nicely,” especially with staff staying on the job longer.

But it’s still not easy to hire enough employees, she said.

“I think we’re going to have to think outside of the box a little bit more if we’re going to meet the demands of the community,” Hill said.

Barbara Thompson, director of the DOD’s Office of Family Policy/Children and Youth, applauded staffing efforts at military bases.

“They’re finding a solution to make sure that parents can go to work and not worry about their children,” she said.

Thompson, who has oversight of the DOD child development and youth programs serving about 400,000 children daily at 300 locations, said that some people think of a job with CYS as a temporary measure instead of a potential career.

While recruiting and retention bonuses can help, Thompson thinks the “opportunity for professional growth” also should be stressed. She pointed out that each military base has a CYS program, so a child care job doesn’t go away because of a transfer to a new duty station.


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