To provide feedback on the Community Policing Dispatch, e-mail the editorial board at CPDispatch@usdoj.gov.
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The challenge of working at a demanding job while parenting makes child care support not only a powerful recruiting tool but also a critical benefit for existing employees, enabling officers to work various shifts or overtime and allowing all personnel to stay on the job during school closures. An additional advantage is that working parents can focus better on their work without the stress of having to deal with babysitting or worry that their children aren’t well cared for.
Though valuable to all officers, childcare support is especially attractive to female recruits—an employee pool that is underrepresented in the law enforcement work force in both sworn and nonsworn positions.
According to Kym Craven, Executive Director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), the need for childcare support is a frequently recurring topic at their roundtable meetings. “There’s no question that this is a priority—it has come up in every single focus group we’ve done. There’s a strong sentiment that things have to change to allow it.”
This is a view shared by many law enforcement leaders, including Santa Clara (California) County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who has been quoted in the press as saying that she wants to provide round-the-clock, affordable childcare for her deputies. Says Smith, “Departments lose out on quality applicants who can’t find or can’t afford the childcare to cover law enforcement’s work hours.”
To meet this need, some agencies are working out special relationships with childcare providers, arranging family support groups among their employees, or developing response strategies that are more accommodating to parents.
The Bradenton (Florida) Police Department has encouraged staff with childcare needs to apply for the "Alternate Police Response" program, which was initially established to reduce the agency's in-person contacts during the COVID-19 shutdown in the spring of 2020.
Says Paul McWade, “Our Chief, Melanie Bevan, came up with the idea for the program, which allows some officers to work from home by responding to lower-level calls over the phone.”When dispatchers get calls, they ask a couple of questions. If there’s no evidence to examine or suspect to apprehend and it’s not an emergency, they enter the information into the department’s system, which generates a beeping sound on the computer of the individual the dispatcher has designated to respond.
“It’s been a huge success for us, not just parents with kids but officers with family members who are ill or injured,” says McWade. “It was especially helpful during hurricanes, when people had children and pets at home. And since only about 20 or 25 percent of our calls require an officer to be physically present, there’s no disruption of service.”
Another method for providing childcare is through family support groups, in which sworn and nonsworn staff and their family members help one another on a rotating basis. In some agencies, participants choose work schedules that fit other members of their group; in some, they share childcare providers and divide the cost.
Officers can link up with one another or a member of a co-worker’s family—a stay-at-home spouse or a teenage son or daughter who can babysit, for instance. Some take turns hosting sleepovers to cover night shifts or special events.
Shift splitting to accommodate childcare needs has been another big topic at NAWLEE, says Craven. “A lot of departments are reluctant to hire part-time officers, but may allow changes in shifts or shift sharing with others. We’ve heard from our focus groups that this would be very helpful too.”
The San Diego Police Officers Association (SDPOA) is working on a program to provide a low-cost, late-night childcare facility for its members’ kids. According to Jack Schaeffer, President of SDPOA’s Board of Directors, the goal is to cut the cost of care in half for their officers while staying open for 20 hours a day.
Commenting on the value of such a program in the local press, San Diego Police Department Detective Kelley Stinett said that low-cost childcare would not only attract more applicants to a department that's facing a shortage of officers but also support the mental wellness of working parents.
Local government, community organizations, and childcare centers can also step in to support the parental needs of their law enforcement officers. Says Craven, “They may be able to pool resources to make childcare affordable for first responders by at least partially funding the programs, so that parents pay a reduced co-pay.”
During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities across the nation worked out such arrangements to support front-line workers’ family needs.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) offered emergency childcare to law enforcement and other front-line workers through its Exempt Emergency Child Care Programs by funding emergency programs at childcare centers.
Similarly, in Eugene, Oregon, the city partnered with the YMCA and Eugene School District 4J to provide free childcare for children of essential workers. After a couple of months, the childcare providers began to charge a fee for services. And in June 2020, the YMCA, City of Eugene Recreation Department, and community providers started offering summer camps and other childcare programs at reduced rates. Says Lindsay Selser, the Public Information Officer of Eugene’s COVID-19 Emergency Operations Center, “The city is now brainstorming ways to continue providing childcare for first responders during the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic through creative partnerships, recreation department programs, and support to other providers in our community.”
Community members have pitched in to help, too. In Victoria, Texas, Kerry Matthews—the owner of Childhood Unplugged LLC, a 24-hour childcare center—continues to offer childcare to law enforcement and other first responders at a significantly reduced rate. In addition to having operating hours that accommodate officers’ schedules, the center allows parents to choose drop-off and pick-up times that work for them. Says Matthews, “I lowered the cost for first responders out of appreciation. They do so much for us, it’s the least I can do for them.”
Faye C. Elkins
Sr. Technical Writer
For more information, see:
Parenting While Policing
How to Start a Law Enforcement Family Support Group: Insights and Considerations
To sign up for monthly updates or to access your subscriber preferences, please enter your email address in the Subscribe box.