The life of a military family can be very unpredictable. Service demands and plans can change frequently, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Care for an injured military parent may mean hospital, doctor or therapy visits that wreak havoc on a family’s daily routine. The demands on family schedules are especially challenging when there is no non-military family member who can provide a level of consistency and predictability for young children.
The bottom line? Military families need flexible child care options. Flexibility for military families means having trustworthy care:
- on short notice
- on an irregular basis
- at non-traditional hours
- for an extended time, possibly overnight
- on an hourly basis for brief times
Where can flexible care be found? It may not be easy but there are a few places to look.
Flexible Child Care Programs & Caregivers
The greatest flexibility is offered by in-home child care providers and nannies. Although on the surface it appears to be an expensive option, it’s really not when one considers that a live-in provider offers stability and consistency for both children and parents in the midst of changing schedules, multiple deployments – even relocation! Nannies’ responsibilities also often include other household tasks. It can be an especially beneficial option for large families, families with no nearby relatives, single parents, and dual-military families. Lisa Werth, a nanny for a family whose parents both work at the Pentagon says, “My bosses often email me from the Pentagon to see if I know of a nanny looking for a job.” Being an in-home child care provider can be a rewarding and interesting employment option for child care professionals to consider.
Family Child Care homes can also offer greater flexibility. FCC owners may choose to market specifically to military families if they live in a community with a high enough concentration. But even when the majority of a FCC owner’s families are civilian, they may be able to meet the need for emergency or non-traditional care for an individual military family in a way that a center simply couldn’t. FCC owners who are willing to provide flexible child care for military families should communicate that in their marketing and through their currently enrolled families (since word-of-mouth is often how new families are found), their local Resource and Referral agency, and professional associations.
Flexibility in child care centers is the most difficult to find because it is the most expensive to provide on a larger scale. The less demand there is in a geographic area, the less likely it is that flexible options are available. The highest demand, of course, is on military installations, so it’s not surprising that each of the branches of the Armed Forces offer a variety of programs to meet these needs through their children, youth and teen programs. For example, programs at Camp LeJeune (Marines) include hourly child care, Family Child Care (24-hr, 7 days a week), and emergency drop-in care. The demand may be so high, however, that there is a waiting list for enrollment, in which case child care programs in the surrounding area may choose to satisfy the needs of families.
Both FCC and center-based programs who are interested in serving military families should also consider becoming an approved provider for the military’s child care fee assistance program. Approved programs are entered into a searchable online database, allowing military families to more easily locate programs that may be able to meet their unique needs. And remember, military families, especially Guard and Reserve, can be found living in communities all over the map. So no matter where you live, if you are willing and able to provide flexible care, even if only on an occasional basis, consider becoming an approved provider.
Additional Programs to Fill Child Care Gaps
Child care programs and providers who can’t themselves meet the child care needs of every military family should be aware of other options to refer families to that may help fill the gaps.
The Army is working with the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA) to provide financial support for community-based child care programs to offer respite care when shortterm care needs arise. Approved programs are paid to provide free hourly child care to for families of soldiers who are deployed, serving on temporary duty (90-179 days), under a Wounded, Ill or Injured status or are Survivors of Fallen Warriors. Refer families to the website’s searchable database to find participating programs. Call NACCRRA at 1-800-424-2246 if you are interested in becoming an approved provider or want more information.
Air Force families who will be relocating because of a Permanent Change of Station (PCS in military lingo) are eligible for 20 hours of child care at a certified Family Child Care home (either on or off base). Call 1-800-769-8951 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in becoming a certified FCC home or want help in locating homes to refer families to in your area.
One option that can meet some respite child care needs is the local Y. The Department of Defense pays for up to 16 hours of child care per month for infants through 12yearolds from eligible military families who don’t live on an installation.
- Family members of deployed National Guard and Reservists
- Active Duty Independent Duty personnel (deployment is not a requirement)
- Relocated spouse/dependent children of deployed Active Duty personnel
- Families of deployed Active Duty personnel residing 30 miles from a military installation
Although local Ys are not required to offer the program, many are choosing to participate so check to see whether it’s an option that’s offered in your community. To find more information to share with families and search for participating Ys in your area, visit the Y’s website.
Sittercity is an online service that matches families with child care providers who can meet their needs, including last-minute emergency care, overnight care, etc. Sittercity has an extensive database of babysitters and nannies with detailed profiles that can be searched by location and 14 other options, including hourly rate, education/certification, and reviews from families. The Department of Defense has partnered with Sittercity to offer free membership to the matching service for military families. Entering your profile in the Sittercity database as a child care provider is free.
New Programs on the Horizon
The Veterans Administration launched a pilot program last year that offers on-site child care at three VA medical facilities. The child care centers provide free, drop-in child care for eligible veterans who come to the facilities for health care services. The centers can care for children from 6 weeks to 12 years old. Time will tell whether the program will expand to others of the 149 medical centers in the VA system.
What’s Available in Your Community?
If you are one of the many individual child care centers and family child care providers who tailor their programs to the unique needs of military families, we would love to hear your story!
Whole communities can also rally on behalf of military families, using local resources and combined creativity to meet a variety of military family needs, including child care. If you’ve been involved with or know of a community-level effort, please share your story, too. It may give others some fresh ideas for their own communities!
Even with all these efforts, there is still much to do to meet the child care needs of military families. What suggestions do you have for creating a sturdier network of support?
[Note: All branches of the military offer respite care for families of children with special needs through the Department of Defense Exceptional Family Member Respite Care program.]