Submitted by Bernadette Davidson, director of child care services at Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center
Why is child care so expensive? It is because young children need more one-to-one attention from caregivers in order to grow and flourish. While school-age children may be taught in classrooms as large as 30 students by one teacher, young children need more attention to flourish. For babies in licensed early care and education centers, one teacher by law can only care for three at a time. A second teacher must then be hired for the other children, and even then, the group cannot exceed seven. For toddlers, one teacher can care for four children and two for nine children at the most. Preschool teachers can only take charge of 10 children. That means that in addition to the building expenses, training of teachers, administration of the program, the licensing and inspections, and in some cases food and transportation, parents are also paying for more teachers and supervision. Programs generally barely break even.
Salaries in the field are low, but research has shown that the education of teachers matters as well as teacher retention rates. When there is a high turnover of teachers, babies lose weight, grow fretful and don’t develop well. Preschool children also need consistency of care. Hiring, maintaining and training teachers who care about children, understand their development and stay with the program requires a substantial investment. So, programs struggle to keep prices down, but the cost of child care for an infant is still more than $1,000 per month in many places. Parents of preschoolers can pay more than $175 per week.
So what is a parent to do? There is some help from the state of Massachusetts through the Department of Early Education and Care. The two primary ways a parent can find government aid are to apply through a Resource and Referral and obtain a voucher, or to apply for help directly with centers who hold a contract with the state to serve low-income children. For either process, you need to use the state online waiting list for subsidized care.
The best way to find aid is to visit the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) website. Find the local resource and referral agency in your community to apply for an income eligible voucher. To qualify for the voucher, a family’s income must be at or below 50 percent of the state median income and the parent must have a service need. A service need is either a job or job training program or education up to the bachelors’ degree level. Families in which the parent or child has a documented disability may also qualify with incomes up to 85 percent of the state median income. To obtain a voucher you must go to a Child Care Resource and Referral Agency. In Boston, it is Child Care Choices of Boston.
You can also apply to a center with a state government contract to provide subsidies to eligible families. The criteria for eligibility are the same as for the vouchers. When centers have contracted slots, parents pay on the basis of their income and family size, which can vary from a few dollars a week to near the full cost. To find a list of centers with these contracts, visit the Department of Early Education and Care website: www.mass.gov/edu/government/departments-and-boards/department-of-early-education-and-care/. You will have to put your name on the state’s central waiting list Kindercare. Once there is an opening, you must then present proof of work and or school status (20 hours for part-time care or 30 hours for full-time care), proof of residency in the state and proof of guardianship. You will also need to prove your eligibility by providing income and family size information.
What if I don’t work or am not in school, you ask? What if I just want an early childhood program for my child’s enrichment?
If you are low income, you may qualify for a Head Start Classroom. Some child care programs also have private funding that allows them to provide a sliding fee, sibling discounts or help for families who need it with money of their own. Ask if this is available.
Many of Boston’s public school programs have Early Learning Programs as well and these are free. Parents need to plan for vacations and summers because most are closed during these times. Many have shorter hours than center-based care in the community. Information can be acquired through the Boston Public Schools.
Some family child care providers may have more reasonable fees. They are sometimes part of family child care systems that have contracts with the state. For example, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood has a contract with the state and can place children in eight homes with licensed trained family child care providers across the city. This is often a good choice when a family lives nearby the home and/or wants a smaller environment for their child. There are also private family child care providers all over the state who may have rates you can afford. Find their names by calling your local resource and referral or visiting the Department of Early Education and Care website.
It is important to leave your child with someone you trust, someone who will provide the right environment and nurturing for your child. This happens in the context of relationships with adults who are responsive, respectful and who reciprocate the child’s attention. Only you can determine the quality of an individual program or family child care provider, but licensing helps parents make these decisions by requiring from child care providers a level of safe and nurturing care. It’s important to take the time to find the right child care provider for your child now as an early investment for preparing your child for a more prosperous tomorrow.
This post is also available in: Chinese