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Family Child Care providers may take in children ages 2 weeks to 12 years, depending on the circumstances.

Family Child Care providers may take in children ages 2 weeks to 12 years, depending on the circumstances. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — At-home child care has returned to this airlift hub in western Tokyo where military and civilian working families have long called for more day care services.

One woman certified as a Family Child Care provider said she opened her door Friday with space for three children on a varying schedule. Another provider may be approved by the end of the year with room for six kids, according to the 374th Force Support Squadron, which is responsible for the program at Yokota.

Family Child Care is provided by individuals vetted by the force support squadron. The homes may take in children ages 2 weeks to 12 years in varying circumstances, according to the squadron website.

“It brings me joy to see this program come to life again,” Maj. Jordan Hayes, the squadron commander, recently told Stars and Stripes. “And I know that I'm going to be able to take better care of my own airmen and their families because I now have a resource that I didn't have yesterday.”

The program has been absent at Yokota for nearly a year due to a lack of providers, according to Tenley Thayer, the squadron’s child care coordinator. And space at the Child Development Center is at a premium, with six children on the waiting list, according to information she provided in an email Wednesday.

“We really can’t predict next availability, unless we have received notice of someone withdrawing,” Thayer said.

Yokota residents complained at a town hall in 2020 of a need for more on-base child care and of insufficient space at the CDC, which had a six-month waiting list at the time, according to one parent. The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated the shortage by forcing managers to trim the center’s hours and seek Japanese hires to fill out the staff.

Service members value child care in terms of readiness and retention, according to a 2006 study by Rand Corp.

On Friday, Air Force spouse MaKenzie Tedder opened her door as a Family Child Care provider, she told Stars and Stripes by Facebook Messenger on Tuesday. She has availability for two preschool-aged children on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are slated for drop-in hourly care for two to three children ages 2 and older, and she has availability on weekends for two to three children of all ages.

Opening an approved Family Child Care service at home is a massive amount of work, said Tedder, 27, of Tucson, Ariz. She has been a licensed child care provider since September 2020 when she and her husband were stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

“Opening your home to other children is an honor,” she said. “I have spent over a hundred hours in training to become a provider and have also spent thousands of dollars to ensure that my environment was fit for my program.”

Air Force spouse MaKenzie Tedder opened her door as a Family Child Care provider at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

Air Force spouse MaKenzie Tedder opened her door as a Family Child Care provider at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. (Kelly Agee/Stars and Stripes)

The other home, which is still in the approval process, will have six slots for all ages, said Thayer, who helps would-be Family Child Care providers navigate their background checks, provides them with training and channels their applications to a squadron panel for possible approval.

After the home is approved, Thayer performs unannounced hourlong inspections every month.

“I see my role is more as a resource,” she said. “I'm not coming into your home, looking to find what you're doing wrong. I'm coming into your home expecting to see you're doing everything right. And if you're struggling with something, I'm there to help you get back on track and will help you figure out how to resolve a particular issue.”

Thayer inspects for health and safety hazards, including clean, baby-proofed kitchens; infant bottles served and stored properly; and that up-to-date immunization records on file for the children.

Thayer said she also wants to see how the provider interacts with children.

“You can have everything be spotless and perfect, but if your interactions with the children aren't good then it's not a safe environment,” she said. “It needs to be emotionally safe as well as physically safety.”

An approved home day care may provide services on a variety of schedules, including while parents are deployed, on weekends or overnight, and on a full- or part-time basis, according to the squadron’s website.

Family Child Care providers are paid $209 per week per child for their services, Thayer said. With a successful record, a provider may earn an incentive to get licensed at another base when their tour at Yokota is over, she said.

“Also, if it's more about you're looking for something to do, it's meaningful,” Thayer said. “You're helping children develop; you're helping the mission by providing care to and helping children.”

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Kelly Agee is a reporter and photographer at Yokota Air Base, Japan, who has served in the U.S. Navy for 10 years. She is a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program alumna and is working toward her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland Global Campus. Her previous Navy assignments have taken her to Greece, Okinawa, and aboard the USS Nimitz.

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