Army Reserve Spc. Kadine Thompson had a tough choice to make in 2023: take care of her young sons or continue her military service. The way she saw it, as a single mom with no family around or affordable daycare options, she could not do both.
“Sometimes I’ve gotten to the point where I’m like, is staying in the Army worth it?” said Thompson, a shower & laundry specialist out of Chesapeake, Virginia. “I really want to be a part of this duty, but when I go, all I can think about is hurrying up and leaving, because I know my children are not being taken care of properly.”
Thompson isn’t alone. In a 2021 Blue Star Families survey, a mere 22% of military spouses reported having access to child care that works for their family situation. That’s why the Army Reserve and National Guard partnered with Upwards, the nation’s largest network of in-home childcare providers, to provide no-cost childcare for a new pilot program.
Thompson is one of those reservists — and she said the program has already been life-changing, even though it only started in September.
“It was like a big burden came off my shoulders,” Thompson said. “I was able to focus and just be at work for the first time.”
The nameless program came about when the DOD identified child care challenges as a major issue for many service members, said a deputy chief of staff for installations.
“The Army recognizes the impact that childcare has on the lives of our Soldiers and their families,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Vereen in an Army press release. “Through increased initiatives to identify and secure accessible and affordable childcare options, we enable our military parents to fulfill their responsibilities without sacrificing the well-being of their children.”
Executives at Upwards were happy to step in and fill some of that need — to “relieve a bit of stress from these service members’ lives,” said Jessa Santangelo, Upwards’ VP of business development & community impact. “They deserve that, not to have more stress going on.” Upwards’ model allows prospective military applicants to get approved online within minutes and receive narrowly tailored “concierge” services.
“Parents are matched with a dedicated matchmaker meant to do all the work for them, looking for specifics like whether they need someone with experience with potty-training or with children with special needs,” Santangelo said. “It’s like online dating, meant to match the family with the best provider for their child.”
The program, originally began in West Liberty, Iowa, and Clay County, Missouri, but now expanded to referred families around the U.S., will run for one year with the option to renew for another nine. Judging by the number of families who have signed up, Santangelo said, the demand to keep renewing will be strong.
“Already over 500 kids have registered, so it’s really been taking off,” she said. “After parents use it, they usually go back and tell other drill members about it. They often are like, ‘This is too good to be true,’ but it is.”
The money to pay the Upwards child care providers comes from DOD funds, specifically through use of an intergovernmental support agreement.
Thompson heard about the program from a fellow reserve mom. She had been relying on an elderly neighbor to provide care on drill weekends for her nine- and two-year-old, but it wasn’t a good fit. Occasionally, Thompson would even have to skip work and make up the time the following week. Some of the nearby daycare providers she researched charged more for her sons’ care than she made the entire drill weekend.
But then Upwards matched her with someone else, and her sons reported back how much fun they had. The result: Thompson plans to stay in the reserves as long as she can.
“I feel very valued and appreciated, like I belong in the Army,” she said. “Like I can give my all now, since I’m getting this tremendous help. My kids come first, but if they’re taken care of, I will do everything that my company needs done.”