FORT KNOX, Ky. — Recognizing that quality child care can be both difficult to find and afford, Kentucky leaders on Jan. 12 announced that the Defense Department has given them the green light to expand on an existing program.
Originally known as Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, the federal assistance program has provided eligible Families with fee assistance for over a decade to offset costs when installation care is unavailable. This assistance was only approved, however, at off-post centers that were nationally accredited, like the Fort Knox Child Development Center.
“In the local community near Fort Knox, only one other childcare facility is nationally accredited – in Louisville,” said Rayceil Oggs, director of Child & Youth Services. “This severely limited the options for military Families when they applied for fee assistance.”
The expanded program, called MCCYN-PLUS, eliminates this issue by giving states permission to fill the gap with quality care centers and in-home providers.
“With the PLUS, you don’t have to have that national accreditation,” said Oggs. “You can have a high rating from a participating state level.”
Kentucky already has a mandatory program in place to promote quality care to children, called the Quality Readiness Inspection System, or QRIS. Based on a five-point rating, state officials said over 740 providers statewide participate in the program at a minimum qualification standard of Level 3.
Oggs said QRIS weighed heavily in DOD granting Kentucky permission ahead of many other states to participate in the expanded program.
Fort Knox officials said they are encouraged that many of these QRIS providers in the area will see the added benefit of participating in the Defense Department’s program.
The QRIS program identifies and rates community care programs through a tiered quality care improvement system. Kentucky leaders anticipate this will open up more options for military Families while raising the bar on quality child care.
“These are the heroes who put their lives on the line every day,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, during the announcement. “We are always grateful to them and the sacrifices that their Families make, and we want to support them in any way we can.”
According to state numbers, there are 145 licensed care providers participating in the program to date. State officials anticipate more coming online as more military Families seek out quality care.
A major part of the program’s benefits includes Army subsidized fee assistance given to Families who take part in the program. They can receive up to $1,500 monthly from the Army to offset child care costs based on fees comparable with installation child development centers.
With the exception of the Navy, all other branches of service manage the MCCYN-PLUS program through a nonprofit organization called Child Care Aware of America. The group works directly with child care agencies and military Families. More information about their services or how to register can be found online at Home – Child Care Aware® of America.
In a Secretary of Defense Public Affairs briefing card produced by Maj. Charlie Dietz, four messages are highlighted about the critical need for quality child care.
“MCCYN-PLUS provides child care fee assistance to eligible military families when on-installation care is unavailable … expands child care options for military parents by providing more quality child care providers and reducing the cost of care … benefits the broader community by raising the quality of child care for both military and civilian families … [and] also means that eligible child care providers will have the opportunity to increase their income and grow their businesses by including military families.”
Dietz explains in the briefing that PLUS represents a state’s efforts to ensure military Families receive a standard level of care similar to what they would get at an installation’s child development center.
At Kentucky’s Jan. 12 press announcement, officials said they are considered to be “one of the first states to receive federal approval from the Department of Defense.”
That did not surprise Oggs.
“The state of Kentucky takes it very serious when you start talking about child care, and child care for Soldiers and Families,” said Oggs. “They have taken this and run with it because we have had so many people advocate for us.”
They also said child care centers and in-home providers who wish to be added to the list can do so. Child care providers who are not accredited can apply for fee assistance through the Division of Child Care or participate in the Quality Improvement program.
“This has opened up more doors for child care,” said Oggs. “Providers are still going to have to meet state of Kentucky standards, but it allows more military Families to find quality care.”