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Military Child Care Basics

The Department of Defense recognizes that childcare for military families is one of the most critical military quality of life issues within the DoD. Choosing the right childcare is crucial; paying for it can be daunting on a limited budget and junior enlisted troops know all too well how difficult it can be to balance military duty with the financial realities of having a family.

Fortunately for military families, affordable, income-based childcare options are provided by the Department of Defense. These come in the form of Child Development Centers, after-school programs for school-age children, and fee assistance for qualifying military families. This help can extend to those who have special needs, require reasonable accommodation, or who have medical issues that might require additional resources.

Military Child Care Options

There are a variety of choices you can make when exploring your DoD child care options. Many are offered as on-base opportunities, while some DoD child care programs include care providers that are off post.

DoD child care programs include:

  • Child Development Centers
  • Family Child Care
  • School Age Care

Each of these options comes with its own set of considerations. Child Development Centers, for example, may or may not have the ability to offer drop-in care, part-day care, or hourly care. Much depends on demand, staffing, and other variables. Some options are offered at facilities operated by the DoD, others are offered in private homes that are accredited and monitored by the Department of Defense.

Child Development Centers (CDCs)

CDCs are typically found on base and are open to infants all the way to preschool-age children. This care is typically offered during duty hours, which may or may not include extended hours. The mission of the base and other variables will affect the standard operating times for CDC care.

CDC care is accredited and monitored, but the programs offered are not necessarily consistent from base to base, stateside to overseas, etc. Some CDCs offer part-day care, some may offer hourly care or drop-in care on a space-available basis only while others won’t offer it at all.

CDC programs typically carry DOD certification from a national accrediting organization such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Family Child Care (FCC)

While FCC may sound like a generic name, it describes a very specific type of alternative option to Child Development Centers. CDCs feature waiting lists and many parents find they must locate an alternative while waiting out those lists.

Family Child Care is one option to help you do that; this is child care provided from private homes typically on-post in family housing. FCC care providers are certified professionals, FCC homes are inspected and monitored.

This care is typically offered for infants all the way to school-age children. FCC homes can be on or off base, they may feature flexible care hours and some may even choose to offer 24/7 care. FCC homes have limits–they cannot accommodate more than six children at a time and no more than three children at a time who are under two.

School-Age Care Programs (SAC)

This care option, offered in DoD youth centers, CDCs, and other facilities, offers care for school-age children between kindergarten and sixth grade. This is offered as before-school, after-school, and non-school day care. All CDC programs are DOD certified and accredited.

Hourly Child Care

Sometimes, military parents need childcare on an hourly basis. This can be a challenge given that affordable child care on military bases is subject to high demand, but the DoD has expanded its child care service options to include an online caregiver search tool that helps military families access a nationally recognized caregiver database.

Using this tool you can:

  • Search for care
  • Find potential care providers
  • Check the background and references of caregivers
  • Interview, hire, and pay care providers

To use this database you must create or maintain an account at MilitaryOneSource.mil. You’ll need to log in and retrieve a special subscription code to start using your child care account.

Military Child Care And The Exceptional Family Member Program

The Exceptional Family Member Program is a DoD option for those who have a family member with special needs. This program, sometimes referred to as EFMP for short, offers family support and coordination for those getting ready to make a Permanent Change of Station move. EFMP involves a special needs consultation that can help determine what types of reasonable accommodations might be necessary

If a military spouse, child or other dependent family member needs “ongoing medical or educational services” signing up with EFMP is mandatory but provides access to services and support that can help. There are many services that may be offered via EFMP Family Support at your base. You can get details about referral services, and community services, as well as:

  • Finding programs in new locations
  • Finding resources to fill gaps in programs, services, support
  • Details on any early intervention services
  • Local resources for school and special education support
  • School liaison locator

We mention EFMP here because in many cases you may have expanded access to DoD child care, you may be given priority placement on CDC waiting lists or be given alternatives to CDC care options based on EFMP enrollment. Your choices will vary depending on the base, demand, mission requirements, and other variables.

If you have a child enrolled in EFMP and are expecting orders to a new assignment, it may be smart to get a consultation with an EFMP or CDC rep about your options going to the new base. Some military assignments cannot accommodate those in EFMP and you may need to seek childcare in such cases at the nearest installation where your family members live in the meantime.

What To Know About Military Child Care

Getting on a waiting list for a CDC near you isn’t as simple as signing up. In many cases, you need orders to show you are being assigned to that installation, as priority placement is made for those who are assigned there.

Some military communities have exceptions to this; if you are assigned to certain bases in California, for example, you may work at one nearby installation by finding housing on a different nearby base. In such cases, your child care options may be dictated by your location. But not always.

Waiting lists can be long, and it’s best to contact the CDC at your gaining base as soon as you have orders. Some may allow you to backdate your entry on the waiting list to the date your orders were cut, others may not. It’s not safe to assume that CDC care is standardized and that the options you currently enjoy (or wish you had) will be the same at the gaining base.

Paying for military child care means submitting income information, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that CDC care, for example, is billed based on the servicemember’s income alone. Household income is used to measure your CDC bill, not your individual earnings. Do not omit your spouse’s income when submitting data to the CDC, this can have serious consequences.

Where special needs or Exceptional Family Member Program enrollees are concerned, parents should know that DoD policy includes making reasonable accommodations for children who have or are at risk of chronic illness, disability, developmental issues and other concerns.

In the process of getting child care for these clients, you may be asked for some basic information about your child’s condition or needs in order to make those reasonable accommodations happen. Parents are considered to be an important part of the planning process in such cases and you should expect to be involved in the discussions about placement and services for your child or children. Do not hesitate to ask questions about aspects of DoD child care you do not understand and don’t hesitate to elevate a concern if you have issues that are not being addressed.