Not sure how to determine if you're eligible for local or federal aid? Here's what to look for and how to find child care aid in your city.
Whether it's for an emergency, an occasional need within a limited time frame or you don't have money to spare for a sitter, child care issues can cause an enormous amount of stress for parents. Jobs, professional responsibilities or personal commitments can be disrupted at the drop of a hat if there's an interruption in your daily child care routine.
Finding affordable child care assistance options when you're in a bind is no easy task, but thankfully, even for those in dire financial circumstances, there are several places to turn to for help.
There are government agencies and corporations that offer various grants for families of all income levels, says Dr. Diane Levin, a professor of early childhood education at Wheelock College in Boston. She adds that "although government support for child care grants and special programs has dwindled quite significantly over the last several years, there has been a corporate push to provide assistance for early childhood programs and services in various ways." Below is an overview of a few local and federal child care assistance options and how they can help you in your quest to find affordable resources.
- Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF)
TANF is a temporary cash assistance program that may be available in your city to help with emergency situations and subsidizing the cost of child care. "Information on whether you are eligible to receive aid from TANF or other state-specific programs is available via your state's Department of Social or Human Services," according to Jessica Read, a parent liaison specialist for Child Care Aware of America.
"Social Services can also usually provide information about such programs as food stamps, Medicaid and the women, infants and children program known as WIC, among others," she says.
- Office of Child Care
An office of the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Child Care provides low-income families with access to early child care and after-school programs. Parents receive help paying for the child care provider of their choice, and can also access tips about what to look for in day care centers.
- Child Care Providers That Offer Sliding Fee Scales
Local in-home day care centers may offer special payment programs or income-based pricing for daily child care. Dr. Levin believes that small, private family day cares can be a positive alternative to large centers where there is often exposure to technology and media at a very early age, due to corporate sponsorships.
In her book "Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood," Dr. Levin explains that child development experts agree "that too much interaction with technology can actually have an adverse effect on young children, and kids under the age of 2 should have no engagement in media at all."
She suggests that "instead of searching for day care centers that are outfitted with all the latest technology and computer learning systems, parents should try to find child care programs that focus on encouraging play and on having children use their imagination."
- Child care resource and referral centers (CCR&Rs)
These are "state-run programs that collect information on what day care resources and financial aid may be available in each local municipality," Dr. Levin shares. CCR&Rs may be able to assist parents with such things as locating affordable child care, applying for various financial grants and enrolling in educational parenting workshops that focus on finances and budgeting. Search online for resources in your state.
- Child Care Aware Hotline
Child Care Aware provides access to information that helps parents locate quality child care in their area. The site contains helpful tools for both families and child care providers alike, such as parenting articles and links to local and national child care organizations.
"In addition to serving as a search engine to find local child care resource centers around the country, Child Care Aware also offers a hotline through which parents can speak to a child care specialist about determining eligibility for state or federal financial assistance programs," Read explains.
Whether or not you make use of any of the listed resources for locating affordable child care, "the focus should always be on finding the best possible day care situation for your child," says Dr. Levin. "Some families may feel disadvantaged because they can't afford certain video games or other electronics and they try to save towards those things. But parents should keep in mind that if they redirect funds more toward quality child care and less toward technology, it's one of the best gifts they can give their child."
Tisha Berg has been a freelance content writer and desktop publisher since 1997, with articles on family life, healthy living and parenting appearing on Working Mother, AboutOne, Lifescript and United Way. Tisha holds a bachelor's degree in theater history from Hunter College in New York City and is also certified hypnotherapist.