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For almost a year, parents at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in need of periodic child care had nowhere to place their children for short trips to the doctor, the gym, or anywhere else.

A severe personnel shortage caused the child development program coordinator to end the base’s hourly care program.

But starting Monday, six child-care workers have come to the rescue.

“It was pretty full almost all of the time” before the closure, said Deanna Kurosawa, child development home director who also oversees child development programs. “The community loves it.”

Atsugi’s Child Development Center provides full-time care for certain eligible parents, usually single parents and parents who both work.

Hourly care allows those not eligible or enrolled in the CDC a safe place to drop kids off for special reasons. There are spaces for 36 children at a time. With turnover every few hours, that’s space for a lot of children, Kurosawa said.

The service was cut in April 2005 due to staff shortages. Under a Navy safety program created in January 2005, child-care workers had to pass a drug test before they could start working.

Finding job candidates in a small base population was hard enough. Then the actual drug test results took six weeks and, in one case, eight weeks to come back, Kurosawa said.

The delay, coupled with the high turnover of staff caused by rotations, left the center shorthanded.

“We were down by 16 employees for several months,” Kurosawa said.

Late last year, the Navy gave Atsugi and other Navy bases the break they needed.

Navy leaders created a special waiver that allows employees to start before their drug test results are in under special conditions, including that they must remain in sight of a qualified child-care employee. With the waiver and more proactive recruiting, the child development program regained its staffing.

Since Kurosawa found enough employees to resume the service, word has spread, she said. The first week is already fully booked.

“All you need to do is tell one person and e-mails were coming in, families were coming in,” she said. “The first day we were taking reservations they were lining up outside. Hourly care is very widely used over here.”

Drop off the kids

Hourly child care resumes Monday at Naval Air Facility Atsugi. Reservations are taken up to two weeks in advance and drop-ins are welcome on a space-available basis. The cost is $3 per hour and children can spend up to 25 hours a week in the care.

The service is available Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and on Friday nights for special occasions. Call 264-3588 for more information.

— Juliana Gittler

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