5 Surprising Facts About Military Child Care That Can Hurt Your Wallet

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Child care decisions can be complex.  This can be especially so for military parents or guardians who are making them under time constraints while transferring duty stations or during deployments.

Below I’m sharing 5 military child care facts that could impact your budget. By understanding some of the surprises that can arise when navigating military child care, you can make the best decision for your family.


1. Waitlist for On-Base (CDC) or Family Care Center (FCC)

On-Base Care is often the most attractive option for Military Families. Below is a breakdown of some of its biggest advantages:

  • Cost-effective: Child care fees are subsidized and based on total family income with a progressive fee structure. Fees are often lower than civilian care centers.
  • Top-rated: More than 95% of DOD child care centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children, or NAEYC
  • Convenient: On-base child care reduces commute times because families already live on-base or it’s convenient to a parent or guardian’s place of work.
  • Longer Hours: Care centers are open longer hours to accommodate irregular work hours, shift work, and 24-hour duties.
  • Certified Caregivers: Caregivers must complete 40 hours of training within three months of starting their job. They train in first aid and emergency care, infant care, administering medication, early childhood development training, and child abuse detection and reporting. Each center has a training and curriculum specialist with a bachelor’s degree in or relating to early childhood education and oversees that training needs are met and received. In addition to these trainings, all caregivers must pass a background check.

How can this hurt your wallet?

DOD child care centers are also often the hardest to secure a slot at. You may get on the waitlist and still be on it by your next PCS move. This can leave families paying unexpected fees or higher child care costs who had been budgeting for the lower cost of a DOD or FCC care center.

Why are the waitlists so long?

  • Inaccurate representation of waitlist and available slots: Waitlist numbers are usually not made public so families cannot gauge how long they will wait for a slot to open. Many families will not enter the waitlist due to this unknown (and usually lengthy) wait and seek child care elsewhere. Because of this, child care centers do not have an accurate representation of how many child care slots are needed.
  • Accessibility: Priority off the waitlist is given to active-duty single parents, dual-military families, wounded service members, or direct care staff, affecting your chances of securing a slot.

2. Low Subsidized Off-Base Care Amounts

When child care on-base is not available, or a viable option, Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood (MCCYN) is a fee assistance program that helps subsidize the cost for off-base care. Here’s what makes it a great resource:

  • Flexibility: You have more care options to choose from when looking off-base and can make decisions based on desired neighborhood or specific care models.
  • Quality Care: Eligible Care Centers must be nationally accredited, but keep in mind that each service branch has different accreditation criteria. You can find accredited providers with this search tool.

How could this hurt your wallet?  Here are some eligibility and cost considerations:

  • First, you need to be denied a spot at your military installation before you can sign up for Child Care Aware of America’s (CCAoA) branch-specific application
  • This program is conditional on receiving annual fund appropriations. Service branches will go on a waitlist status when funding is exhausted, which is frequent, so it is not guaranteed.
  • MCCYN advertises up to $1,500 to offset care costs, however, each service branch offers different amounts and subsidies are calculated by service rank and spousal employment, as well as the cost of local child care. Often, the amount received does not add up to the amount advertised as those figures are caps for calculation purposes and not how much assistance is provided.

3. Initial Out-of-Pocket Expenses for Care

After you have been denied a slot for on-base care and are waiting for the subsidy MCCYN to be approved, you likely still need child care now.

Here are some of the civilian care expenses you might not be aware of:

  • Deposits: Off-base child care deposits are typically the cost of one month of “tuition”. Tuition Costs are used to secure the care center’s income in case you choose to leave without notice. Even if you qualify for a subsidy, keep in mind that these deposits are usually not refundable.
  • Subsidy works in Arrears: Your subsidy may take months to be approved, so be prepared to pay the full cost of child care while you wait.  For example, if the subsidy is covering $700 of the monthly $1,400, you will pay $1,400 for a month or two until the paperwork is processed.

4. Waitlists for Off-Base Care

Before transferring to your next duty station, you begin calling care centers that meet the approval requirements for off-base civilian child care options. Here’s what to expect:

  • Waitlist Fees: Care centers often require you pay a fee to join the waitlist. Depending on the area you are moving to this can be as much as $100-$300 per child.
  • Long Waitlists: Waitlists tend to be long. Expect anywhere from a 3 to 12 month wait.  You may consider joining multiple waitlists to have better odds at securing a slot, but keep in mind that Waitlist Fees add up.

5. Non-Traditional Hours of Care

Military service often entails working hours outside of traditional business hours. Or, you may have just moved and are waiting for a care slot to open and need to hire a babysitter, nanny, or au pair to provide care in the meantime. Costs for in-home care are significantly higher than at a child care center

Currently, there is no widely available program to help offset the costs of in-home care.

In good news, a new pilot program, “In-Home Child Care Fee Assistance Pilot”, has been started to help off-set in-home care costs. As of 2021, this program is available in 5 regions – Hawaii, National Capital Region, San Diego, San Antonio, and Norfolk, however, the program is off to a slow start with just 5 families participating in the pilot.

What is Being Done to Improve Military Child Care Accessibility?

Despite how complex and often frustrating navigating child care can be, there are a lot of people and organizations advocating for better practices, accessibility, and equity for military families.

Below are a list of some of the organizations working to reduce these barriers and allow families to utilize support as they see fit:

Child Care Aware, a non-profit organization, is always advocating for change. They are running a campaign called #demandingchildcarechange which pushes for more funding to child care centers. While it does not benefit solely DOD-affiliated personnel, it does in the broader sense. Due to the number of closures following the Covid-19 Pandemic, there are less resources for everyone. You can also fill out a form on their homepage where they will connect you with your local elected officials to ask for more investments in child care.

In-Home Child Care Fee Assistance Pilot has been started in 5 US regions to help offset in-home care costs.

National Military Family Association is a strong advocate for military families. They bring their voice and knowledge to Congress and government agencies to improve support for military families.

Operation Child Care:  I founded Operation Child Care (OCC) due to my own decades-long struggle to find affordable, equitable child care. OCC is the first nanny referral agency exclusively available to DOD-affiliated families, contracting exclusively with DOD-affiliated personnel. Our mission at OCC is to bolster access to affordable, quality child care as well as fair practice military spouse contract employment.

Child Care Resources

Military One Source provides information to the resources and services you have available to you as a military family.

Child Care Aware of America is an organization that provides information and guidance on applying to the child care fee assistance programs available to military service branches.  Here are links to each service branch’s program:

Military Child Care dot Com provides information and answers questions about the new In-Home Child Care Fee Assistance Program

Operation Child Care (OCC) was founded by a Military Spouse who understands the lifelong effects that a lack of affordable, quality child care can have on a Military Family. Through advocacy, programming, and free access to knowledge, Operation Child Care supports our troops by supporting their families.

Kayla Corbitt is a military family advocate and the founder of Operation Child Care (OCC).  She has been an Active-Duty Army spouse for 9 years and is the mother of two kids. OCC was created in response to a decades-long battle for equitable, affordable child care. The mission at OCC is to increase access to quality child care and provide fair practice military spouse contract employment.  To learn more, go to OCC’s website:   


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