One of the most valuable benefits afforded to military families is child care assistance. The Department of Defense operates the largest employer-sponsored child care program in the United States, serving approximately 200,000 children of uniformed service members and DoD civilians, at an annual cost of over $1 billion.
The scope of military child care is immense: providing options for infants through school age, from child care centers on bases to family child care providers in homes, to after-school and summer programs. Wherever military families are stationed, they can find options to explore their child care needs.
The Military Child Care Act, passed in 1989, provides military families with three child care options: Child Care Development Centers, Family Child Care Homes and School Age Programs.
Military Child Care Costs
Because military child care costs can vary widely by location, the financial assistance provided by the Department of Defense is based on local child care rates and typically fluctuates depending upon the servicemember’s rank and spousal employment status.
Subsidized child care costs on military bases are based on total family income.
Military Child Care Fee Assistance
Active-duty service members (including reservists on active orders) may be eligible to apply for child care fee assistance if they do not have access to on-base child care.
Fee-assistance programs allow military families to receive financial help when enrolling children in military-approved civilian child care (off base). The military uses a predetermined provider cap for the family’s locality and type of care.
Each branch of the military operates its own fee-assistance programs for child care. To qualify for child care assistance, civilian care must be accredited according to the particular branch’s criteria. Families can search for accredited providers through this online tool provided by Child Care Aware of America.
Here are links to the different branch programs that are available to authorized active-duty members and reservists who need help in locating, selecting and offsetting the cost of civilian child care when on-base child care is not available or a viable option.
- Air Force Fee Assistance Program
- Army Fee Assistance Program
- Marine Corps Fee Assistance Program
- Navy Fee Assistance Program
- S. Coast Guard Fee Assistance Program
Each branch also has a maximum amount that it will allow toward child care each month, depending on the family’s location. The current rate is $1,500 per month, set to increase to $1,700 in 2023.
Parents are responsible for paying the branch’s installation rate and anything over the provider rate cap.
Meanwhile, the military is expanding the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-Plus program, which started in 2019 as a two-year pilot, to more regions throughout the United States. MCCYN-Plus pays the standard military subsidy to providers in locations where nationally accredited care isn’t available. To quality, however, the providers must participate in that state’s quality improvement program, which goes beyond state licensing requirements.
As of July, MCCYN-Plus was available in Maryland, Virginia, Nevada and Washington state, with plans to expand to the Miami-Dade County area, Texas and Colorado. More information is available at Child Care Aware.
The Department of Defense is also funding a pilot program to provide fee assistance to families for full-time military child care in their own homes. Visit MilitaryChildCare.com to learn more.
State or Territorial Financial Assistance
As is the case in the civilian sector, the demand for child care in the military has outstripped the available supply, leaving thousands of families to wait for a spot. In cases where families find themselves on wait lists, they may be able to take advantage of child care assistance programs in some states or territories that offer benefits for low-income families.
ChildCare.Gov offers an online tool where families can choose their state or territory to explore the resources and financial assistance that may be available to them.
Types of Military Child Care Services
It is important for military families to choose the type of child care that is most appropriate for them and their children. Here is an overview of the types of child care that are provided through the Military Child Care Act:
- Child Development Centers, similar to day-care centers, offer programs for children from 6 weeks to 12 years old at the hands of a trained staff.
- Family Child Care Homes, run by individual homeowners trained by the military to care for up to six children at a time.
- School Age Child Programs providing after-school and summer programs for children between ages 6 and 12.
These programs are available for children of active-duty personnel, Department of Defense (DoD) civilian personnel, wounded warriors, surviving spouses and DoD contractors.
As far as reservists, military child care options are not available while they are on inactive (drill) status, but they are available for those who have been mobilized to active duty.
School Age Care
School Age Care (SAC) programs provide care to children in kindergarten through sixth grade at various locations, including DoD youth centers, child development centers or other suitable facilities. All programs, whether run by the military or local resources, have DoD certification and accreditation by a national accrediting body such as the Council on Accreditation.
School-age care typically is offered before and after school, during non-school days and summer vacations.
Child Development Centers
Child Development Centers (CDCs) generally offer care for infants through preschool age children. Whether run by the military or local resources, they provide both full-day and part-time care Monday through Friday during standard work hours (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.). Some locations offer extended hours.
Family Child Care Homes
Family child care providers are trained and certified to offer care in their homes. Family Child Care Homes (FCCs), which may be located either on or off a military base, may serve children from infants through school age. They typically offer flexible schedules to accommodate a variety of care needs, including full-day, part-day and school-year care, summer camp and, in some cases, 24/7 and extended care.
According to regulations, no more than six children under the age of 8 can receive care at any one time in a Family Child Care Home (no more than three children when all children are under 2 years old). FCC providers must be certified by the installation to operate.
Though not required, individual providers may voluntarily seek national accreditation from the National Association for Family Child Care. They are eligible to receive local support, training and materials to achieve this distinction.
Military Child Care Resources
Military families who need help finding available and appropriate child care for their children can access a variety of resources through MilitaryChildCare.com, a government-accredited website for military and DOD personnel.
Resources are provided through Child Care Aware of America, which works with over 400 Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agencies across the country. These resources can be particularly valuable when on-base child care is not available for military families.
Among the services available are:
- Referrals to local child care providers
- Information on state licensing requirements
- Information on where to get help paying for child care
Families also can review checklists for each type of child care option to help find the one that is most appropriate for them.
The first step is to set up a Household Profile through MilitaryChildCare.com that will provide access to a full range of programs that meet the family’s specific needs in their preferred location. After conducting a search of available providers in the desired location, family members can submit requests to any program to receive an offer for care when a space becomes available.
About The Author
Tom Jackson focuses on writing about debt solutions for consumers struggling to make ends meet. His background includes time as a columnist for newspapers in Washington D.C., Tampa and Sacramento, Calif., where he reported and commented on everything from city and state budgets to the marketing of local businesses and how the business of professional sports impacts a city. Along the way, he has racked up state and national awards for writing, editing and design. Tom’s blogging on the 2016 election won a pair of top honors from the Florida Press Club. A University of Florida alumnus, St. Louis Cardinals fan and eager-if-haphazard golfer, Tom splits time between Tampa and Cashiers, N.C., with his wife of 40 years, college-age son, and Spencer, a yappy Shetland sheepdog.
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