Mom, Army National Guard Sgt. urges child care providers, soldiers to sign up for pilot program

Mom, Army National Guard Sgt. urges child care providers, soldiers to sign up for pilot program

Mom, Army National Guard Sgt. urges child care providers, soldiers to sign up for pilot program

A few months into a new federal program meant to help military families in select states pay for child care, there are not enough child care providers to go around in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota National Guard.

This traces back to a U.S. Department of Defense program Gov. Tim Walz announced in January that was meant to ease the cost of care for military families in hopes of retaining more soldiers.

RELATED: Walz highlights new child care opportunities for military families

Part of that larger program is a pilot known as the Weekend Drill Child Care program, and that’s where the National Guard says providers are lacking.

By signing up for it, Minnesota military families who need it can get weekend child care for free, and participating child care providers are reimbursed $16 an hour per child and up to $1,800 per weekend.

Single mom and Sgt. First Class Amanda Kasten said she was thrilled to discover the new resource to cover the cost of care for her six-year-old daughter as the sometimes seven-day per week babysitting commitment “got a bit taxing” for family who live nearly an hour away.

Sgt. Kasten said the savings have been “significant,” but only after she spent months searching high and low for an eligible, available provider.

“Trying to find somebody that was willing to provide care on a weekend was quite the struggle. It probably took me about four to six months,” she said, adding that the gap between the number of military parents in need of assistance and providers available for weekend drills is “actually pretty large.”

Kasten finally found Malynda Zuleger through a separate, Anoka County day care resource page. Zuleger, who owns Backyard Adventures Family Child Care in Spring Lake Park, said she didn’t know of the program until Kasten reached out.

“So it was new to me,” Zuleger said, admitting she was hesitant at first to sign up for the program and commit to weekends on top of a busy Monday-Friday schedule and having her own kids.

“The fact that her daughter was six and my daughter is six, that kind of stood out to me as, ‘Oh, that can maybe work out for us.’ So, I sent her my info and through there, we had an interview and the girls hit it off right away. So you know, it worked out really great for us.”

The kids’ compatibility, schedule flexibility and the extra money — in that order — ultimately won her over, Zuleger said.

“It’s not just once you sign up, any kids are going to show up on the weekend. That’s not how it works,”
she explained.

“It’s just like your regular business. You’re still choosing the families that are going to work for you, and it’s just a good opportunity for us to support our service members.”

Not only are there not enough providers signed up, but just a fraction of families who qualify for the service are enrolled too, Kasten mused.

“We need both the soldiers to sign up and use the program, and we need the providers — who maybe normally provide care Monday through Friday — to consider opening up their doors to provide care for a military child on a drill weekend,” she said, adding, “If they have any questions about the process or filling out the paperwork, I’ve done it, we’ve done it, we have experience with it, and we will help out.”

The federal program is administered by nonprofit Child Care Aware of America. Additional information for interested providers and military families can be found on its website.