‘First Child Free’ program eases burden for JBER’s working parents

Inside the Gates
‘First Child Free’ program eases burden for JBER’s working parents
Published: Aug. 2, 2023 at 8:24 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When her husband started a new chapter with the U.S. Air Force that relocated the couple from Oklahoma to Alaska, Hailey Debar had a job already waiting for her at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

“When we transferred here, I kind of transferred with the [Child Development Center] from Oklahoma to here,” Debar said.

Working in childcare, Debar is able to work practically anywhere her husband is stationed. Plus, her job at the center guarantees a spot for her three-month-old daughter in daycare through the First Child Free program.

The incentive gives employees free daycare enrollment for their first child, and a discount for any additional children they enroll.

“I think that is what has helped me decide that I want to stay with the CDCs, because I didn’t want my entire paycheck to go to daycare payments, diapers and wipes for home and the CDC and travel,” Debar said.

Currently, the base is facing a staffing shortage in their childcare centers, with some centers are being taken offline entirely. Currently, only four development centers on the base are operating as normal.

“Over half our childcare spaces are left empty due to staffing,” Chief of Child and Youth Programs Heather Weafer said. “So we have 208 authorizations for childcare workers, direct care staff. And we are sitting at 58%.”

Weafer added also the centers face a heavy turnover rate. According to Weafer, new employees quit within two to three weeks on the job due to the difficulty of the work.

The First Child Free program is just one of the incentives that are currently being used to help acquire staff on JBER. Another incentive includes increasing starting wages to $18 per hour and giving raises as soon as six months into the job. Non-military affiliates will also receive commissary privileges. Plus, staff are guaranteed 20 hours a week with paid and sick leave.

“The medical is very good here — you get the 401K, you get the retirement, your nights are off, your weekends are off. You get holidays off,” Debar said. “You are literally just Monday through Friday with the children — and again, if you have children, you are still with your children.”

During her shift, Debar said she is able to peek in on her daughter and knows the teachers that work with her daily. Her job allows her to continue bringing home an income and get the opportunity to watch her daughter grow up nearby.

“The burden is just not on my husband, that I am there I can help with anything, and it makes me feel good that I can help provide for my child as well,” Debar said.

“It was very helpful because I think when you travel, or PCS — especially if you are a military spouse — you don’t know,” Debar continued. “You don’t know where you are going to go. You don’t know what’s going to happen. If you don’t have a degree in something, you don’t know where really you are going to work. And with the CDC, it definitely eased that transition. I was able to go from one CDC to another, and know that I was okay, taken care of with me and my family and I had a job.”