FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Under the Army Family Covenant, Fort Lewis leaders strive to make top-quality child care services available - and that effort does not stop at the gates to the post.

"A lot of times, our families miss out on the programs we have to offer because they don't know about them," said Lydia Hughes, Child, Youth and School Services. "They think if they cannot get child care on post that there are no other options. But that's not true because we have an Army wide program called Army Child Care in Your Neighborhood."

The program is a collaborative effort between the Army, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and local agencies, she said.

"We have always been a child care and referral service," Hughes said. "Over recent years, we have expanded the relationship we have had with Pierce County, to include King and Thurston counties, as well.

"Through this program," she said, "Army families can get a subsidy from the Army that makes off-post child care fees comparable to the child care facilities on post."

To obtain the information needed to use the off-post child care option, all families have to do is come to the Central Registration office in Building 2295 (Teen Zone) and ask for a referral. After the forms are filled out CYSS staff members will submit them for the family.

Hours are Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or Thursdays, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. CYSS also has a list of off-post providers.

"The registration service is free," Hughes said.

When child care fees are higher offpost, the family has only to pay the on-post rate. The Army covers the rest of the cost.

"This is another Army benefit that we want Fort Lewis families to know about," Hughes said. "We have a close working relationship with all of the off-post agencies. Outreach workers keep a relationship going with the off-post centers, and all of them are required to meet state licensing requirements."

Department of Army civilians are also entitled to use both the on-post and off-post child care facilities, Hughes said.

"We have had long waiting lists in the past (on post), and this program helps to alleviate that," Hughes said. "It gives families another child care option."

On-post child care fees are on a sliding fee scale with six different income-level categories. Each family pays a set fee based on the family's combined income and the number of children receiving care.

Full-time child care services for one child currently run from a low of $196 per month for families with combined annual incomes of $28,000 or less to as much as $586 per month for families with combined annual incomes of $70,000 or more.

Children in the on-post child-care centers range in age from 6 weeks to 12 years of age.

CYSS also offers middle school and teen programs for children up to 18 years of age, Hughes said.

To make an appointment registered for the Army Child Care in Your Neighborhood program, call 967-2494.

"Army Child Care in Your Neighborhood is another way of taking care of our families, and that's what the Army Family Covenant is all about," Hughes said.

Barbara L. Sellers is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.