- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2002

VIRGINIA BEACH Three investigations during the summer involving sailors accused of leaving their children alone at home have raised the question of whether affordable, quality day care is readily available to Navy families.
Navy officials say those cases did not have to happen. They say the Navy offers many resources, including parenting classes, support groups and subsidized child care on base and in certified private homes.
"It's a tragedy that the instances occurred," said Sharon Peterson, head of the community support branch at the Navy personnel command in Millington, Tenn. "The fact that they occurred didn't have anything to do with the availability of child care."
Several parents said they were satisfied with the way the Navy helps parents with child care.
"There's plenty of day care out there," said Sabrina Smythe, whose husband is stationed at Norfolk Naval Station and who occasionally drops off her three children at her neighbor's Navy child development home. "You just have to do the paperwork, and a lot of people don't want to do it."
Still, the neglect cases have caused local Navy officials to consider what more they could have done.
"Things like this happen, and you wonder, what are we doing wrong?" said Capt. Phil Garcia, spokesman for Naval Support Activity Norfolk. "Frankly, in the best of our consciences, there's nothing."
In southeastern Virginia, the Navy operates accredited child development centers on seven bases. The centers can accommodate about 1,000 children and have 128 openings for children 2 years and older. There is a waiting list for openings for younger children
There is no waiting list to place a child in one of 265 homes in the Navy's child development homes program, including 67 that are close to being approved. The homes have 342 openings for children from 6 weeks to 8 years old. The Navy trains the providers, often Navy spouses, and does criminal background checks. The homes are inspected by fire and safety officials, and Navy monitors conduct monthly unannounced visits.
Parents pay a weekly fee based on annual family income, ranging from $53 per child for those who make as much as $23,000, to $114 per child for those who make $70,000 or more.
The Navy Marine Corps Relief Society can also provide as much as two weeks' of child care expenses in cases of financial hardship.
The base centers' hours vary, with most open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Some of the homes offer care on nights and weekends.

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