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Child Care Options For Military Families With Special Needs

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Finding the right care for your child with special needs starts with asking the right questions. The military services offer quality, affordable child care options, both on the installation and in the civilian community. Finding the best fit for your child is not impossible. Here are some questions to ask as you search for the best child care decision for your child with special needs.

What are my child’s rights?

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The Americans with Disabilities Act protects children from discriminatory practices in child care programs, unless the child’s presence would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others or require a fundamental alteration of the program.

You should also know:

  • Military and civilian child care programs must make reasonable accommodations to integrate children with disabilities.
  • Programs cannot assume that a child’s disability is too severe for successful integration.
  • There must be an individualized assessment based on professional observations, past history and standard assessment criteria.

What types of installation child care settings are out there?

There may be several child care options on your installation:

  • Child development centers — On your installation, you’ll usually find a child development center offering care for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Hours may vary but are typically 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays with extended hours at some locations, year-round. Some centers offer part-time and hourly care, too. Your child would be placed with other children in the same age group, who may or may not have disabilities.
  • Family child care homes — Family child care homes may be a good choice for your child. In their own home, providers care for a small group of children of all abilities, up to age 12. The home may be on or off the installation and may offer additional hours, such as before and after school, nights and weekends.
  • School-age care programs — These programs for children ages 6 to 12 are usually open before and after school, on holidays and for summer day camp. These care programs may use space in a child development center but are more often located in youth centers or schools. The children receive a planned curriculum and the ability to interact with their peers, who may or may not have disabilities.
  • Installation programs for youth and teens — For children ages 12 to 18, many military installations offer activities and classes at youth or community centers. These programs are open to children with and without special needs.

What is the best setting for my child with special needs?

If your child has special needs, your military service will work closely with you to find the best placement for your child. You can contact your installation child development center to learn more about child care options for your family. Each installation works with a multidisciplinary inclusion action team, or IAT, that includes the parent in the discussion of how to best meet the individual needs of the child.

How do I find child care in the civilian community?

If you don’t have access to installation child development programs or you prefer to have your child cared for off the installation, you still have options.

Installation resource and referral programs

Most installation child development services programs have a resource and referral office to help you find the right care for your child with disabilities. Keep in mind:

  • This office will be the first contact when you are looking for child care resources.
  • MilitaryINSTALLATIONS is the place to find contact information for military child development resource and referral offices.
  • Reach out to the enhanced Military OneSource special needs consultants, for easy access to the information and resources you need.

Other options

Child Care Aware of America manages the fee assistance program, known as Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, for the Defense Department. The fee assistance program offsets the cost of child care, making community based child care options more affordable and accessible to eligible military families. Navy families only: The Navy MCCYN Child Care Fee Assistance Program administers the MCCYN program for Navy families. Navy families can visit the following website for additional information:

The Defense Department now offers dependent care flexible spending accounts for service members to use on eligible non-medical dependent care costs. A DCFSA is a benefit account that enables participants to contribute as little as $100 or up to $5,000 per household per year in pretax income to pay for dependent care expenses, such as day care, preschool and nanny or au pair services. Service members using the DOD child care fee assistance program may also be eligible to participate in a DCFSA.

Some children may require more than routine or basic care, such as children at risk of, or who have disabilities, chronic illnesses or physical, developmental, behavioral or emotional conditions. is a Department of Defense website that helps families in any service branch find and request military operated or military subsidized child care anywhere in the world. The website assists families in their search for care for their child with special needs through a process that includes an IAT and military service-specific IAT protocols. The IAT process supports reasonable accommodation by considering the needs of the child, the child care environment, staffing and training requirements, and the resources of the program. Programs welcome the opportunity to discuss each family’s needs throughout their search process. More information is available by contacting the local program.

You may also contact the Exceptional Family Member Program to explore child care resources for families with special needs.

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