If you’re looking for an in-home daycare, get on the waiting list and do it first thing.
It’s the best thing military parents can do when they relocate to a new base, said Kara Brown, community childcare coordinator for Ellsworth Air Force Base.
Brown licenses all the in-home daycares on Ellsworth Air Force Base and those associated with AFB. She also helps families find the right fit, whether it’s off-base or on-base, in-home care or a center.
“It’s a little challenging sometimes,” she said to locate the right care for your child when you move to a new location.
Jumping on the waiting list is the most efficient path, she added. The waiting list operates on priority – a single service member or a household where both spouses are service members – will have priority.
Pregnant women can also join the waiting list.
Brown keeps track and up to date on local care centers and is available to help families. Daycares that operate off the base must get licensed by the state and then Brown helps them get licensed through the base. If they are on the base, they only need the base license.
The AFB license includes training, meeting qualifications and monthly inspections. The benefit to using an AFB licensed daycare is income-based tuition. Additionally, the Air Force pays in-home daycares for the owner’s children if they are included in care.
The base also operates the AFB Child Development Center (CDC), which takes children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. The pay is also based on income. One of the benefits of working at the center is that employees do not pay tuition for their first child.
Brown said she understands that childcare is a high priority for families who come to Ellsworth, she said.
“It’s extremely important,” she said. “If you come here for work and you don’t have childcare, it’s a struggle. They’re worrying about finding quality care.”
Brown’s tip? There’s no such thing as too much research.
“It’s so important,” she said. “If you’re looking at an in-home center, go to the home and walk around. Make sure it’s a good fit.”
Transitioning from center to center or home to home after you’ve had your child signed up can be hard on kids.
“Children are resilient but when they move here, they’ve already had that transition of coming here and it’s better to find the right place right away,” she added.
Peter and Lindsey Davis agreed with Brown. The couple moved to Ellsworth from New Mexico in 2021. Peter is assigned to the 28th Force Support Squadron as the Manpower and Organization Superintendent and Lindsey is assigned to the 89th Attack Squadron as a Flight Medicine Technician. The couple have two children,, ages 5 and 3.
The couple utilized an off-base childcare facility at the start, but realized within a couple of days that it wasn’t the right fit for their family.
“Lindsey and I found it difficult to find childcare that felt right for our family and our needs,” he said.
They ended up moving their children to the Ellsworth AFB CDC.
“One lesson we learned is to not enroll your kids in a center sight-unseen,” Peter said. “You should not buy a house sign-unseen, why send your kids to a childcare center you are not familiar with?”
Communication with staff has been an important piece in the process.
“Always focus on the needs of your family,” he said. “Not all parents share the same needs, and just because one center is not right for my family does not make a childcare center bad for another family. The more invested you are with the center and vocalizing the needs of your family, the more you ensure you and your kids receive the care they need.”
Child care was the top priority when they moved to the Black Hills.
“If your family is not taken care of, and you are worrying about them while they are being cared for, you as a parent cannot function to the fullest and the mission will fail,” Peter said. “Once we got our kids enrolled at the CDC, all worries and stress went away.”