Child care is the single greatest barrier between parents — especially moms — working to earn the money they need to support themselves and their children. Studies find a direct correlation between accessible child care and women's earnings — especially single moms.
Thankfully, more state, city and national programs are addressing the dire need for affordable and free child care for families of all income levels. A growing number of cities offer free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, including New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. The White House's $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” calls to make universal preschool free nationwide.
To start you search, google ‘free child care near me' or dial 211 to learn if your city has free or reduced-cost child care.
Here are more resources for daycare:
Free daycare: Early Head Start
Head Start is a federal program founded in 1981 to bridge the early learning gap of low-income kids, support their families in ways that prepare children for school, and prove free or affordable child care for families that need it. Head Start has grown to include Early Head Start for infants, toddlers and their families, as well as summer programs, and has served more than 22 million kids and their families.
What are the qualifications for Early Head Start?
Most Early Head Start programs serve children from birth to age 3 through weekly home visits that support child development. EHS also provides services to pregnant mothers and families, including prenatal support.
All Head Start programs are available at no cost to children whose family income is at or below the poverty level as determined by the federal government. Children whose families are receiving public assistance and those experiencing homelessness or in foster care qualify regardless of income. Head Start services are also available to children with disabilities and other special needs.
How to apply for daycare assistance from Early Head Start
To apply for Early Head Start services, use the Head Start Locator to find a program near you (select Early Head Start from the dropdown menu). You can call 866-763-6481 for assistance weekdays from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M.
Free daycare: Head Start
Head Start services are for children ages 3 to 5 and are typically offered in centers, though some programs may provide in-home services.
What are the qualifications for Head Start?
Head Start programs are available at no cost to children from low-income families. Eligibility is the same as Early Head Start:
Head Start is free for children whose family income is at or below the federal poverty level, as well as children whose families receive public assistance, are homeless or in foster care qualify — regardless of income. Head Start services are also available to children with disabilities and other special needs.
How to apply for daycare assistance from Head Start
To apply for Head Start services, use the Head Start Locator to find a program near you.
Free daycare: YMCA
YMCA programs across the country offer child care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Some centers provide free or low-cost care for families who qualify based on income and other criteria. Search for a YMCA location near you to find out which programs and services are available.
Qualifications vary by location.
Free daycare: YWCA
YWCA serves more than 200,000 children annually through its affordable child care, Head Start and preschool programs. Search the YWCA website for programs and services offered in your area.
Qualifications vary by location.
YMCAs, YWCAs, Head Start all provide preschool programs for 3 and 4-year olds. Check with your local social service agency to learn about other free options, including voucher programs where you may have some choice to enroll your child in a church, private or school-based preschool, for free or low-cost.
Governments are expanding these programs, because they are good for child development, and help the economy by supporting working parents.
For example, in 2009 Washington, D.C., began offering two years of full-day preschool to include 88% of 4-year-olds and 66% of 3-year-olds by 2017, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research.
The percent of mothers with at least one child under age 5 in the district who were either working or looking for work, grew by 10 percentage points during that time.
Free child care programs: Child care assistance programs in your state
To find free or low-cost daycare options in your area, visit childcare.gov to search for licensed providers and financial resources. The website provides a comprehensive list of assistance programs and discounts available to families who need help paying for child care.
Child care assistance is available in each state:
- Connecticut Care4Kids
- District of Columbia (DC)
- Florida School Readiness Program
- Georgia Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS)
- Child Care Connection Hawaii
- Idaho Child Care Program
- Illinois Child Care Assistance Program
- Kansas Child Care Subsidy
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- Washington Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP)
- West Virginia
Where to find free daycare “near me”
Where to find affordable daycare
These are the top 10 best states for affordable daycare, according to Child Care Aware of America, an advocacy group for accessible, quality child care. Criteria include teacher: child ratio, background checks for providers, minimum education and training for providers, facilitating and encouraging parent involvement, and more.
Read the full report.
- New York
- North Dakota
The Department of Defense actually ranked No. 1 for providing the best, most affordable health care to its military families.