According to Child Care Aware® of America’s 2015 Parents and the High Cost of Child Care report, the cost of child care is one of the highest in a family’s monthly budget. It is often higher than the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation or food. Families all across the country know that it can be hard to find quality child care that is affordable.

While quality child care programs may cost more, the fact remains that it is important for children to have quality care. When children are in a quality child care program they are able to develop, explore, and grow.  A safe and nurturing early learning environment allows children to get ready for school, and their parents are able to focus on work or school knowing that their child is in a healthy, caring environment.

It is important to make sure that the child care provider is state licensed (and not exempt from licensing). You should always ask to see a copy of their state license. It is also a good idea to review the providers’ past inspection reports. Visit our State by State Resource Map to learn how to access these reports in your state (click on your state, then find the Child Care category).

If you’re not sure if you can afford quality child care, take a look at some of the resources below that may help families with paying for child care.

Financial Assistance Programs

There are a number of financial assistance programs that offer help paying for child care, if you only know where to start.

Government Programs

  • Child Care Subsidy (also called vouchers, fee assistance, etc.) – Each state receives funds from the federal government for their state’s child care subsidy program. These programs assist low-income families to help pay for child care so that they can work or attend school. Eligibility requirements vary by state. Visit our State by State Resource Map (click on your state and find the Financial Assistance category) to find state or local contacts.
  • Head Start Programs – Head Start programs promote the school readiness of children and provide a wide range of services to support children’s mental, social, and emotional development. Early Head Start serves children from birth to 2 years old and Head Start serves children 3 to 5 years old. Families with an income at or below the poverty level may be eligible for Head Start. Other factors that affect eligibility include homelessness, children in foster care, or receiving certain types of public assistance. For more information visit https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/directories/apply.
  • State-Funded Pre-K Programs – State Pre-K programs target children 3 to 5 years old. The focus is on early education and school readiness. Some states offer these programs at low or no cost to eligible families. Programs may be part-day or full-day. Your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency (CCR&R) can usually tell you if there is state Pre-K where you live and where to find local programs. Find your local CCR&R here or by calling Child Care Aware® at 1(800) 424-2246.
  • Military Fee Assistance Programs – Child Care Aware® of America offers child care fee assistance to eligible members of the military. Eligibility requirements are determined by each branch of service. Visit www.usa.childcareaware.org to find program information. You may also call Child Care Aware® at 1(800) 424-2246.

Tax Credits

Speak with a tax specialist or visit www.irs.gov for more information on these tax credits and more. Your local CCR&R may be also able to assist you with this information. Find your local CCR&R here or by calling Child Care Aware® at 1(800) 424-2246.

Work- or School-Related Programs

  • Assistance for High School Students – Some states offer financial help for high school students that need child care to finish school. Use our State by State Resource Map to contact your state child care subsidy office (select your state, then find the Financial Assistance category). Ask about funds set aside for high school students.
  • College or University Child Care – Some colleges and universities offer child care on campus. These programs may offer special discounts to students and faculty/staff of the college or university.
  • Employer Assisted Dependent Care – Some employers may allow employees to put a portion of each paycheck into a special fund to use for child care. The money placed in these funds is not taxed. It can only be used toward the cost of care, however. Check with your Human Resources department about what might be available where you work.
  • Other Employer Resources – Some companies may offer child care on-site for children of employees. In addition, some larger child care programs may offer discounts for employees of certain companies. Ask your employer if they have a relationship with any nearby child care programs that may offer a discount based on where you work.

Local and/or Provider-Specific Assistance and Discounts

  • Sliding Fee Scale – Some providers may allow families to pay a rate based upon their income. This is called a sliding fee scale. Some CCR&Rs have lists of providers that offer this, while others may not. If your CCR&R is unable to direct you, ask them for a list of child care providers nearby. Call providers you’re considering and ask if they offer a sliding fee scale. You may also want to ask if they offer payment plans or other options to help with paying for child care.
  • Local Assistance or Scholarships– Local nonprofit organizations or individual child care providers may offer fee assistance or scholarships for child care. Be sure to ask your CCR&R and any child care programs that you call to see what is available.
  • Sibling Discount– Certain child care programs offer a discount to families that enroll siblings. They may take a percentage or dollar amount off of a child’s weekly or monthly rate. They may also offer to waive the registration or other fee. Ask each provider about a discount if you enroll more than one child.
  • Military Discount – Many child care providers offer discounts for military service members. Ask potential providers if they offer any discounts.

Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan and American Indian Programs

  • Native Hawaiian Child Care and Preschool Programs – In Hawaii, there are programs that assist with child care and preschool for children who are Native Hawaiian or of Native Hawaiian ancestry. Families should contact PATCH (the local CCR&R) for more information.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native Assistance – Tribal grantees across the country provide child care assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native families. The funds come from the federal government. Eligibility requirements are determined by each grantee. You can find grantees listed by tribe or by state. There are also over 150 Head Start/Early Head Start programs for AI/AN children in the U.S. Find AI/AN programs with the Head Start locator.

Lower-Cost Child Care Options

Finding lower-cost child care may mean looking into a different type of care. You may ask your Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) for a list of providers with specific requirements.

  • Family Child Care Homes – The average cost of care at a licensed Family Child Care (FCC) home is lower than the average cost of a center. Ask your local CCR&R for a list of Family Child Care homes. Then call to ask about rates and set up a visit. Be sure to ask FCC providers about their education and experience. Ask if they have a degree in a child-related field, a Child Development Associate credential (CDA), or a national accreditation. Ask about First Aid and CPR trainings and how long they’ve provided care in their home. Visit our Selecting a Child Care Program page for more questions to ask potential providers.
  • Nonprofit Programs – Nonprofit providers often have lower rates than for-profit providers. Some nonprofit providers include YMCA (may offer both early childhood and school-age programs) and Boys and Girls Club (school-age programs). Churches and other religious organizations may have lower-cost child care programs as well.

Child Care Aware® can discuss financial assistance programs and child care options with you. We can answer your questions or put you in touch with a local contact that can help. We’ll also give you some resources and guidance to help you select a quality child care. Call 1(800) 424-2246 or request an online chat.