Choosing the right child care provider is likely one of the most important decisions you'll make as a parent because of the impact it can have on your child's overall growth and development. Wondering where to begin? Starting your search is easier than you might think.
Things to consider
Every child is unique. So when you start evaluating your child care options, it's important to consider your child's age, personality and needs. You should also factor in practical things, like your work schedules, transportation and extracurricular activities. Start your search by making a list of the most important, non-negotiable points about your child's care. Then, rank any child care options available on your installation or in the local area against that list.
Here are some things to help guide you through your decision-making process:
Your child's needs
Some children need small, quiet groups, while others thrive in larger circles with lots of activity. Your child's age and personality will help you determine the best social environment for the child, and it's also important you have peace of mind about your decision and your child's well-being. To gauge your comfort level, ask yourself, "Can I imagine my child here? Will he or she be comfortable and safe?" Your answers can help you make a sound decision.
The right child care environment is crucial to helping children take important steps toward independence. In the right space, they become socially acclimated to both peers and elders, and have valuable experiences that help them learn the difference between right and wrong. There are areas of child care that may require an extra measure of nurturing and attention.
- Care for infants — Parents of newborns and infants can understandably be guarded when leaving their baby in someone else's care. Children of any age can be attuned to their parent's feelings, so they might feel your discomfort. Visit the child care provider in advance - whether it's in-home care or a child care facility - to make the transition easier, and to help your child become comfortable with the caregiver while you're present.
- Care for children with special needs — Special needs children should be in a comforting, stimulating and safe care environment. Depending on your child's needs, he or she may require some added support services. Discuss your child's special needs with any potential caregiver, and ask if they're properly trained to meet those needs or are willing to get more training.
Where your child care is located should be ideal for both you and your child. For you and your partner, consider whether you want your children close to work or close to home. For your children, consider the look, feel, structure and safety of the environment. Is it in a safe neighborhood? What do the play areas look like? Is the location kid-safe and kid-proof, clean, and equipped with the proper tools and activities needed for learning? These questions and more can help you choose a safe environment that also provides good learning experiences for childhood development.
Work hours can be an important factor if you work at night, have weekend duty, stay late at work or travel out of town. Most installation and community child care centers are open during the standard Monday through Friday work week and generally charge a late fee for exceeding the daily operating hours. The Department of Defense's family child care (described below) may be more flexible for parents who work extended hours.
Child care costs can vary greatly depending on where you live, your child's age and the kind of care you choose. Ask about all fees and charges. Some programs charge special fees for registration, transportation, materials or food, and some may charge full-day rates for part-time care, particularly if there are a limited number of openings.
Child care options for military families
You have a great advantage — the military offers quality, affordable child care options both on and off an installation that improve the quality of life for military families and can ease your mind while you're away from your children. The DoD programs are:
- Child development centers — There are typically one or more CDCs on your installation. The centers offer care for infants and children age 6 weeks through 5 years in a safe care environment that meets professional standards for early childhood education. Programs typically operate on weekdays, with daily schedules that accommodate most parents. Some centers offer part-time and hourly (drop-in) care, and some may offer care during special events and briefings. Fees are based on a total family income calculation. The centers often have wait lists, so get information on availability as soon as you know you'll need care.
- Family child care — Providers care for a small group of children in their own homes, which may be on or off the installation. This is a good option for military families because they may provide care outside normal working hours (extended or weekend hours), and may care for older children before and after school. And they're a good option for children who prefer a smaller, family-style environment. All FCC homes must meet DoD certification standards. Contact your installation's CDC or your information and referral office, if available, for a list of local FCC providers.
- School-age care — The DoD also oversees this program for children from kindergarten to age 12. School-age care provides care before and after school, and offers summer and holiday programs.
Installation referral services
Some installations have a Resource and Referral Office that may help you find child care providers and provide information on waiting lists and costs. The office can also help find solutions and make arrangements if you're overseas, where it's common for care providers to come to your home and language barriers can make finding off-installation care difficult. If your installation doesn’t have a Resource and Referral Office, the CDC or family programs office may provide similar support.
The child care you choose should make you feel secure in knowing your child will be safe and happy, and treated with both respect and affection. For more information and a directory of child development centers at your installation, visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.