By Lizann Lightfoot
Base Child Development Centers (CDCs) across the country have always had chronically long waiting lists. Now, some base CDCs are blaming the federal hiring freeze for their inability to hire new staff and maintain child-teacher ratios. Even though child care programs are exempt from the federal hiring freeze, the slow process of obtaining exemption paperwork is causing some CDC programs (like preschool or hourly care) to temporarily close.
One way to get around the CDC waiting list mess is to use on-base Family Child Care (FCC). The Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps use the term FCC, while the Navy uses Child Development Home (CDH). FCC providers are child care businesses in base housing or private homes which have been certified by the CDC. Because FCC providers are supervised by the CDC, you know that the house will be clean, the meals will be healthy, the rates are affordable, and the expectation of care is the same you would get from the CDC. Because they are private contractors, FCC providers are not affected by the hiring freeze and they don’t operate with the CDC waiting list.
Why are FCCs perfect for military families??
Flexibility: Family Child Care is typically provided by a military spouse in an on-base home. These businesses offer custom flexibility that is not available at the base CDC. For example, FCC providers may be open during evenings and weekends when the CDC is closed. In-home providers can offer individual care to children with special needs. The small group setting (usually no more than six children per adult) means that activities can be tailored to a child’s age and needs. In the CDC, children are required to be bottle-weaned or potty-trained at precise ages, whereas an FCC provider can accept a three-year-old who is not yet potty-trained.
Professionalism: The FCC provider runs a home business, and must be reliable, certified, and have a large stack of emergency paperwork to cover situations you may not have considered. As a certified professional, the FCC provider must have a curriculum plan, a daily schedule, and age-appropriate activities for children. This can be a relaxing and enriching opportunity for any child. At-home child care is particularly helpful for children between the ages of two and four because they can learn skills like sharing and following directions to help them prepare for preschool.
Affordability: FCC providers set their own rates with guidance from the base CDC. This means they are usually more affordable than day care centers off-base or private care in your own home. You can also work out a custom rate if you request something besides full-time care. CDC prices can be tied to the service member’s rank but that is not always the case with FCC providers. If your child is already on a CDC wait list, they may qualify for a subsidy for FCC rates.
If you are considering in-home care for your child, contact your base CDC or Family Center to get a list of approved providers. Be sure to interview multiple providers, visit the home, and ask detailed questions.
How could I become an FCC provider?
Anyone who lives on base and provides more than 10 hours of child care per week is required to become a licensed FCC provider. Refusal to comply can result in the revocation of base housing privileges. To consider whether this would be a good business for you, first consider the legal adult:child ratios. The ratios and rates are different for babies or toddlers. Any of your own children who are home with you during the day will be included in the ratio limit.
The Requirements: To become certified as a child care provider, you must be at least 18, speak English, and have a high school diploma. Some bases require that you live in base housing. A candidate should apply to the FCC program director in the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) office. The application includes three references and the process takes at least one month. Potential childcare providers will go through a background check and medical screening process. A home interview is part of the process, with a thorough inspection of the area to be used for child care. Then, candidates will go through a free 20-hour training program to review child care practices, CPR techniques, child discipline, and small business practices. After becoming certified, providers will have monthly home visits from the program supervisor and they will attend monthly meetings to keep their skills fresh. Certified providers can transfer their certification to another duty station when they PCS.
The Costs: The training to become a provider is held on base and is mostly free. The largest start-up costs are for insurance and supplies. All providers must purchase liability insurance. You may choose to purchase additional commercial insurance for your business. You must serve USDA-approved food to children in the program, but the USDA will reimburse most food costs. There are no required items for toy and craft areas, but many providers spend money on bookshelves, cubbies, extra toys and books, or craft tables for their space. Some base FCC programs let you borrow specialty items from a lending locker, so check there first.