Every child is unique, and so is every family. When you're thinking about child care options, it's important to consider your child's age, personality and needs. You'll also want to factor in practical things, such as work schedules and transportation. Once you have considered your child care needs, you can begin looking at the options available on your installation and in the local area.
Things to consider
As you take a look at available child care, you'll want to consider the following:
- Your child's needs. Some children need small, quiet groups. Others thrive in larger groups with lots of activity. No matter what kind of child care option you are considering, always ask yourself, "Can I imagine my child here? Will she be comfortable and safe here?" In order to have peace of mind about your child's well-being while you work, you must feel secure that your child is safe, happy and treated with respect and affection. Remember that enrolling your child in part- or full-time child care means he or she will be introduced to a variety of new children in different settings. Be sure to talk with your child about using the behavioral skills that you have taught him or her. Remind your child of the family rules to prevent him or her from picking up bad habits, and remember that giving your child the freedom to differentiate between right and wrong is an important step towards independence.
- Location. Some parents feel better knowing that their children are close to work, while others find that transporting children back and forth can be difficult and look for care closer to home.
- Hours. For most parents, work hours are the most important factor in selecting a child care provider. If you work at night, have weekend duty, stay late at work or travel out of town, you will have additional child care needs to consider. Most installation and community child care centers accommodate a standard Monday through Friday work week and generally have late fees if you exceed the daily operating hours. Family child care may be more flexible in meeting the needs of those who work extended hours.
- Fees. The cost of child care can vary greatly depending on where you live, the age of your child and the kind of care you choose. Be sure to ask about all fees and charges. Some programs have special fees for registration, transportation, materials or food. Providers may charge full-day rates for part-time care, particularly if there are only a limited number of openings.
- Care for infants. You may have considerations specific to leaving an infant in someone else's care. It's important to keep in mind that young children pick up on a parent's feelings. Your baby is more likely to be comfortable with a child care arrangement if you're comfortable with it, too. Starting at about 6 months of age, your baby will begin to understand that when you're out of sight temporarily you aren't gone forever. Separations and reunions help your baby learn that you will come back again. It's often helpful to allow him or her to bring a favorite toy, picture or security blanket for comfort. Whether you opt for in-home care or a child care facility, make the transition easier on both of you by scheduling a visit with your child care provider in advance. Give your baby a chance to get comfortable with the caregiver while you're there, and offer help and answer questions if needed. Leave yourself plenty of time the first day you leave your infant in someone else's care so you aren't rushed or stressed.
- Care for children with special needs. A child with special needs, like any child, should have care that is comforting, stimulating and safe. Depending on your child's needs, he or she may require some additional support services. Be sure to discuss your child's special needs with any potential caregiver and ask whether the caregiver is properly trained to meet those needs or is willing to seek additional training.
Child care options for military families
Depending on where you live, finding quality child care can be a challenge. The DoD has created programs to help meet those challenges and to improve the quality of life for military families.
- Child development centers. On your installation, you'll usually find one or more CDCs, which offer care for infants and children 6 weeks through 5 years of age. These centers offer a safe child care environment and meet professional standards for early childhood education. Programs typically operate during the weekday with a daily schedule that accommodates most. If you don't need full-time care, some centers offer part-time and hourly (drop-in) care. Some may even offer care during special events and briefings. Fees are based on a total family income calculation. Child development centers often have wait lists, so be sure to check with your installation's center for information on availability as soon as you know you'll need care. Visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS for information specific to your location.
- Family child care. On most installations, FCC providers offer another option for military families. Providers care for a small group of children in their own homes, which may be on or off the installation. These home providers may have extended hours, weekend hours or care for older children before and after school. All FCC homes must meet the standards for DoD certification. Family child care is a good option for families who need care outside normal work hours or for those children who prefer a smaller, family-style environment. To find a listing of local FCC providers, contact the CDC on your installation or your information and referral office, if available.
- School-age care. The DoD also oversees the school-age care program, which meets the needs of children from kindergarten to 12 years of age by providing before- and after-school care. as well as summer and holiday programs.
- Installation referral services. Some installations have established a Resource and Referral office that may be able to help you find child care providers and give you information on waiting lists and costs. If you're overseas, where language barriers make it difficult to find care off the installation or where it's common for care providers to come to your home, the Resource and Referral office can help you find solutions and make arrangements. If your installation does not have such an office, you may be able to receive similar support through the CDC or family programs office.