New System at MacDill Eases Struggle to Find Child Care

U.S. Air Force photo
U.S. Air Force photo

TAMPA -- Two years ago, Airman Jenay Randolph was stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy when she was given orders to transfer to MacDill Air Force Base.

She had one small child and was eight months pregnant with her second.

Finding childcare 5,000 miles to the west at MacDill, Randolph says, was the most stressful part of her move.

"It was very difficult because I couldn't get my child on a wait list until I actually got here, so as a single parent, it was stressful."

On Wednesday, a new web-based system went online at MacDill that will help alleviate some of the hassles of trying to find childcare for families frequently on the move., a website run by the Defense Department, allows parents to register for existing on-base childcare services quickly and easily.

Instead of the uncertainty of having to wait to get to a new base, or tracking down childcare development center numbers and making calls back and forth at a busy time of family upheaval, MacDill parents can go to the website and register.

"If I were able to do that from Italy would have been much easier," says Randolph, 26, whose children, Jaylen, 3, and Jordyn, 2, are enrolled in day care at MacDill.

The base is in a second phase of Air Force centers joining the online registration program, says Susan Long, chief of Airman and Family Services at MacDill.

The website launched in January and overall, more than 50 bases in the U.S. and a few bases in the Middle East and Asia are now part of the program, expected to go worldwide at all U.S. military installations by December 2016.

Aviano is not yet on the list.

There are more than 500 children enrolled at MacDill's three child development centers. Another 80 families are served by in-home child care providers and 84 children at Tinker Elementary School, on base, take part in pre- and after-school programs. There is also a 10-week summer camp program.

All of the MacDill childcare programs are staffed by providers who are licensed by the base and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Families who are already enrolled don't need to register again through the website, says Long, adding that children from six months to 12 years are eligible. "is a lot easier for parents," says Long. "If you are deployed and suddenly get orders to MacDill, you can do it from the website wherever you are. Before, they would have had to contact the child development center when they arrive. They would have to come to the facility, fill out a form and we would try to accommodate them if we have availability."

Another advantage, Long says, is that instead of having to constantly check in with a childcare center to see if there is an opening, parents will get email notices as soon as an opening comes up. They would then have 48 hours to respond.

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, the new system was running smoothly, Long says. Just one or two users were expected because the program is so new and summer is the busiest military transfer season.

Like Randolph, Tech. Sgt. Ali Rose says she wishes the website went online years ago.

For Rose, a 35-year-old mother of three, MacDill represents her fifth move -- known in the military as PCS for permanent change of station -- since enlisting in 1998.

"In the past, whenever I was PCSing, I started to research things on the Internet," says Rose, whose children, Tyler, 15, Jason, 12 and Jacob, 4, have all been enrolled at one time or another in military childcare. "I had to figure out where to put my kids, track down a phone number and figure out what paperwork I needed to fill out to get on the list. It was a long, complicated process. It was very stressful."

During deployments, she says, she was fortunate her husband, Mike Rose, a civilian contractor with Special Operations Command Central at MacDill, was able to take over the childcare arrangements.

But not every military parent is so lucky., says Rose, "would help out" during the military's frequent transitions.

"There are so many things you have to worry about. If I can do this one-stop shop and quickly get my child on the waiting list, and know they are good to go, that's great."

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