PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, California -- Tiffiny Edwards is a busy woman. She's a student at Monterey Peninsula College, a mother, a military spouse, and a business owner -- as a Family Child Care provider.

Army Community Service's Family Child Care program matches the military community's ongoing need for quality child care with those of military family members seeking a portable career during their sponsor's time in service.

"A lot of our spouses are looking for jobs where they can work from home, so their job can move with them, or so they can spend time with their own children," said Traci Gibson, director of the Family Child Care program for ACS at Presidio of Monterey.

FCC meets those needs and helps other military families, she said.

Becoming a Family Child Care provider starts with a detailed background check and 40 hours of classroom training which includes state health and hygiene requirements; a critical component, since providers both change diapers and serve snacks. Most of that training transfers seamlessly to other Army installations, and much of it is transferable to Family Child Care programs run by the other service branches, Gibson said.

Adriana Rodriguez was recently certified as a Family Child Care provider and is preparing to open the doors of her business from her home in Ord Military Community's Doe Park.

As the mother of a toddler, she said a major draw for her was the chance to work from home while raising her son.

During her training, FCC arranged for her to work at the Monterey Road Child Development Center and gain experience working with larger groups of children.

"I really appreciate all the help getting started," she said.

The military's support in meeting the many legal and regulatory requirements in starting her business was a major reason she decided to get certified, she said.

"There's a lot that goes into it; the curriculum, the reports. You're not 'just a babysitter,'" Edwards said.

Military families who aren't familiar with the Family Child Care program are sometimes surprised when they enter a Family Child Care provider's home to see equipment and activities similar to those found in professional day care centers, but on a more intimate scale, Edwards said.

Providers use an ACS-managed website to implement an Army-wide early childhood education program, including development of lesson plans, tracking of each child's developmental milestones, and regular communication with parents.

"I wasn't aware, when I started, how rigid the guidelines were. I didn't think the kids would just be sitting in front of the TV all day. But, it's very rigorous," Edwards said.

Providers set their own hours, agree to follow DoD's guidance regarding the rank-based pricing structure, and the age and number of children they can care for at one time. In exchange, reduced rates for children of junior service members are subsidized by the military.

FCC caregivers are also mandatory reporters, trained to spot signs of child abuse and neglect.

"One issue we deal with is isolation. Providers are home all day with a house full of kids," Gibson said. "So one thing I do as the Family Child Care program manager is try to get them out and about."

At PoM, the FCC program arranges field trips for children and providers and leads a song-and-story hour in provider's homes.

When an in-home provider does need time off for an appointment, or to complete required training, the Child Development Center on post provides care for their charges. The program is also working to certify substitute providers who can work on-call to cover medical appointments and other emergencies for the in-home providers. Providers earn one paid personal day per quarter, Gibson said.

While being a Family Child Care provider can be a great career, she said, prospective providers should think carefully about the commitment required, both before and during the start-up process.

"When it doesn't work out, it's often because of the impact on their family's lifestyle," she said. "The provider might be on board, but their spouse needs a quiet place to study. Or they have a child who doesn't do well with a lot of other kids in their home."

Edwards, like many spouses, said she was initially drawn to the Family Child Care program for practical reasons.

"I wasn't necessarily looking to get involved in child care," she said. "I've always worked, mostly administrative jobs, and I really wanted to own my own business."

Now she's also pursuing a degree in early-childhood development and plans to open a day care center when her husband leaves the military.

Her advice to those interested in becoming a Family Child Care provider is to approach the process with an open mind.

"It's a good job, but it's a hard job. Don't let it be for the money. You have to like being around children. If you don't, it's not for you," she said.

SIDEBAR:

So, you want to be a Family Child Care provider?

If you live on Ord Military Community or in the La Mesa housing community, you could be eligible to provide child care through the Presidio of Monterey's Family Child Care program. (Families living off-post may become Family Child Care program providers, but must also meet additional state licensing requirements).

The program provides an in-depth background investigation, training, equipment and supplies for establishing your business, providing quality in-home child care for local military families.

Once qualified, much of your training will transfer to similar programs at other military installations.
To get started, contact FCC Program Manager at (831) 242-5820 or email traci.m.gibson.naf@mail.mil for an application.

After submitting the application, immunization records and background investigation requests for all adults living in the home, prospective providers can enroll in 40 hours of classroom training, offered quarterly by PoM Army Community Service.

After training, the FCC program manager works with individual providers to help them establish a space for child care in their home, and meet applicable health and safety requirements.