Any parent with young children who works outside of the home (or even from home but needs distraction-free time to complete tasks) knows the struggle of finding affordable, reliable childcare to keep those precious children safe and happy while mom and dad are at work.
For a military parent, the struggle is even more pronounced—long hours, overnight shifts, longer separations due to a deployment or training exercise, distance from extended family. All of these can make caring for a growing family logistically challenging.
The military requires all parents who serve to have a family care plan in writing. This outlines how the children will be cared for on a daily basis as well as during emergencies. The ideal option will look different for each family.
Here are a few popular solutions that keep military kids cared for while their parent serves.
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Frequently Asked Questions
The Child Development Center
The official child care option that is sponsored by the Department of Defense is called the Child Development Center, or CDC.
This option is available to all active duty, DoD government civilian employees, reservists on active duty, DoD contractors, and Coast Guard service members.
The exact capacity varies with each facility based on their available space and staff, but all follow the same guidelines set forth by the DoD.
The CDC is a good option for care for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old.
Children are broken up into age-based classrooms and all have teachers and assistants to keep them safe during the day, as well as provide enrichment activities, snacks, naps, and hygiene.
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Some facilities offer late night or even 24-hour care, usually for those installations that have military commands with unusual working hours. The typical hours are around 6:00 am – 6:00 pm.
One major benefit that the CDC offers is hourly care for those who only need occasional childcare.
This is a good option for the military family who has one parent at home with the children who may need child care when things like medical appointments, trips to the DMV, or other tasks come up that are easier taken care of without young children in tow.
Enrolling in the CDC is a similar process to enrolling in any civilian daycare. Parents should expect to take a tour, provide medical records, and provide routine and emergency contact information on official enrollment forms.
Preference is given to single-parent households and families with a two parents who work outside of the home, particularly when both parents are serving in the military.
The cost of childcare is based on the Total Family Income, or TFI.
This means that junior service members who make less per month will normally pay less for the same child care services. The exact amount is calculated ahead of actual enrollment.
Discounts are given when enrolling multiple children or when participating in after-hours care (such as special evening “date night” events or summer camp).
In-Home Care Provider Network
Some military families may want to seek childcare in the home of a provider.
This may be due to personal preference or due to a long wait list for the desired CDC location.
The Child Development Homes program, also run by the DoD, provides a list of certified in-home providers that work with the military community.
This option is open to families with children ages 4 weeks to 12 years.
Providers are required to meet all state licensing requirements, as well as additional certification by the DoD.
They are also encouraged to be accredited by the National Association for Family Child Care. National accreditation through the NAFCC means that a child care provider has meet high standards and is part of a professional network of providers.
Many participants in the Child Development Homes program are connected with the military themselves and understand the unique challenges that military parents face.
The exact curriculum and cost of in-home care varies and can be discussed with individual providers that seem like a good fit.
All installations are required to facilitate extended care hours due to the nature of military work. Shift work and overnight duty may require a parent to need 24/7 care for their child.
This option is most often provided through the Child Development Homes program, although some installations have a designated 24/7 Center.
Civilian Daycare Facilities
Sometimes, military parents seek out child care at a civilian facility. This may be due to a civilian provider being closer to the family’s home or the spouse’s job or just because they provide additional enrichment opportunities that the parents want to use.
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Many civilian daycare’s, especially those in areas with a high concentration of military families, recognize that it takes a village to raise a child and want to be part of a military family’s village.
This is why so many offer military discounts and other services that a military parent may need.
Child Care Aware
This national nonprofit connects families with quality child care options.
They also provide child care fee assistance when the military family is not able to take advantage of installation childcare through the CDC or CDH programs.
Because civilian daycare is often more expensive and not based on income, Child Care Aware fee assistance can help cover the difference.
Fee assistance is only available in cases where the military family does not have access to installation care, either due to lack of space or being stationed in a remote location. It is not used to accommodate personal preference.
The official Child Care Aware website provides a state by state map to locate a resource near you.
La Petite Academy
With locations all over the country, La Petite Academy is a good option for those wanting civilian care that will likely continue to be available even as they relocate to a new area.
Care is able to start as infants and continue through Kindergarten.
La Petite Academy teaches using a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum and Positive Behavior Support for all ages.
Military families benefit from a 10% tuition discount. The school also offers a part-time option for those families needing to cover less time.
Cost is based on the amount of time the child attends as well as the age of the child. La Petite Academy also participates in Child Care Aware fee assistance for military families who qualify.
You can visit their official website to learn more about military family assistance.
KinderCare Learning Center
Another popular civilian provider, KinderCare Learning Centers provide care for infants through Kindergarten.
KinderCare Learning Centers are education-based and provide opportunities for all forms of development for their students.
Tuition also varies and is based on location, the amount of time the child spends at KinderCare, and the child’s age.
Military families do receive a discount on tuition and can participate in Child Care Aware fee assistance, if applicable.
You can explore their programs and curriculum, find a center near you, and learn more about their military discount on their official website here.
Bright Horizons Family Solutions
This daycare facility caters to children from infancy through elementary school, making it one of the best options for those wanting to keep their children in the same child care environment for many years.
Many of the Bright Horizons staff use Montessori teaching methods in the classroom, an approach that emphasizes practical life skills and age-appropriate independence.
Bright Horizons also provides resources and tips to help military parents thrive in their role.
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Back-up and emergency care is another great option for those parents who have other child care arrangements but need a secondary option for the times when their primary child care may be unavailable.
Bright Horizons works with some of the largest employers in the US to provide quality and affordable child care services.
You can learn more about their military discount here.
Whether you are searching for an occasional date-night babysitter or ongoing full-time care, Care.com is a great online resource that connects families to pre-screened child care providers.
Parents are able to view profiles of providers, post an opening, and message potential care providers to find the right fit.
The qualifications of the providers vary but most have some experience with child care or education. Those with more experience often charge more, as expected.
Pay is arranged directly between the family and provider.
Military families can enjoy 25% off the normal monthly membership fee.
All families are responsible for paying their child care provider through the website, which will take care of payroll paperwork and tax compliance, if applicable.
Live-in child care
If you need more flexibility or just want to keep your children close to your own home, a live-in child care provider may be a good fit.
Live-in nannies often have experience with young children and may even have a degree in early childhood education or psychology.
Parents can find a live-in nanny through a local or national agency, which will take care of the background screening and may even help process payroll.
For those interested in hosting an international care provider, the au pair program brings qualified men and women from other countries to the United States to provide child care.
Working with an agency will make sure that all required travel documents (VISA, international license, background check) are in order.
It’s important to keep in mind that additional paperwork may be required for military members working with sensitive information to disclose their ongoing contact with a person from a foreign country to the DoD.
Many nanny and au pair agencies offer a military discount of up to 10% that can be used towards administrative fees.
Make sure that you clearly outline what the nanny or au pair is responsible for in the contract, as well as any house rules or expectations.
It can take some time to adjust to a new person in your home and it’s important to keep open lines of communication about the children and any other questions that arise.
Frequently Asked Questions
How will the military help pay for my child care?
The military does not pay for childcare but there are a few ways that military members with children can ease the financial burden of child care.
Military members with dependents (spouse or children) listed in their official record receive a higher Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), which is meant to help with the additional housing costs of having a family.
If you do not use this difference to pay for a larger home (rent or mortgage), you can put it towards the cost of child care.
For those using the CDC, the cost is based on Total Family Income. This helps junior service members afford quality child care that they can trust to take care of their children as they advance in their military career.
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How much does a typical child care service cost?
Child care costs vary widely. The following factors can impact how much child care typically costs.
- Type of care: Care from a nanny tends to cost more than full-time daycare, as the provider is taking care of fewer children and charges more per hour.
- Location: Major metropolitan areas have higher costs of living than rural areas or small towns. This includes child care costs, especially for civilian providers.
- Number of children: Having more children in child care costs more overall but most providers offer a per child discount for siblings.
- Staff training: Daycares that employ staff with advanced degrees or certifications in early childhood education are often more expensive, because they have to pay their teachers more.
- Length of time of care: Full-time care tends to cost less per hour than part-time care, even though the overall cost is higher.
Does TRICARE cover child care services?
TRICARE, the military’s health insurance, does not cover child care costs.
TRICARE covers “all medically necessary services for children.” This includes routine care, such as well-child visits and immunizations, as well as illness and injury care. When a child is referred to therapy by their pediatrician, TRICARE will generally cover that care as well.
For children with ongoing special needs, TRICARE may cover therapy that is delivered routinely by a professional provider.
One example is Applied Behavioral Analysis, during which a trained ABA provider comes to the home and works with the child. This is not considered child care, but a medically necessary service.
Does the VA help with child care?
The Department of Veterans Affairs does have a VA Child Care Subsidy Program that may be available to help with the cost of child care.
The program is not available in all areas and only partners with a designated list of child care facilities.
Finding reliable, affordable child care is one of the first questions a new, working parent must ask. For military families, the added challenge of long hours, overnight or shift work, and separation from extended family may mean that special arrangements are needed.
Whether your family chooses to use the Child Development Center, the Child Development Homes program, civilian care providers, or live-in child care, there is a solution that will help you thrive as a military family.
Important Phone Numbers You Should Be Aware Of
Child Care Aware – 800-424-2246
NAFCC – 801-886-2322