The Navy’s motto is “Service above self.” Active-duty members often make sacrifices as they carry out their mission to win wars, deter aggression and maintain freedom of the seas. Their spouses make sacrifices, too, due to frequent and disruptive moves, the absence of the service member, heavy responsibilities for parenting and the challenge of finding child care in new places. The demands of life in the service also make it hard to find employment and have a rewarding career. So, many spouses are forced to opt out of the workforce.
Navy Child and Youth (CYP) Programs can help, as Christy LeDuff knows. Christy is both a military spouse and a program analyst at Navy Installations Command, where she makes policy, creates webinars, handles space management and placement, creates trainings and handles other big picture items that serve her mission. “Our primary duty is to serve active-duty military families by providing high-quality child care,” she says, “so they can be focused on their mission.” The CYP programs consist of four basic types of care: child development centers, child development homes, school-age care, youth and teen programs. CYP staff receive extensive training in child care, and many of them are military spouses like herself, Christy explains. “We determine the training requirements, provide assistance with college tuition and give them guidance.”
CYP also provides its child care staff members with funding and support to earn their Child Development Associate® (CDA) credential, Christy says. “Typically, the people who have direct care positions in our program are military spouses and the CDA is especially useful for them because it’s a portable credential. The CDA helps them all over the world, and we have folks who apply for the credential from all our different installations, everywhere from Italy to Spain, Bahrain and Japan, where my family is now stationed.”
Her job is a remote position with Navy Headquarters, and she’s been in Japan for five years, “a surprisingly long stretch of time,” as she points out. Since getting married in 2008 and starting to work for Navy CYP, she and her husband have lived in Texas, North Carolina, Virginia and now their current location. “Due to the nature of military life, many of our staff move every three years or so with their spouses, and when they come to a new installation, it’s very helpful for them to have the credential. Wherever they go, the CDA allows them to have a career.”
The Navy gives them the guidance they need to earn their CDA by offering formal coursework through the Virtual Lab School, a program developed by the Department of Defense and Ohio State University. The VLS is anchored by 15 core content courses that include the 13 Functional Areas of the Child Development Associate Competency Standards used in early care settings around the world. The core content covers research-based, developmentally appropriate practices for working with children from birth to age 5 across all the functional roles in child care settings.
As candidates work their way through the coursework and credentialing process, they also get support from training and curriculum specialists, Christy says. “We’ll typically have several of them at each of our child development centers to provide candidates with mentoring, help them with their CDA portfolios, and assist them with the application process. Some of them will also serve as Professional Development Specialists to ensure that CYP programs have competent staff.”
Families can choose to place their children in the centers or in child development homes, which can be located on installations or in the community nearby. Not all the providers at the homes are military spouses, but they’re all certified by the Navy and embrace the mission to serve Navy children. “These providers really dedicate their homes to offering quality early education and get their own families on board,” Christy says. And she’s seen their sense of dedication for herself. Before holding her current position, she worked as a training and curriculum specialist in Hampton Roads, Virginia, where she helped family child care providers earn their CDA.
“I put together a class where we met a couple of times a month to work on the credential,” she recalls. “In the area where we lived, we often had providers who’d been working for many years serving military families. It was interesting because most of the people who signed up for the CDA class were older and it was the first time they had earned a professional credential. They weren’t required to earn their CDA, but they were thrilled at taking such a big step in their professional lives.”
Christy found it very rewarding to work with these educators who’d been in the early childhood field for a long time. “Many of them only had a high school diploma, so it gave them a new sense of confidence,” she says, and it was well deserved. “It takes a lot of work to earn a CDA: completing the coursework, putting together the portfolio, having someone observe you in class, and having to talk about yourself with them. This process made them realize that child care is my career, not just a job.'”
Christy had the expertise to mentor these providers since she was trained to work with adults before finding her way into the early childhood field. “When I graduated from college,” she recalls, “I originally worked in higher education administration. Then I found it wasn’t a good fit, so I began working with college students on their experiences and that wasn’t a good fit either. So, I went to get a master’s in early childhood education at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas,” she says. While there, she worked in the campus early childhood lab school, and fell in love with teaching preschool-age children. She also met her husband and embarked on a life that required frequent moves.
As a military spouse and a mom, she knows first-hand the challenges that military families often face, and she has taken steps to help the Navy support them. “We do training for our providers that focuses on resiliency,” she says, “and talk about issues faced by military children. We use child assessment tools that can move with families to new installations and provide them with continuity. Obviously, there’s a lot of transition since children come and go and staff come and go. But, as much as we can, we try to maintain continuity in the classroom and make sure children have the same caregiver while they’re at an installation. When they do move, we have sponsorship programs to assist children at the new installation. Our school liaison folks will also work with families who have pre-K children with special needs and make sure these children are getting the right services to support them.”
In addition, Christy’s program trains providers to address the special challenges that life in the military poses for children “There can be a lot of traumatic events,” she explains. “Moving frequently can be somewhat traumatic. We have service members who die. And even when a parent doesn’t pass away, they may be deployed for a long time”—all traumatic events that affect children’s behavior in the classroom and at home. The children may perform worse in school, lash out in anger, worry, hide their emotions, disrespect parents and authority figures, feel a sense of loss, and show other symptoms consistent with depression.
Providers in the Navy CYP program know how to recognize the signs of trauma, Christy explains. “We work with our training and curriculum specialists to provide specific training and information on these issues. It’s also woven into the courses our CDA students take at the Virtual Lab School, so it’s basically embedded in the content we expose them to from the moment they step into the program.”
Navy CYP is on a mission to serve all military children, and Christy strongly supports it on both a professional and a personal level. She’s been through some of the challenges that active-duty families face in their constant cycle of moving because she has a seven-year-old son. “Benjamin has travelled with us,” she says, “and he was in a family child care home shortly after he was born. Fortunately, he’s become accustomed to the lifestyle and kind of rolls with the punches. But he finds it hard to give a response when people ask him where he’s from. Whenever he wonders what to say, we tell him, ‘You’re from the Navy.'”