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Military

New Miramar child care center expected to shorten wait lists for military families

A new state-of-the-art child care center on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar became the first of three such facilities to open on a San Diego military base in October, and is the first step in expanding the capacity of a system strained by pandemic labor shortages and long waiting lists, Navy officials said.

The new child care center has room for more than 300 children. Though not yet fully staffed, Janet Hooten, the child development program manager for Navy Region Southwest, said when at capacity the new center will have room for many of the roughly 500 military children currently on the Miramar waiting list.

But even that's just a percentage of the overall need in San Diego.

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"(In) metro San Diego we have about 2,600 children on the wait list," Hooten said. "About 1,100 of those are under the age of 12 months."

The age of kids is significant because younger children — notably, infants — require a much smaller provider-to-child ratio, she said.

The latest figures from the Navy show an improvement since the summer of 2022, when more than 4,000 military children in San Diego were on the wait list.

Upon entering the new child care center, parents are greeted by a wall of large monitors that show each classroom in real time so that parents can stop and check on their kids. Each class opens to an age-appropriate outdoor playground surrounded by privacy fencing that shields them from the parking lots and Marine Corps Exchange gas station nearby.

Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-San Diego, sits on the House Armed Services Committee. Her district is home to the base as well as thousands of service members. Child care is among the issues she hears about most from them, she said.

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"The No. 1 thing that I hear from military families ... is really about quality of life issues — predominately housing and child care," Jacobs said. "I actually held a town hall with military families at Miramar over the summer and I heard from so many people about how hard it was to find quality and affordable child care."

Access to military child care versus outside care can be especially important for military families because the services subsidize that care, meaning families pay much less out of pocket.

Jacobs said she was able to get a provision added to next year's National Defense Authorization Act to make the child care wait lists more transparent, so service members will know how long they'll be waiting. She also added language to increase the pay and benefits for staff — something Hooten said is a challenge in getting positions filled.

"Our pay, our incentives, tuition assistance (and) transfer program — all those are very much different than (the private sector)," Hooten said, "so we're doing better."

The transfer program allows workers to keep their jobs as they transfer between bases. However, it only works within the same branch, so someone working at a child development center at another Marine base might not be able to transfer to Miramar because this center is managed by the Navy, Hooten said.

"So (the Pentagon) is really looking hard at that," she said.

Throughout the southwest the Navy is expanding capacity at its bases.

Another center on Miramar is being expanded, as are those at Naval Base San Diego and Coronado, Hooten said. A new center is being built at Naval Base Point Loma and she said further expansion at the Murphy Canyon center is being considered.

This is the place to find news, information and resources to help you make decisions about the children under your care and support you in this adventure we call "parenting."