Family Child Care program provides employment, care alternatives

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

10/8/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The 42nd Force Support Squadron is searching for caregivers for the Family Child Care program.

The Family Child Care program provides opportunities for people to stay at home with their child and set their own hours while offering child care for others. A Family Child Care home is one on or off base where child care is provided to a group of children regularly. Care can be provided for up to six children three to 10 hours a day, for more than 10 hours a week, to children aged 2 weeks to 12 years, with no more than two children under age two.

Children of any active duty military member, contractor, or DOD civilian employee supported by Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex are eligible to participate in the program, provided they have current immunizations.

Brenda Wiley, assistant director of the Maxwell Child Development Center, said there are advantages to a home child care setting.

"It offers children a smaller group in a more home-like setting, providing the opportunity for more one-on-one attention," she said. "It offers those who would like to be home with their children an opportunity to earn money for their family while working out of the home. It is a business that can be taken with the provider when moving."

Such an arrangement is ideal for those parents who work odd hours or those with children with special needs. For providers, the requirements are many, but so are the rewards.

Elaine Griffiths, the only current Family Child Care provider affiliated with Maxwell, can attest to the value of the program. She has been a provider since 1993, beginning her business at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and taking it with her to Hurlburt Field, Fla., and then Maxwell in 2004.

Ms. Griffiths originally started making her home a Family Child Care home because she wanted to be there for her son, then 3 years old, while making some money.
"I didn't think it was something I'd ever do," she admitted, "... but I have been doing it ever since."

Though her sons are now grown, her daughter is 13, and Ms. Griffiths likes being at home for her.

"I like to be here when she comes off the bus and goes to school," she said.
She runs her business out of her home in Prattville, caring for six children: a 1-year-old, a 2-year-old and four 4-year-olds. The play room at Ms. Griffiths' house is colorfully decorated and contains many books and toys to keep little hands occupied and little minds growing.

In addition to the flexibility of being available to one's own children, providers can also participate in the Air Force subsidy initiative, which allows parents to pay the same weekly fee they would be charged for child care in the child development center or school-age program.

Providers also have access to a lending program that provides various items to assist them in their child-care business, including safety items, furniture and toys, as well as USDA reimbursement for meals. Providers are also given an opportunity for training and assistance in becoming accredited with the National Association of Family Child Care.

The key to making child care work day after day?

"I follow schedule for the most part," Ms. Griffiths said.

When children come to her in the morning, they get free time, breakfast and "circle time," which includes an educational lesson from Ms. Griffiths. Outdoor time follows, then indoors for crafts before lunch. They take an afternoon nap, have a snack, and go out if it's cool outside.

"The schedule is the most important part, and the kids know what is coming next."
Although Ms. Griffiths appreciates the impact the program has had on her life, she said the most important thing about the program is the difference it makes to parents needing to work.

"I like being there and seeing that parents can feel comfortable going to work and leaving their child with you," she said.

Requirements and screening

To ensure the providers meet Air Force standards in safety, developmentally appropriate equipment and individualized attention, providers are rigorously screened and monitored. People providing child care services on base must also meet FCC licensing requirements.

Requirements include a prescreening interview and background checks for the applicants and family members.

Once an applicant passes the screening, they take an orientation-training program, at least 24 hours in length. Fire, public health, safety and family child care staff examine their homes. They have physical exams and immunization updates, and all family members have immunization records screened.

The Family Child Care Panel must review providers initially, as license status changes and upon recertification. Providers receive yearly unannounced inspections as well as inspections for recertification.

Providers are also required to have two hours of training each month and to complete the Air Force Family Module Training Program, with 18 months of licensing or about 60 hours of training.