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Guide To Military Child Care: Child Development Centers, Family Child Care, School-Age Care Programs

Jessica Perdew

Child care is a critical issue in maintaining the readiness of our military families. But while the demand for military child care is high and spaces sometimes are limited, families often are unaware of the child care resources available to them.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is working to alleviate the shortage of care through a number of channels. The 2006 National Defense Authorization Act provides immediate funding for an additional 4,000 installation child care spaces. Families also may be a part of the solution by utilizing the full range of programs available to them.

When military families think of child care, they frequently consider only the Child Development Center (CDC) on the installation. Currently, DoD operates 800 Child Development Centers in 300 locations throughout the world, caring for approximately 200,000 military and DoD civilian children each day. Full-day, part-day and hourly care in these centers generally is available for children ages six weeks to 12 years.

Fees are subsidized by DoD and calculated on a tiered scale based on total family income. Fees for the 2005-06 school year ranged from a minimum of $43 to a maximum of $129 for full-time weekly care for one child. Military CDCs have become the industry standard of excellence, and nearly 93 percent are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

The convenience and quality of installation centers has resulted in wait lists at most locations. Wait lists are managed at the installation and are based upon local policies determining priority of care. When moving to a new duty station, families desiring care at the Child Development Center should expect to make alternate child care arrangements until a CDC space opens.

Family Child Care, School-age Care

DoD also operates Family Child Care (FCC) programs, which provide in-home care by installation-certified providers. The FCC program recently was expanded to include military families living in civilian communities; previously, FCC providers were required to operate on base or from government-leased housing. All FCC providers complete comprehensive background checks, are required to obtain licensure, and receive training and support through the local Child and Youth Programs Office. Family Child Care providers also are encouraged to complete accreditation through the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).

Many Family Child Care providers are willing to fill the need for overnight or evening child care requirements that cannot be met in the traditional day care center model. FCC providers are self-employed and set their own rates for care. Family Child Care can provide an ideal solution for families who prefer to keep their children in a home environment.

DoD School-age Care (SAC) programs provide care for school-age children age six to 12. These programs complement the regular school schedule and operate before and after school as well as on school holidays and summer break. SAC programs generally provide transportation to and from the school or operate in school facilities. School-age Care programs focus on providing safe, age-appropriate activities while promoting the cognitive, social, emotional and physical development of children. SAC programs are accredited by the National AfterSchool Association.

Fees for School-age Care are set by DoD on a tiered scale based on total family income. For the 2005-06 school year, SAC fees ranged from a minimum of $1 to a maximum of $124 for one child. Information on FCC and SAC programs in your neighborhood is available through your local Child and Youth Services Office.

Beyond On-Base Care

DoD has partnered with contract agencies to provide additional child care options. Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, Operation Military Child Care and Operation Child Care are programs sponsored by DoD and managed by the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA). These programs are designed to assist military families who do not have access to a DoD Child Development Center in finding affordable care in their local communities.

The goal of Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood is to bring local child care fees in line with the fee scale established by DoD for CDC programs. This goal is established through referrals to participating local civilian care centers and some subsidies paid to civilian centers for children enrolled in the program. Participating civilian centers must meet the same standards required of installation centers and must be accredited by NAEYC. The program is open to active duty families that cannot obtain care on a military installation. Service-specific guidelines and policies apply in the program, and families desiring care will be required to meet all eligibility requirements for their particular service component.

Operation Military Child Care is available to families of National Guard and Reserve servicemembers who are activated or deployed in support of the war on terror. Eligibility begins with the deployment of the military parent and ends 30 days after the parent returns. The program also is available to active duty families without access to a military installation who are experiencing a deployment in support of the war on terror. For these active duty families, eligibility begins with the deployment of the military parent and ends 60 days after the return of the parent. This subsidy program is intended to help support military spouses' employment, education or special medical circumstances. It is also available to spouses looking for employment for a period not to exceed 60 days.

Operation Child Care is a voluntary program designed to support the short-term child care needs of National Guard and Reserve members in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Through this program, child care providers across the country have donated a minimum of four hours of child care services to these members home on official R&R leave. Guard and Reserve personnel who desire to use this program are asked to provide a valid I.D. card and a copy of official R&R orders. For complete details on these programs, visit the NACCRRA website.

Finding quality accessible and affordable child care can prove challenging for uniformed services families. Fortunately, you are not alone in this endeavor. Resources such as National Military Family Association National Military Family Association, Military OneSource , the Child Care Aware hotline (800-424-2246) and Military Homefront include links and information related to child care resources. Families on or near a military installation are encouraged to contact the local Child and Youth Programs Office to explore opportunities available in their communities.

In Case Of Emergency

If an emergency happened today, would you have the time (or senses, for that matter) to have all essential paperwork ready for your child care provider? Here are some things you will need - and can prepare ahead of time:
  • all pre-registration materials for military or civilian child care providers
  • copies of immunization records
  • medical authorization forms (in case your child needs medical treatment)
  • personal contact information for yourself and anyone who may be picking up your child
  • current, complete information about your child - schedules such as naps, meal times or favorite activities can vary, especially with younger children, and you'll want to make sure your provider knows how to meet your child's needs