DC Area Daycare: Let’s Get Real About Childcare


Childcare in the DC area is hard. Daycares have waitlists. Nanny-shares and home-based care have their own complications. And in this region none of them are cheap.  This is not a post about what to look for in a daycare or in home care (though important!). Nope, this is about things to keep in mind that the usual “How To Pick the Best Daycare” posts and articles sometimes leave out. For DC residents the Office of the State Superintendent has done part of the research with their My Child Care website.

Let’s get real, no one can look after for your child with as much love and care as you, but parental leave is going to run out, bills need to be paid, and money has to be made. So ‘I owe, I owe, It’s off to work I go’.  We had to find care for our son, despite what the usual guides say, they were silent on limitations that parents like us face.

Availability of Childcare Openings

Wait lists are not just for DC area public and charter schools, they are also a thing for DC area daycares. Once we had our home study for adoption, I started looking around for nearby daycares and in home care, but unlike parents who get pregnant, we had no idea when our child would come. Without that information, we couldn’t tell when we would need care, so I let two neighborhood child development centers (CDC) know that we existed. I have heard some parents get on waitlists as soon as the pregnancy test shows positive. When we got the call that Junior was available for adoption, I contacted one of CDCs, found out they had openings in their infant room and made arrangements to apply (they are very analog). We lucked out. Not everyone is so fortunate and have to scramble to find child care before their leave runs out, or find a temporary solution until a spot becomes available.

Besides waitlists, there are age restrictions of how young places will take a baby. We found several taking them as young as 6 weeks old but others requiring children be a few months old. 

Financial Cost of Childcare

One of my coworkers told me there is a downtown daycare that is $900 a week. I’m sure it is awesome. However, my husband and I only make so much money. We’ve only vaguely talked about my husband being a stay at home dad, but Junior is just one kid, and the cost of daycare is just enough for both of us to continue working. Last year we spent about $17,000 for Junior’s care, the average cost in DC is $23,666, which takes up 12% of DC families’ household income.

One of my irritations when looking at childcare websites is that the price is not listed. When people post availability in their nanny-share, sometimes the cost is left out. I understand there are different prices for infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers. There are also different price arrangements for full week and partial week care. 

The District of Columbia has a voucher program to help parents afford daycare. At a parent’s meeting, the administrator at Junior’s daycare suggested looking into eligibility even if you think you might not qualify. Vouchers are for those receiving public benefits, such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), those, “who are pursuing additional education to improve their job opportunities,” and other eligible families. Looking at the 2017 sliding fee scale, we saw as a double income household, we weren’t eligible.

Location of Childcare 

Before Junior was adopted, we looked at a child care center closer to Senior’s work in Maryland. It was cheaper than what we found in DC, but friends and co-workers, who liked the center, advised us against it. For one, it was not accessible to me. We have only one car and I can’t drive it, because it is a stick shift. Nor was this center along a frequented bus route or remotely near a metro station. I realized how important the location was because there have been times when Senior was not able to take Junior to daycare.

Secondly, a center closer to the house served us better. If we forgot something super important, like diapers or other supplies the center required us to bring, it wasn’t too hard to turn around and run back home. I applied and was interviewed for a position that would have changed my commute to one going in a completely different direction. Had I been picked for the job, Junior’s daycare location would still be fine for us. I’ve heard from other parents that when care is too out of the way, it becomes an extra stress.

Flexibility in Childcare

We are fortunate that only one of us is sometimes required to work late, or on weekends or travel. Thankfully, we are both blessed with flexible work hours that allow us to work around Junior’s child care needs. We have to work as a team, so when one parent is unavailable, due to some work obligation or other reason, the other one has to do double duty. Thankfully, it’s infrequent when it happens. There are realities of our jobs that make some things possible for us, and I will acknowledge, not everyone has that flexibility. 

Then there are things the daycare throws at you, where you need to be flexible. When Junior goes to the doctor for shots, he can’t go back to daycare until the next day, per their rules. If he gets a fever, he needs to be fever free for 24 hours before he can return. Then there are early closings and days when the daycare is closed but our workplaces aren’t. Parents with a nanny-share or in home care where the number of staff is one, more flexibility is needed to account for illness and vacations.

Some of the best advice I’ve seen and experienced involves talking to other working parents of little ones. I’ve personally found it helpful, even when their methods wouldn’t work for us. Knowing what other options were out there helped just in case our circumstances changed.

Have you been able to find a balance with childcare in the DC area? Please share your experience in the comments below!