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Understanding the Air Force’s New Childcare Program

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-01-15

The number of families with both parents in the workplace increases each day, forcing parents to make critical decisions about who will care for their children. In the United States alone, numerous cases of abuse have resulted in both costly lawsuits and a mistrust of the growing institution we call childcare. One result of that unfortunate state of affairs has been the placement of cameras, and the introduction of stringent guidelines, in childcare centers. The aim of these measures seem to be, not only to protect the child care centers but - most importantly - the children.

In response to an increasing demand for day care providers, both in quality and in quantity, the Air Force has implemented a new family childcare program that will affect every base. Since the Air Force childcare program was first launched in 1983, few changes have been made until now. By Air Force estimates, approximately 40% or more of some 15,000 dependent children of Military members and civilians are cared for in a licensed family childcare home, located on base. The rest are attended to within child development centers and school age programs. Because families depend on childcare so much, the childcare provider often significantly impacts the development of children - the reason why making the decision about who cares for one’s child can be so important.

On Okinawa, a DOD or military member usually has three options for childcare: the child development centers, the family childcare program and off-base childcare centers.

While the child development centers seem to be the most popular of the programs, oftentimes a parent will encounter a waiting list with a time frame of 1-6 months. Part of the attraction to the child development centers is that they are closely monitored (video cameras in the rooms are now a common sight), and they follow well-known curricula. The Wakaba child development center, for example, follows the Marazon system, which is an individual based curriculum depending on the observations by the teachers. According to Kim Pasi, the center director, providers in this environment can easily identify the individual needs of a child. Another advantage to the child development center is that all teachers are required to complete training, and a Training Curriculum Specialist is on staff to aid in this requirement.

If a waiting list is encountered, usually the next step is to look for a qualified home childcare provider, leaving some parents feeling uncomfortable with this as their only choice. While family childcare providers are closely monitored, safeguards such as cameras are not in place, and educational curricula are not required as they are in the child development centres.

Under the new Air Force initiative, only the family childcare program will be affected. Although the program has not been implemented yet, soon there will be four levels of family child care licenses: provisional, standard, developmental, and accredited. The main reason for the new program, according to Linda Madison of the Family Childcare office on Kadena, is to promote both a more professional childcare atmosphere and also offer a variety of options for parents. "Under the developmental license, providers will be offering a higher standard of care." Focus will be placed on cognitive learning and school preparation, much like that of the child development centers.

During the first three months, new providers will be given a "provisional license" to ensure they will be able to comply with the Air Force's standards for family childcare homes. At the end of the three months, a license will be issued for the remainder of a two-year period. During the first two years of licensing, providers may choose to operate at any of the three levels, but after the first two years they will be required to advance to the developmental level.

So, what does this mean for those who are choosing a childcare option? The Air Force believes this program will offer more choices for parents, and at the same time offer more activities to prepare children for school and support their development.

Some licensed childcare providers already focus on issues such as development and activities that enhance the learning process for children. Alisha Smith, a family childcare provider, feels that it is important to help the children develop self-esteem and social skills through a variety of activities. "Some examples of the activities we do are music play time, creative time and projects working with the senses." Through the family childcare program, Mrs. Smith has received training and continually reads "modules" to gain more knowledge about childcare.

Smith also says that parents often struggle with trying to find a good childcare provider. "Many times the slots are full at the child development center, or if they have an infant, the infant slots are full with home childcare providers." Although the process can be difficult, finding a provider can be done if you have a good list of questions to ask in the interview process. Smith says that it is important to have good communication with your provider and make your wishes known up front. "You are not just paying for a babysitter, you are paying for positive learning environment for your child," she says.

Parents should be careful not to focus on the physical facilities as the only sign of good childcare. State of the art facilities and regulations do not guarantee quality childcare. Off-base facilities have different standards, but the best care for the children is still paramount and, in most cases, a standard curriculum is followed. For example, Kids Kampus, an off-base facility, follows the Highridge curriculum and focuses on language, math, science and arts and crafts, while the Rainbow Montesorri school in Chatan offers Boston trained and experienced teachers.

In the final analysis, higher standards in childcare will undoubtedly help a parent make better decisions. Parents must make careful choices based on the entire program, the whole curriculum. Parents should also trust their instincts, and make good note of basic signs of good childcare such as clean facilities and the disposition of other kids that already attend the place.

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