The cost of childcare is one of the largest, if not the largest, expense in a family’s household budget. This is in comparison to grocery bills, mortgage, rent or even college tuition. Families want their children to be in good childcare situations, those offering a high quality program, and for good reason.
The research bears out the fact that quality childcare programs produce children who are ready for school and offer children the opportunity to explore, grow and develop optimally. However, affording such a program is a reality check for most.
Luckily, with a bit of legwork and research you can find high quality childcare programs in your area offering discounted programs. Many are subsidized by the local, state or federal government. Other resources listed below are designed to help you pay for childcare if you qualify. Lower cost options exist, but you must do your research first as many centers do not openly advertise these low cost alternatives.
Learn About Work and School Discount Childcare Assistance Programs
Many states offer programs for students who are parents and wish to still attend high school or college. To find out if your high school offers this program, the first place to obtain information is with your school’s guidance counselor or school nurse. Additionally, locate and contact a local office of Child Care Resources & Referral office. 400 offices are located throughout the U.S. Their contact information is easily obtainable online.
Many college campuses understand their students may either be non-traditional students with children, or single parents struggling to continue their education. Most childcare programs offered on campus are reduced in price and may even offer them for free.
Of course, the one main requirement is that you are actually a student of the college. Most offer childcare through age five, and many also run a pre-k and HeadStart program concurrently.
If you are working, speak with your human resources officer or department. Often companies maintain a childcare or dependent care policy or option. In some instances, as an employee you can allot a portion of each paycheck to go directly into a fund for childcare.
It is tax free, but must only be used for childcare. More companies have moved toward offering childcare services on site.
When searching for childcare options in your area, be sure to mention the company you work for as some childcare centers have agreements with businesses.
These agreements offer a percentage discount for each child in these instances. This is often listed in your employee handbook, but if your handbook is outdated, it is worth a trip to human resources to ask.
Learn About Government Programs for Childcare
If you currently receive food stamps or receive other types of government assistance you probably qualify for childcare vouchers as well. Child care subsidies offset some of the cost of taking your child to a center close to home. Each state maintains its own set of eligibility criteria and income threshold guidelines.
You can find out what your state requires by visiting your state’s educational resources section.
One of the more reknown programs for young children is the Head Start program. This is sometimes called the Early Start program in some states. This program’s goal is to make sure that low income children have the same access to educational opportunities in their formative years as other children.
Resources are dedicated to helping low income children develop socially, mentally and emotionally in age appropriate ways.
Pre-K Programs are offered in each state and in multiple locations in nearly every county in the U.S. This program offers early childhood education and childcare for children who are between three and five years of age. The focus is on school readiness.
Depending on where you live, your pre-k program may be completely free if you qualify. Pre-k programs start out as part-time and then usually move to full time programs.
Military families also receive assistance in many states. If you or your spouse is in the military then Child Care Aware of America offers discounts to military families with young children.
Each military branch has its own set of criteria for qualifying. Contact your ombudsman for more information and for how to apply in your state.
Learn About Non-Governmental Childcare Discounts
Each childcare provider determines and sets discounts and pricing. The good news about that is that it also means they can set their own criteria for offering discounts. If you find a childcare center or situation you really love, but cannot afford it, discuss the options with the director.
Chances are good that there is some provision made for a sliding fee scale, or various payment plan options.
Many local non-profit organizations offer scholarships to families in need of childcare assistance. The Child Care Resource and Referral center maintains a listing for those in your area.
If you are going to be enrolling more than one child, most centers offer a multiple child discount, but be sure to ask. Many waive registration fees in such instances.
Native and Indigenous Peoples Programs are offered to those families identifying as American Indian or Native Alaskan. Tribal organizations receive grants for child care. If you qualify, search for HeadStart programs in your area.
If you live in Hawaii, look into the PATCH program, which is the local childcare referral service. Each native or indigenous peoples program aims to work with the specific cultural needs of the community and to offer assistance of several types when possible.
How to Use Your Tax Credits
In some states, the federal government offer tax credits for families with children. This means a certain amount is removed from your overall taxable income each year. Two that are still in effect are the child and dependent care tax credit and the earned income tax credit.
Each year this may be adjusted by congress, so the amount received varies. There are certain minimum qualifications you must meet before receiving the tax credit, so be sure to consult your accountant before banking on receiving this award.