Journal Issue: Caring for Infants and Toddlers Volume 11 Number 1 Spring/Summer 2001
Assuring Quality in Military Child Care Programs
The military is serious about its obligation toward the children in its care, and careful attention is paid to managing risk and assuring quality—especially in settings that serve infants and toddlers. This includes protecting children from physical and emotional harm, preventing false child abuse allegations against staff, and minimizing exposure to disease and unsafe conditions. It also encompasses a concerted effort to raise the quality of care to meet or exceed the standards of quality endorsed by nationally recognized professional organizations.
All military child development programs must be certified by DoD each year. DoD certification is the military equivalent of state licensing, and it represents verified compliance with specific standards regarding fire, health, safety, developmental programming, child abuse prevention, funding, and staff training. Four unannounced inspections are made each year—one by a multidisciplinary team that includes an early childhood professional, and one by a child care/technical specialist(s) from military headquarters. Enforcement is done under a "fix, waive, or close" policy. When the inspections first started, it was not unusual for child care facilities and programs to be partially or completely closed—temporarily or permanently. Now, that seldom occurs. Technical staff who work on the installation, such as the fire marshal, safety officer, and heath professionals, cooperate with the child care staff to achieve certification; and they share in the sense of pride when the certification process is successfully completed.
Beyond compliance with health and safety standards, a key indicator of child care quality is accreditation by an outside agency. As of May 2001, more than 98% of military child development centers had been accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). In contrast, less than 10% of child care centers in the United States have attained this level of recognized quality.9 Increasing the availability of military child care is crucial, but that goal is not pursued at the expense of quality. Currently, the military services provide child care sufficient to meet 63% of the demand, with a goal of meeting 80% of the need within five years.8