My name is Kayla Corbitt, the spouse of an active duty [Army] service member. I created Operation Child Care, which is first and foremost an information-sharing network and advocacy company. We push for more centralized access to affordable equitable child care for anyone who’s military affiliated — active duty, veteran, even DoD contractor. If you have base access and you’re contributing to the mission, then you have access to what we do.
I met my spouse when I was in graduate school, and I had no idea what military life was really like. At the time, he was working at Walter Reed, and we had a standard schedule because that’s how hospitals work. It wasn’t until we were at our first overseas station that I realized how complicated the schedules really are for service members and what that means for their families. I was astounded by how the advertising of resources and the image of support for these families, [because it] wasn’t matching up to the reality for these same families.
While I was in grad school, I was working in contracts, so I was very familiar with government red tape. While [we were stationed] in Italy, I started helping families (read: expectation management) with their childcare options. I developed this hobby of helping families figure out their childcare.
When we moved back to the United States, I was 1000% prepared [to get child care so I could work] since I had been helping families do this from afar. I got everything set up, but it was the lack of accurate information that ended up leading me to a point where I had spent so much in child care, expecting it to be reimbursed, not knowing that the data was old. I had to quit my job; I couldn’t afford to pay for another daycare center. I’d spent about $7000 after that OCONUS PCS on child care that I thought was going to be reimbursed yet it wasn’t. At that point, the wait lists were too long, and I’d already been on those wait lists for eight months; there was no way it was going to line up so I could still go to work.
All of that led to me creating Operation Child Care, where, first and foremost, advocacy and information sharing is our primary goal. Secondarily, what we’re looking to do is fill the childcare gap that occurs when a family relocates by offering care providers to families that would otherwise need to quit or reduce their employment. We know that the on-base wait lists are spanning years, and we know that everyone is struggling with child care right now; it’s a nationwide issue. But the military is disproportionately affected because of our relocations. We do not have a support network. And with the cost that you know will be coming out of pocket: [one study for out-of-pocket costs] on average was $5000 with each PCS. When you’re already starting in the hole like that, you can’t afford to pay for childcare out of pocket while you wait on some kind of subsidy to kick in.
We created this search portal, and it’s currently live in the Norfolk region. We’re working on expanding it throughout the rest of Hampton Roads. What we’ve done is taken that search that I was helping families do —which took on average about four months just to figure out what subsidies they’re eligible for and what their options are— we’ve taken that down to just a few clicks with our site, and it is dynamic. We update our data monthly as opposed to most search engines for child care who do a yearly (if not every other year) update on who’s still licensed and what is accurate, and we’re working on adding availability as well.
All of this is for expectation management. If you’re moving to a new duty station and you’re told, “sign up for the CDC, sign up for this fee assistance!” and you think you’re going to get that, you’re going to plan very differently than you would if you knew you were not going to get that. So expectation management is our key piece. Secondarily, we are the first native referral agency exclusive to the DoD community. We contract exclusively with other DoD affiliated personnel. It’s mostly military spouses, some adult children of current service members, and some veteran spouses to offer this care. We are trying to close that employment gap that happens upon relocation with military spouses so frequently.