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 looking at, 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 only standard workdays and many have fairly expensive late fees. 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 six 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. Until your child gets the hang of it, you might consider allowing 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 be sure to 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 six weeks through five years of age. These centers offer a safe child care environment and meet professional standards for early childhood education. Typical hours are from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays. 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 sliding scale depending on family income. CDCs often have wait lists, so be sure to check with your installation's CDC for information on availability as soon as you know you'll need care.
- Family Child Care (FCC). 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. FCC 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 (SAC). The DoD also oversees the SAC program, which meets the needs of children ages six to twelve years by providing before- and after-school care as well as summer and holiday programs.
- Child care options in the local community. Military families may turn to child care providers in the civilian community when they're wait-listed or live too far away to use an installation CDC. Each Service contracts with Child Care Aware of America (formerly NACCRRA), offers programs to help military parents find quality, affordable care in civilian communities. Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood helps families find child care when it is unavailable on the installation. Operation: Military Child Care provides fee assistance for mobilized or deployed service members. For military parents who qualify, fee assistance is paid directly to the civilian child care providers to keep costs comparable to installation child care.
For more information on these programs, visit the Child Care Aware of America website.
- Installation referral services. Your installation's Resource and Referral (R&R) office 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 R&R can help you find solutions and make arrangements. If your installation does not have an R&R office, you may be able to receive similar support through the CDC or Family Programs office.