Military day care: is it a "model for the nation?"


by By Dale Gauding, 13News Investigator

Posted on May 20, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 30 at 3:36 PM

Many service families trust their children to military day care. The program is a high priority as a way to boost morale and retain members.

Most parents say they're happy with the quality of military day care. "I'm totally satisfied because I've used civilian day care before, and I wasn't pleased with the setting," said Jaqueline McDade. She has her son, Jamal, at Little Creek Child Development Center.

Over at Dam Neck CDC, you get the same reaction from Chief Juan Matos. "I just drop him (Justin) off and go to work," Chief Matos says.

One parent at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station CDC had a bad experience that made her feel like David against Goliath. Dawna Pringle said she was initially very pleased with what was happening there. But that changed when her son Stephen got a scratch under his eye. She wasn't pleased with the incident report or what a caregiver told her about it. So she asked to see the tape, just for her peace of mind, she says.

Stephen suffered the scratches in January 2001, a bite from another child in March and another under-eye scratch in June. "I was always told, the first two times, that the videotape was not working," Pringle said. After the third incident, she says, the center director told her to come by the next morning to view the tape. But when she got there, " I was told that the machine had eaten the tape."

13News asked Captain Chip Slaven, in charge of Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs in the region, about that. "We don't allow the parent of a bitten child to look at a tape, so they know who the child was who did the biting. We won't do that."

Captain Slaven laid down the law on the tapes when the Pringle issue got to his desk. "I'm satisfied that we don't have any evil caregivers and that we don't have any people who are covering up," he said.

Pringle wasn't so sure. "My biggest issue was that the incident report was inconsistent with the injury, which made me wonder if anybody actually witnessed the accident and was this being made up to protect those who were supposed to be in charge. That is the reason it continued to go up the chain of command, because I was getting the runaround," Pringle said.

The daily tapes are kept for three weeks. Pringle claims there was no clearly-written policy on parents looking at videotapes. But Slaven's letter to Pringle made it clear. "I have now instructed them, his staff, to maintain surveillance tapes for internal use only ... A request motivated by a parent's desire to identify another child is a clear invasion of privacy. We won't pit a parent against a parent."

Pringle says he had no desire to confront the parents of the biting child. She says she wanted to see if the staff were doing their job; if student/teacher ratios were being met.

Pringle says she's not a bitchy parent-- that she only wanted to know what happened. Stephen is no longer in military day care.

One change did come out of the Pringle incident. Captain Slaven's letter told awna that the incident report form had been revised, and staff were being trained to provide parents with more detail in reports of minor injuries and other events involving their kids.

Meantime, the military day care system won a presidential citation in 1996 as a "model for the nation."

In Part two of Military Day Care on Tuesday, 13News investigates just how strict inspectors can be in writing up minor problems and what local CDC's did to correct those problems after the most recent annual inspections last summer. We'll also tell you what you, as a navy parent, can expect if you ask for information.