Finding suitable childcare is tricky for many parents but the unique nature of military life can make it more challenging for army families. Jill Misson reports…

Frequent moves and uncertainty around future assignment locations mean that childcare places can be difficult to source and families face a lack of availability or choice. Many also struggle with the cost.

Families’ experiences

Army spouse Annie Hennessey says: “We’ve had five military house moves in just under four years. Our eldest has had four nursery places in the last year and we have just managed to secure our youngest into childcare but we are due to be posted again in under a year.”

Alyshia Humphrys is a paediatric nurse who almost had to give up her career. She says: “Childcare is extortionate and doesn’t cover the hours I need for long shifts. I rely on friends to walk the eldest to school and book him into after-school and holiday clubs, however, there aren’t always spaces.

“By the time we have got into a routine we may have to move and start the process again of finding jobs that work with school hours and joining waiting lists for childcare.”

Balancing work and home life

As part of the Haythornthwaite Review of Armed Forces Incentivisation, service leavers were asked about their reasons for resigning. The report, published in June 2023, revealed that 44 per cent had mentioned childcare challenges.

AFF works closely with the MOD through Defence Children Services (DCS) and Armed Forces Families and Safeguarding (AFFS) to highlight the difficulties that families face when trying to balance work and home life around childcare availability, while ensuring their children have access to a quality setting which is beneficial for development.

Wraparound childcare

Through the MOD Wraparound Childcare scheme (WAC) eligibile families can claim up to 20 hours of funding during term-time for each child aged four to 11. A simpler registration and claims process integrated into Joint Personnel Administration (JPA) was launched in February. To find out how to apply and use the WAC benefits calculator, go online to

A spokesperson for Defence says: “We have supported over 7,300 service families with WAC since the scheme rolled out across the UK in autumn 2022. Making it easier for armed forces partners to return to work and easing financial pressures on households is hugely important to us.”

An MOD feedback survey highlighted the positive impact WAC is having on family finances, morale and retention. One serving person described it as a “game changer and a massive help in providing much-needed financial support considering the current cost-ofliving crisis”.

While it is a step in the right direction, WAC doesn’t help all families as it doesn’t extend to holiday care nor does it include families where the partner is currently in full-time education gaining qualifications.

In many areas families cannot access WAC as either suitable wraparound care is not available or the provider does not accept tax-free childcare voucers as payment. There is currently no overseas equivalent.

Holiday care needed

Hannah Routledge uses the scheme but feels it doesn’t go far enough. She says: “It does help and we are grateful but I would like to see a realistic hourly rate for childcare costs and extended provision so that spouses can work full-time, as 20 hours doesn’t cover commuting. It would relieve a burden if some holiday care was covered, at least during deployments.”

The capped funding rates for WAC are based on the annual average regional costs determined by Coram Family and Childcare. In some areas families will not need to pay anything extra whereas in other areas families need to pay extra on top of the capped rate.

As childcare providers set their own rates, this was determined to be the fairest way to work out funds for each location across the UK.

Overseas offer

Defence is now reviewing how it can expand childcare support more widely to families serving overseas. AFF encourages parents to fully research childcare options before an overseas posting, especially when it’s essential to support dual-serving couples, singleserving soldiers or to allow for partner employment. Details on childcare available in each location should be in the prearrival guide provided by the welfare team.

AFF Overseas Manager Esther Thomas says: “Not all overseas locations have MOD-approved childcare and provision will need to be sourced independently by parents.

“Where host nation provision is used, eligible families will be able to claim Overseas Nursery Authority for actual costs.”

There may be other local considerations such as extra childhood immunisations being needed to attend US childcare facilities or some countries only offering childcare places to children who are going fulltime.

To increase available childcare, Esther would like to see greater support for those who wish to train and become regulated childminders overseas and for them to be able to accept tax-free childcare vouchers when registered.

Support on social

Serving personnel with children are turning to social media for support thanks to the Army Parents’ Network (APN). Its Facebook group, which has more than 5,000 members, is run by APN chairman Ben Davey.

He says: “The online presence is a fantastic helpful community where we can all ask questions about anything parent-related and members can individually contribute their professional and personal experience.

“In response to specific issues, we can engage directly with service members’ chain of command if they consent. We also have direct access to our champion, currently Maj Gen Robin Lindsay, Commander Field Army in his role as gender champion, and the Deputy Chief of the General Staff, who makes time in her diary to speak with us directly once a quarter.”

Childcare queries crop up regularly in the forum. Ben says: “The expense of childcare is a constant issue; the introduction of wraparound childcare has helped, but it excludes a major portion of the most expensive childcare – those with children aged up to four – so we urgently need to realign support to people with younger children.

“The problem of juggling childcare and deployment is unique to the military, and it is a common question. Our chain of command needs to better understand the breadth of flexible service; using it to support our serving parents while also retaining and investing in their talent.”

Childcare expansion

Government funding for early years childcare has been expanded to two-year-olds but only in England. Families are advised to use to see how the offer will apply to them, as well as seeing what other childcare support is available.

AFF anticipates that in some areas demand for places will exceed supply and therefore getting in touch with providers early is key when moving to a new location.

Anna Hutchinson says AFF wants to hear from families: “We urge you to contact us to let us know your childcare experiences.

“We can feed this back to policy and decision makers in order for them to fully understand the impact army life has on your children.”

Main photo: Alyshia and her children

Related Posts