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The Military Childcare Journey

At The Operation Child Care Project, we have the privilege of assisting those who want to be ready to serve the mission and need solutions for those they care about the most. The most impactful piece of this work is listening intently to these stories, especially since most families who reach out say that they don't feel heard.

We have a guest blog writer who was kind enough to detail her story before finding The Operation Child Care Project. Her story is not unique; we hear similar stories from families daily. We know that childcare access affects mission readiness and retention, mental health, unemployment, food, and financial security. Our mission is to address the underlying truth: childcare is at the core of most, if not all, issues that military families face.

Military Service Member Holding Hands with Wife

"Child care has been a point of stress since before our first baby was born almost

nine months ago. The greatest challenges are common to many: accessibility, affordability

and quality.

We entered active duty life in 2020 when many programs had stopped, and we have

thus played catch up in many ways. Prior to the baby’s birth in 2023, I knew from social

media groups that we would likely encounter long wait lists. We proactively began

researching before the baby was born.

In January of 2023, we PCSed across the country for six months where I had the

baby in April. We then PCSed to another state in June after her birth. Following my (mostly

unpaid) maternity leave, my spouse still had about eight weeks of leave. I was returning to

my salaried, 20-hour per week remote job. Having just moved to the area without any

family support and trying to rebuild any community support once again, it was my goal to

find a part-time solution. I felt confident that I could find a way.

Not knowing where to begin, I started with CYS. The site advertised a Family Child

Care briefing. This was perfect because we needed someone informed who could point us

in the right direction. This optimism faded, however, when I realized the number listed

routed me to the commissary. The other numbers and modes of contact didn’t work, either.

At that point, I figured we would have to find a non-military solution and I began

searching for a center with infant availability. But I soon realized how expensive and

inaccessible this process would be. It was more complicated than I expected. I encountered

waitlist after waitlist.

The primary issue was knowing the order of steps to obtain child care funding

assistance. Do we start with MYCCN? Or CYS? Or an FCC briefing? Or a community care

center? We tried to start at each of these points to no avail. I heard about Child Care Aware

by chance when my baby was already seven months old.

We interviewed individuals for private in-home care, but soon realized this, too, was

going to require most of my paycheck for the days and times required.

A couple of months ago, feeling paralyzed with the process and overwhelmed by

decision fatigue, I set it all aside. To get my work hours in, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. to get in as

many work hours as possible before my spouse left for work. I worked during her naps. I

worked into the evening upon his return. This meant my work day never truly stopped, and

neither did my care responsibilities. My spouse would put the baby to bed and wake up

with her at night, but I was working from before sun up to past sundown. Even this routine

eventually became untenable because of his morning PT sessions and other unexpected

morning events.

Eventually, I cut my salaried part-time hours, and when that did not help, went

freelance to take some time pressure off. Due to student loans, quitting work completely was not an option. Patching together hours during periodic drop-in care times, nap times

and post-bed times, it is possible—but it remains a fragile (and stressful) system as we wait

and work to find something better.

Over the past nine months since our baby’s birth, we have done hours and hours of

work, research, paperwork, vetting, calling, interviewing, asking around and more—to little

effect. In the wake of my decision fatigue, my spouse took over and has been able to make

some progress with stops and starts.

Looking back, there are many things I would have done differently. The fact remains,

however, that we simply didn’t know what we didn’t know. The channels we knew about at

the time (briefings, phone numbers, online searching) were technically available, but

ultimately the key resources we needed were inaccessible when we needed them. Even as

people with an action-oriented, make-it-happen attitude, at nine months post-birth, our

baby remains on waitlists and we have yet to secure a long-term solution."

Army, Active Duty Spouse

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