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Air Force Expands Free Kid Care Program for Deployed Families

Crystal Emmons, a program technician at the McRaven Child Development Center, plays with the children in her classroom at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. (U.S. Air Force/Thomas Karol)
Crystal Emmons, a program technician at the McRaven Child Development Center, plays with the children in her classroom at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. (U.S. Air Force/Thomas Karol)

The Air Force is now offering deployed families more free kid care, officials announced this week, bumping the service up to the same level offered by the Army to its families since 2008.

Until April 1 the Air Force had given a max of 48 hours of free care per family for 30 days before, 30 days after and during deployments, according to a news release.

That gave some small families a lot of care per child, while larger families were left with less. The new policy instead gives 16 hours of free care for each child for those same periods, ensuring that families with more children have equal access.

Unlike the Army program, the free care is available at both on base child development centers with hourly care programs and at the in-home FCC providers. The Army's free hours can typically only be used at an on-base Child Development Center (CDC).

To use the program, Airmen need to be on active duty or active status with the National Guard or Reserve, assigned to or working on the installation where they plan to access the care, deployed in support of a contingency operation (i.e. not deployed stateside or activated for a school house assignment) and deployed for at least 30 consecutive days or at least 30 days in a six month period.

To apply Airmen will need a copy of their deployment or PCS orders and complete the request form, which they can get from their local child services office.

The Army program was rolled out in 2008 as a part of the Army Family Covenant, but how it is administered differs widely base to base. In the past at Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington, for example, parents could use the hours at any time the base CDC had available openings. But at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, however, the hours could only be used during one of the twice monthly "Super Saturday" events if a spot was available.

Air Force officials said last year they offered 4,400 hours of free care to families of deployed or remote members.

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