Finding the 'perfect' child care situation can occasionally prove to be difficult,but there are many resources available to assist you.
Military OneSource offers the following information on Quality Standards for Military Child Care
In the course of planning your child's care, you may hear that a provider or program is certified or accredited. Each of these terms refers to a type of approval that a provider receives for meeting certain standards of quality. The rules behind these standards address a range of concerns from health and safety (fire extinguishers must work) to a child's development (give children a chance to decide what they want to do next). Understanding the rules that a provider has agreed to follow can help you make your own judgment about which child care setting is right for your child.
Certification sets a worldwide military standard
Certification of military child care programs by the Department of Defense (DoD) is comparable to the state licensing process, which sets minimum health and safety standards. While licensing standards vary from state to state, DoD standards are the same worldwide. You can expect to see the same level of quality in certified child care when you move from one installation to another. DoD standards address not only children's physical safety, but also their intellectual and emotional well-being.
Whether you're looking at child development centers (CDCs), family child care (FCC) homes (also known as child development homes and family care homes), or school-age care programs, you'll find that all child care on military installations is required to be DoD-certified.
What the rules cover
The requirements for certification are similar in all service branches. Military child care programs are all based on the same DoD instructions and certification checklist. Where they differ, the standards must be more stringent than those set by DoD. The rules are specific to the type of care and the age of the children. Here are some of the areas covered by the standards and a few examples of the rules:
- Physical safety and comfort: Fire protection, enough indoor and outdoor space, safe and child-size equipment, nutritious food. For example, one rule says, "To create a home-like atmosphere, use soft elements, such as carpeting, cushions, rocking chairs." Another says, "Weed control in children's play areas will not include the use of herbicides."
- Intellectual and motor development: Materials and activities that are appropriate to each age group, chances to learn and develop new skills. For example, on infant care, "Talk and sing to babies." For preschoolers, "Provide everyday opportunities for children to write for reasons that make sense to them."
- Emotional development: Proper adult-to-child ratios, qualified staff who have had background checks, ongoing staff training, caring communication between caregivers and both children and their families. Providers are expected, for example, to "speak with children in a friendly, positive, courteous manner, ask open-ended questions, and include children in conversations." Caregivers should "encourage parents to visit the program."
How inspections improve quality
You may decide that you like what you see when you visit a home or center, but you may wonder what it's like when you aren't there. Military child care programs are subject to unannounced inspections several times each year and must be recertified annually. If inspectors find anything that is life-threatening, the matter must be fixed immediately or the dangerous area closed until it is fixed. If they find something that is not life-threatening but does not meet the agreed-upon standard, they give the program 90 days to fix the problem. Installation commanders hear about any inspection criteria that have not been met and what corrective action will be taken. The military has also set up hot lines so parents can report child abuse and safety concerns anonymously.
The military provides standardized training for all providers working in any type of child care. Caregivers are required to participate in continuing education each year. Raises for program staff are linked to completion of this training and demonstration of competence. This ongoing training and the pay incentives that are linked to it help reduce the rate of staff turnover at most certified centers. And because both staff expertise and stable, long-term child-caregiver relationships are important factors in child care quality, these rules help assure high-quality care for your child.
Depending on their level of experience and education, caregivers at certified centers and school-age programs must complete between 24 and 36 hours of training within the first six months to a year of work. At a minimum, every caregiver must have 8 hours of orientation training and 4 hours of observation in a classroom before working with children. Directors and training and curriculum specialists must have a combination of formal education and experience in early care or education. Family child care providers usually have between 24 and 40 hours of training before they can open their homes for care.
Accreditation gives you an outside expert's measure of quality
The military has taken the extra step of requiring that all centers and school-age programs on military installations be accredited by a national accrediting body. Centers are currently accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). School-age programs are accredited by the National Afterschool Association (NAA) and the Council on Accreditation (COA). Family child care providers are encouraged and supported in their effort to seek accreditation from an organization such as the National Association for Family Child Care. All three accrediting organizations are highly respected in the child care field.
Accreditation standards, which are the result of years of study of best practices, are the highest and most comprehensive standards set for child care. While fewer than 10 percent of civilian child care centers are accredited, 95 percent of centers at military installations have earned that status.
The accreditation process can take a long time, usually a year. Providers first assess their own program in detail and then the accrediting organization observes, reviews documentation, and talks with people in the program. Most programs then spend time making adjustments before accreditation is awarded. Accreditation must be renewed every three to five years by the accrediting organization. The result is that providers are continually evaluating their program and looking for ways to improve it. Studies have shown that accredited programs have more child-initiated activities, higher staff morale, better-defined goals, and a more culturally diverse curriculum than non-accredited care.
The DoD's goal is to increase the number of high-quality child care spaces by helping providers meet the standards of certification and accreditation. More available child care held to the military's high standards will make your choices easier.
You can learn more about military child care certification standards from your installation child development program. Visit the registration and referral office or the child development center and ask to see the standards checklist used in quarterly and annual inspections. You can also visit the Military HOMEFRONT Web site to find frequently asked questions about military child care. Go to www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil and look for "Child Care" under "Troops and Families." Use the "Military Installations" locator link to find contact information for all DoD child development programs.
To learn more about accreditation of child care centers, family child care homes, and school-age programs, you can visit the Web sites of primary accrediting organizations:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (child care centers) at www.naeyc.org
- National Association for Family Child Care (family child care homes) at www.nafcc.org
- National AfterSchool Association (school-age care)at www.naaweb.org
- Council on Accreditation (school-age care) at www.coanet.org
If you can't use military child carebecause there aren't enough spaces or you live too far away from an installation, new programs help military parents find and afford quality child care in their civilian communities. The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), through a partnership with DoD, provides subsidies to offset the higher cost of civilian care and offers specialized resource and referral services for eligible military parents. To learn more, visit the NACCRRA Web site at www.naccrra.org . Look for "Child Care for Military Families" to find out how NACCRRA supports military families. Click on the ChildCareAware icon to begin the search for child care in your civilian community.
Your military support services
Each service branch sponsors information and support programs for service members and their families. You can call or visit any installation Army Community Service Center, Marine Corps Community Services, Fleet and Family Support Center, or Airman and Family Readiness Center regardless of your branch affiliation.
If you aren't near an installation, National Guard Family Assistance Centers are available in every state. The Local Community Resource Finder on the National Guard Family Program at www.guardfamily.org will identify your closest center.
Otherprograms of note:
New Parent Support Program (NPSP)- details can be found here.
Parenting and Child Care resources - details can be found here.
Parents ofchildren with special needs can find information hereand here. You can also gohereand do a search for children with special needs to bring up a variety of resources.An example of available resources is the DoD Special Needs ParentToolkit. Parents of children with special needs should also look into the EFMP programand TricareECHO. You can comment on proposed changes for ECHO via information provided here.
USA4MilitaryFamiliesoffers these links:
The Department of the Army is giving the West Virginia National Guard $4 million to build a child development center in Charleston.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd said the 8,700-square-foot facility will be able to accommodate up to 100 children when it opens next year.
The center will be built at the guard's headquarters complex.
West Virginia Adjutant General Alan Tackett says onsite day care is becoming increasingly important to military families.
Byrd says the West Virginia center is the first of two the Department of the Army is building as part of a directive from Congress to build centers across the county.
The other will be built at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
If you have questions regarding any type of child care and are unable to locate the information or resources that you need locally, you can contact Military OneSourcefor help. For localsupport contact your child development centers, child and youth servicesor your installation family/community services office.