Military child care: Coast Guard takes steps to increase access for families


What the GAO found

Compared to the Department of Defense (DOD), the U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard) operates proportionally fewer on-site Child Development Centers, so most eligible Coast Guard members receive financial assistance for help them obtain child care services through community providers. According to GAO’s analysis of agency data, the Coast Guard serves 82 percent of enrolled children through community providers who participate in its fee assistance program. In contrast, the DOD serves 77 percent of children enrolled in its onsite child development centers (see figure). Most DOD and Coast Guard child development centers have wait lists and as of March 2022, the Coast Guard and DOD reported having 361 and 14,034 children on wait lists, respectively; most of these children were infants and toddlers. Families enrolled in financial assistance programs, like many families seeking child care, may have difficulty obtaining care when spaces are limited at community providers in their area. A third, less-used program offered by the DOD and Coast Guard is the Family Child Care program in which military families provide in-home child care for their children and the children of other military families.

Percentage of Children Enrolled by Type of Coast Guard and Department of Defense (DOD) Child Care Programs

Note: Due to rounding, the percentage of children enrolled in Coast Guard programs adds up to more than 100%. Child Development Center data is from 2019 and includes children in school-age programs. Fee assistance data is from 2022 and family care data is from 2019. Due to the disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has had on child care services and programs in 2020, the GAO did not review this year’s data.

The Coast Guard is working to increase access to quality child care by planning facility upgrades and centralizing information for families. In a March 2022 report to Congress, the Coast Guard said it plans to build four new children’s development centers and renovate existing ones, which will provide access to on-site child care to more children. families. The Coast Guard has also centralized and updated information online to help families find child care in their communities. Additionally, the Coast Guard has increased Fee Assistance Grant amounts to help make child care more affordable, especially for families who live in high-cost areas.

Why GAO Did This Study

To help personnel balance work and family life, the Coast Guard offers child care programs—both on base and in the communities where its personnel live—similar to those offered by the DOD. Military families, like others, have difficulty finding child care for a variety of reasons, such as the limited number of providers and the high cost of child care.

The William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 includes a provision for the GAO to report on available child care and school-age child care programs for qualified Coast Guard families and how these compare to DOD programs.

This report examines how the Coast Guard (1) compares to the DOD in providing access to child care for its personnel, and (2) strives to increase access to quality child care through its programs.

GAO analyzed data from Coast Guard and DOD child care programs, including March 2022 Fee Assistance Program data (most recent available) and Data from the Child Care Development Center. 2019 Child and Family Child Care Report (for consistency with data previously reported by DOD). The GAO also reviewed agency documentation and interviewed agency officials.

For more information, contact Kathryn A. Larin at (202) 512-7215 or [email protected].


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