The Respite Care Question for Military Children

Accessing community-based respite care can be a challenge for many military families.  For instance, Active Duty families are seldom in a community long enough to find local respite care or available providers might not be covered through TRICARE, the military health care system. A study by Borden, et al. (2014) reveals why military families have trouble getting civilian respite care: Eligibility often requires qualifying for Medicaid and/or SSI (difficult for military families due to high mobility), cumbersome applications, waitlists, and shortages of qualified providers.

Fortunately, the Department of Defense provides some respite care through the following programs, and we’ll show you how to access them below:

  • Respite Child Care – not limited to children with special needs; providers are not neccessarily trained to care for children with special needs.
  • Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) respite benefit. Available to families qualified for and registered in this TRICARE program and who are receiving ECHO services.  Also, the Extended Care Health Option Home Health Care, a program within ECHO for families whose member with special needs requires home health care.
  • Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) respite care. This is NOT an entitlement, is only available based on funding and has distinct differences for each branch of service.

Respite Child Care

YMCA/DoD Military Outreach Initiative (external link)

Free respite child care is available for military children up to age 12 at participating YMCA locations for up to 16 hours of care per month, per child.  The family’s service member must be active duty or in the National Guard or Reserves and deployed (on active duty assignment and thus not available to physically parent).

*This program is not specifically to support military children who have special educational or medical needs.

Army (in addition to Army EFMP): (external link)

Child Development Centers (6 wks.-Kindergarten)

Family Child Care Homes (4 wks-10 years)

Respite care provides sixteen hours of free care per month per child for deployed Soldiers and civilians throughout the deployment cycle.

  • For Army Recruiters and members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Army Fee Assistance (AFA): Respite Care is available to families of geographically dispersed Army Recruiters and ROTC Cadet Cadre (trainers). These families are eligible for up to 5 hours of no-cost hourly child care for each child up to and including age 12 during an assignment period.
  • ROTC Cadre are eligible during the months of May through September.
  • Child care providers must be State Licensed and/or Nationally Accredited in order to be deemed an eligible provider to receive AFA. AFA programs

*These programs are not specifically designed to support children with special educational or medical needs.

 Air Force Aid Society: 

Provides financial assistance (need-based) to assist with respite care costs when an Air Force family is referred through the EFMP or Family Advocacy Program.

*Not specifically for children with special educational or medical needs.

 The Coast Guard and Navy do not have branch-specific respite child care programs, but do participate in the YMCA Program, above

Trained Respite Care

Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) 

The Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) is a program offered through TRICARE, the military health care system. ECHO may help military families who have a child with a qualifying condition due to their diagnosed disability. ECHO focuses on integrated sets of services and supplies beyond those available through TRICARE programs. Services are intended to reduce the disabling effects of a beneficiary’s condition.  ECHO offers a basic respite benefit of up to 16 hours of respite care per month.

Extended Home Health Care (EHHC) Respite Care within ECHO 

Respite care is a major provision of ECHO’s Home Health Care Program. ECHO, outside of its Home Health Care program, provides 16 hours of respite care per month.  EHHC, on the other hand, provides 40 hours per week of respite care (around 173 hours/month). The two benefits can’t be combined: families can only use either the 16 hour ECHO benefit or the much greater EHHC benefit in any given month.

Respite care will only be approved for its intended purpose of enabling primary caregivers to rest. (For example, families can’t use the benefit to go to work or attend school). Respite care will usually be covered when a beneficiary needs skilled interventions three (3) or more times in an eight (8)-hour period.

Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP)

Respite care through EFMP is available across all branches of service (Coast Guard program is called SNP).  It’s not an entitlement, so funding and availability are not guaranteed. It may be offered at some locations but not at others. Families must be enrolled in the EFM program to receive respite care.


 Borden, L., Cheatom, O., Hawkey, K., Kuhl, M., Sherman, M., Westerhof, L.  (2014) Respite Care for families with special needs. Retrieved from

Dougherty, S. and Kagan, J. (2012) Federal funding and support opportunities for respite: building blocks for lifespan respite systems. Retrieved from