It happened again recently in our military base housing neighborhood: a military spouse was reported to police for child endangerment.

Her crime? She left her toddler unattended in their front yard. The mom said it was only for a few minutes while she was talking to a next door neighbor. But the neighbor who reported the incident claimed it was much longer. Eventually, the charges were dropped. But this poor mom will now be reviewed by Child Protective Services.

Probably not the most helpful scenario for the middle of a deployment!

I have lived in base housing for 10 years now, at four different military bases. On one hand, military base housing offers military families a sense of safety and security. Neighborhoods on base seem old-fashioned and peaceful, a throwback to the town of Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith TV show. There are some people who don’t even lock their car or house. On the other hand, this peacefulness can lull residents into a false sense of security. Military children need to be safe and protected, even in base housing.

Military base housing neighborhoods are all different

We have lived on some military bases that felt safe and secure, where all the neighbors knew each other and looked out for each other’s kids. When you find that neighborhood, it’s great! But don’t assume that your next military base housing situation will be the same for yourself or your kids.

But we have also lived in “base housing” surrounded by off-base civilian neighborhoods–generally not in the most desirable part of town. In San Diego, the neighborhood locked down several times and helicopters circled overhead, warning us of an armed suspect on the loose in the area! And one Christmas, there was a homicide just a block away from our house (on the civilian side) where a father killed several of his children and himself. In that neighborhood, our kids were not allowed to go outside without an adult!

And at our base in Mississippi, the military base housing was clean and friendly, but the surrounding town was impoverished. There was a murder at the gas station right across from our base gate. Our kids were older there, so we had strict rules about where they could go and who had to be with them.

Because each base neighborhood is different, you have to re-asses your family rules and standards every time you move. What was easy and safe at one base might not be advisable at the next location. It’s important to talk to your kids, discuss what’s allowed and what isn’t, and determine if you need to make safety modifications to the doors of your home.

No military spouse watches their kids every moment– not even me

Every parent learns the hard way that their toddler is now able to climb out of the crib, or open doors, or move furniture. It only takes once to discover them where they aren’t supposed to be, and then you have to adjust your routines.

During one deployment, I let the oldest play with a neighbor across the street. (She is allowed to do this often.) But one day, she didn’t close the front door behind her. In the time that I went to the bathroom, the toddler went out the front door, and into the street to follow her big sister. Luckily for me, no cars drove on the road in the moments that she was outside! But you can imagine the heart attack I had when I came out of the bathroom and discovered that the toddler was in the road!

Obviously, we all had a talk about keeping the door closed and locked. We bought a latch hook to hang higher up, so we can keep the door secured with minimal damage to the wall or door-frame. But can you imagine how much harder this situation would have been if a neighbor had seen my toddler in the street and called the police?

What would your neighbors do if this had happened in your neighborhood?

No one watches their kids every moment. Not even me. #momof4 Click To Tweet

Are military children safer in military base housing?

Families might be more relaxed on base then they would be in a neighborhood off-base. But that doesn’t mean there are no rules for children’s safety. Living in base housing has given me some puzzling moments where I scratch my head wondering why children are running around the neighborhood unattended.

When I first moved onto a military base, we had a kindergartner come to our door on our first day there. She asked if she could come in and play. I had no idea where she lived or who her parents were, so I didn’t feel comfortable letting her inside. Then I watched her walk to the next house and ask to play with them! I soon learned that she lived two doors down, and her parents didn’t mind if she played in neighbor’s houses.

Now I know that this is a common occurrence in military base housing. Many of the neighborhood kids play in each other’s houses or play together at the public park without parent supervision. Because I have a toddler, I still have to accompany all my children to the park. But sometimes, there are more than 10 children there, and I am the only adult!

Different families have their own rules and standards about when their children can play unsupervised. Bu if we see something dangerous (like a toddler wandering in the street), we should probably first try to rescue the child and return them to their parents, instead of jumping to call the police and get the parents in trouble. If we are going to treat base housing like a village, then the “it takes a village” mentality applies to child supervision, too.

Sometimes, I feel like we all live in fear of someone making a phone call to Child Protective Services about us. Living on a military base can be like living in a fishbowl. Everyone knows your name, your rank, and your address. For the most part, military neighbors are very helpful, and the most supportive community I have ever met. But sometimes, they can be a little bit too nosy. Whether you are a helicopter parent or a free range parent, there will always be someone who disagrees with your parenting style and thinks you are doing it wrong.

Maybe we all need to agree to some basic guidelines for children’s safety on base.

Can we all agree to these safety guidelines for children living on base? Click To Tweet

Rules for children in military base housing

What rules or guidelines can be used to keep military kids safe on base? Well, most military installations have their own standards, which vary because of different state laws. In some cases, “supervision” could be an older sibling. In other cases, a parent should be present. What do you think about these guidelines?

  • Children under age 6 should not be in common areas (base parks, playgrounds, and cul-de-sacs) without supervision
  • Children under age 6 should not walk to and from school alone
  • Children under 8 should not be left in a car unattended
  • Children under the age of 10 should not be left home alone
  • Children shouldn’t knock on neighbor’s doors until their parents have met the neighbor
  • No children should play in the street, unless it is a cul-de-sac and they are old enough to get on a sidewalk when cars approach
  • Children should not play in a neighbor’s yard or driveway without asking
  • Older children should be taught that it is wrong to deface public property, throw things at cars, or harass dogs inside fences.

I think if we all agreed to these types of basic safety rules (or whatever the specific rules are at your military installation), then there would be a lot fewer reports about children in base housing.

Do you follow these basic rules with your children? What works on your military base?


  1. Shantal

    Hi! Thank you, I am 18 years old and just moved in with my husband who’s in the military and he has a 48hr schedule, meaning he works 2 days and has 2 days off. This is my first time ever away from home and as of right now I’m a stay at home wife! We live on base! I’m just wondering how safe is base? Should I fear someone’s going to break in my house in the middle of the night and do something to me??? (I watch a lot of scary documentaries 😂) but I constantly feel scared someone’s going to break in because I’m a woman who’s alone in her house.

    • Lizann

      Hi Shantal, welcome to military life! Most bases are very safe, since everyone needs military ID to get through the gate. We lived in some places where people were very trusting and didn’t lock their doors.
      Of course, there’s always the chance of a random crazy person, so lock your door and use the alarm system if you have one. For sliding glass doors or windows, you can lay a broomstick or piece of wood in the track so it can’t be pushed open. And of course, lots of people get a dog so they won’t be alone. Those things can give you peace of mind and help you sleep better!

    • Unidentified Spouse

      We just moved onto a military installation for the first time. At other duty stations we always lived off base. We have a four year old and I am SHOCKED by the lack of supervision and discipline! During the quarantine, kids seemed to be allowed to wander around and do whatever they pleased. The day we moved in, a four year old boy just walked right in our front door and started walking around in our house! I asked him to take me to his parents and when I let them know their child just wandered into a stranger’s house they were completely unphased….playing on their phones. On multiple occasions, other kids have tried coming in our house or ring the doorbell six or eight times asking for a snack or to come in an play. The lack of discipline and manners is appalling….toddler age kids using profanity, running power wheels cars into parked vehicles, pooping and peeing in the grass just out in the open, (I seriously saw a kid pull his pants down, poop in the grass and then throw it over the privacy fence into our yard) leaving trash everywhere, leaving bikes/scooters toys in the middle of the streets. No parents in sight. We have been here three months and already have holes in our fence, a broken window, my daughter has been hit and kicked by kids 3x her age, garage door dented, things thrown at our cars and dog, our daughter’s swing broken twice and now we have to put it up and take it down when she wants to play. One parent saw me blowing up a kiddie pool and just assumed it was okay to send her four kids (all under the age of 7) over in bathing suits unattended! Families move extended family members along with their multiple kids into base housing and allow them to run wild. It’s madness. We have lived in some pretty rough off base neighborhoods stationed elsewhere and NEVER experienced anything like this.
      We’re pretty laid back parents with reasonable rules for our daughter:
      1. You dont go anywhere without asking.
      2. You dont go in people’s houses, yards, or garages….unless we know the parents, have been on their house ourselves and have exchanged phone numbers.
      3. You can ride bike/scooter anywhere up and down the street or around the block but watch for cars.
      I don’t want to be “THAT” spouse calling security forces all the time or constantly correcting the bad behavior of other kids but seriously, what else can be done?

      • Lizann

        I hear ya, it is sometimes tough to know what to do. We have learned we can only control our own kids, so we are clear about the rules and expectations with them. Other parents I try to talk to if there is a recurring problem, or friend them on FB so I can send a quick message if their kid ends up at my house unattended. But that’s really all you can do short of calling base security for serious problems.

        • Unidentified Spouse

          Thanks so much for the reply! We’ve together for almost 10 years, married for eight and moved a handful of times so the military life isn’t new…always full of surprises! Lol We knew it would be different living on an installation but wanted to give it a whirl since we never have. I guess we figured it wouldn’t be like this since other duty stations we have been at were clean, more controlled, and didnt have feral children everywhere. We “survived” living three years in one of the Top 10 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country and never encountered these issues. Parents are NOWHERE to be found. Fingers crossed it gets better when COVID blows over and schools are back in regular session.


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