Pilot program to help military families pay for in-home child care gets off to a slow start

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A pilot program that aims to give military families another option for getting scarce child care is getting off to a slow start.

The Department of Defense’s Home Child Care Cost Assistance pilot project, available in five regions across the country since last summer, provides monetary assistance to help military families pay for a child care provider. caring for children in their homes. But to date, only five families are actively participating.

Another 43 families have child care providers who are completing their background checks and initial training, DoD spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence said.

The testing program was authorized by Congress as an option to help alleviate the critical shortage of child care services for military families.

Meanwhile, defense officials are working with the services “to review the current program and determine the way forward for the second year of the pilot,” Lawrence said.

“We are particularly focused on identifying improvements in the length of time it takes families and providers to complete program requirements and begin receiving financial assistance,” she said. Suppliers must meet DoD requirements, which can be found at MilitaryChildCare.com.

Officials have increased the amount of cash assistance available to families and improved its communications with families to make it easier for them to understand how it works and make informed decisions, she said.

When asked if the program would be expanded to other areas as authorized by Congress, she said the DoD “will continue to focus its expansion efforts on high-demand child care facilities and with unique mission-related requirements”.

In the first year, 250 slots are available across the five regions and 2,174 requests for assistance were received, Lawrence said. The third-party administrator, Child Care Aware of America, began July 6 contacting parents who had requested assistance with offers to participate.

These 250 places were allocated to the five regions as follows:

  • Hawaii, 30 seats
  • National Capital Region, 50 places
  • Norfolk, Virginia, 70 seats
  • San Antonio, TX, 30 seats
  • San Diego, California, 70 seats

Of those 2,174 applications, the program made 1,226 offers to families, but only 220 families accepted the offers and are progressing through the process to receive financial assistance, Lawrence said. More than half of them are Navy families:

  • Navy, 116
  • Air Force, 51
  • Army, 27
  • Marine Corps, 26

Child Care Aware continues to make offers and work with interested families for the remaining 30 spots. No information was available from the DoD on why only 220 families accepted the offers.

“The fact that only 220 families accepted the offers strikes me as odd,” said Nicole Russell, deputy director of government relations for the National Association of Military Families. “We know, because we’ve heard from many military families, that they would use this in-home child care.”

This is also confirmed by the fact that 1,487 military families in these five regions have active applications and are on the waitlist for the pilot on MilitaryChildCare.com.

Russell wonders if the process for vetting child care providers is too cumbersome. The military childcare assistance program in general is a complicated process, she said.

Lawrence said some families have worried about the high cost of employing in-home child care providers, even with financial assistance. “Often the cost of home child care is more than what a family would pay for child care at their facility’s child development center or family day care,” she said. declared.

Some families were struggling to find childcare due to the nationwide shortage.

“One parent suggested the department simplify the information shared, so families can better understand the program and the requirements for employing an in-home child care provider,” she said.

Defense officials have made some changes to the pilot program, including increasing the amount of financial assistance a family is eligible for, Lawrence said. They also implemented a monthly fee cap per child comparable to the traditional community fee assistance program, she said. said Laurent.

The amount of financial assistance a family can receive varies based on a number of factors, Lawrence said, including total family income and corresponding fees for a child in the military child care system, the number of children receiving care, the provider’s rate and the monthly rate cap per child.

“At a minimum, families are responsible for paying their military child care costs for each child in care,” Lawrence said. Military child care costs are equal to what they would pay at a military child development center.

The pilot program operates much like the long-running Community Care Child Care Cost Assistance Program, which is for service members who do not have access to care at a military facility, and is also administered by Child Care Aware.

Russell said NMFA has spoken with Child Care Aware about improving the user experience within the program. In many cases, she says, “you’re talking about a young military man who has a few years of high school trying to navigate this process. I wonder if this deters people who really need this financial assistance from participating in the program.

She noted that there is demand for this program outside of these five test areas.

“We would like it to be expanded,” she said. “We absolutely need more places for families. … There are child care deserts in many places, and a shortage of child care staff is still plaguing the child care industry right now.

Lawrence said defense officials have improved family communications provided by MilitaryChildCare.com, where military families go to apply for all child care services, including participation in this pilot program. The website contains links to information about the home care program, including information on eligibility, parent responsibilities, provider responsibilities, and other information.

One option families can use to research their provider is an expanded child care service offered at no cost to military families through MilitaryOneSource.mil. The DoD pays the fee for military families to locate the supplier in their area; families pay the provider.

“Families need to consider whether this type of program is the right fit for their child care needs,” Lawrence said.

As the pilot continues, she said, the DoD “continues to capture lessons learned and re-evaluate the program to better meet the needs of families.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for over 30 years, and co-authored a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families”. She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida and Athens, Ga.

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