Defense has improved care for special needs children, report finds

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The Defense Department is improving and streamlining its efforts to care for military families with special needs children, according to a new report.

Defense policy states its child care centers must accommodate special needs children unless doing so fundamentally changes the nature of the program, the Government Accountability Office found. All four military services have inspection criteria in place to determine whether children with special needs are being accommodated, such as ensuring equipment and furnishings provide access to children with disabilities.

Only the Army and Air Force, however, are developing a central database to track new accommodations for children with special needs. In the Navy and Marine Corps, the accommodations are only watched on an installation-by-installation basis.

Military families have many options for child care services, but most choose from the 800 Child Development Centers. GAO said all CDCs have been or are in the process of being accredited by national organizations.

To improve the care for special needs children, all four services have partnered with Kids Included Together, a nonprofit that “provides training and technical assistance to child care staff working with children with special needs and their families.” The Defense secretary’s office also is working with the Office of Special Needs -- a Defense organization created in 2010 -- to improve care.

The four military branches do not currently have a uniform definition of special needs, but Defense officials told GAO they are working on establishing one.

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