Child care is a necessity for parents to work and earn an income, yet it has become an increasing expense over the past several decades. According to a recent Care.com survey, child care only became more scarce and more expensive during the pandemic.
There are a number of organizations that offer resources for parents, including government programs that can help you afford the child care you need to get hired. In this article, we provide a complete list of resources to get free or low-cost child care. We also offer tips to assist parents during the job search.
How to get free or reduced-priced child care during your job search
If you are unable to afford child care, here are a few options to explore:
Government subsidies and programs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assists low-income families who need child care due to work, work-related training or attending school through the Child Care and Development Fund. Explore what your particular state offers through our list at the bottom of this article.
You can find a list of all federal programs that provide benefits or services you may be eligible for on the U.S. government’s official benefits website, but three programs are outlined in more detail below. Community centers like Goodwill can also help you find local, state and federal financial assistance you are eligible for.
Head Start and Early Head Start: Families who have low incomes or meet other requirements may be eligible for Head Start (children ages 3-5 years old) or Early Head Start (birth to 2 years old). These federally funded programs provide a wide range of services for families with incomes at or below the poverty level. Special consideration is given to children in foster care, children with disabilities, families experiencing homelessness and families receiving certain types of public assistance.
Military and Department of Defense child care subsidies: Child Care Aware of America provides child care assistance to eligible military families through its Fee Assistance and Respite Child Care programs. For example, The federal government offers subsidies to members of the military and the Department of Defense.
Tribal child care assistance: The Tribal Child Care & Development Fund uses a federal block grant to support low-income tribal families, tribal families receiving temporary public assistance and those transitioning from public assistance in obtaining child care services so they may work, attend training or participate in educational activities. Reach out to the headquarters of your tribe to find out if they offer this child care assistance.
Tax breaks and credits
Take advantage of tax breaks and credits made available to you. The American Rescue Plan recently expanded the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,600 for children under 6 years old and to $3,000 for children 6 to 18 years old. If you’ve already filed your 2020 taxes, there’s nothing else you need to do: The IRS will pay you half the total credit amount in advance monthly payments beginning July 15, 2021. You will claim the other half when you file your 2021 income taxes.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is available to low- and moderate-income families. To claim tax credits like this one, you need to meet certain qualifications and file a return, even if you don’t owe any taxes.
The IRS also offers the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit to people who are paying for child care so they can work or look for work. With this tax credit, you can itemize up to $8,000 in child care expenses per child ($16,000 maximum per year), which leads to approximately $1,600 per child ($3,200 maximum) in tax savings.
Student child care subsidies
Some colleges and universities offer financial aid or low-cost, on-campus child care for student parents. Daycare grants might be awarded to you directly from your school, while others may be in the form of financial assistance you apply to from your local government. State child care assistance may also be available to parents in high school in need of child care.
Assistance from child care providers and local nonprofits
Many child care centers offer a sliding scale or a scholarship for low-income families who can't afford their standard rates. Most centers also offer a family discount if your older child is already attending the daycare and you register an additional child. Contact your local provider to see what they offer or check with your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency for more information about what is available in your area, such as nonprofit daycares or local scholarship programs.
Additionally, several private child care centers offer special promotions to help parents. For example, the White House is currently partnering with four of the nation’s largest child care providers to offer free child care while getting vaccinated (or recovering from vaccination) through July 4.
Tips for parents during the job search process
If you’re a parent, you’re likely facing challenges that other people in the workforce aren’t. Consider the following tips as you look for suitable work:
1. Schedule time to job search
Parents know how important it is to make the most of every minute of their day. Blocking off one or two hours of uninterrupted time to job search is key to balancing these responsibilities. This could be an early morning or late night when your children are asleep or a time when your children are in school.
2. Ask for help
Build a network of helpers by offering to trade with other parents, siblings, neighbors and friends so you have several people you can lean on when you need to schedule an interview. With enough notice and appreciation, many might be more than willing to help without a tradeoff. This same network can support you after you’ve landed the job, too.
3. Find a mentor
A mentor—ideally one who has been in your position as a parent entering the workforce—can also guide you through your job search. Another parent who has successfully navigated the stage of life you’re in can offer advice, serve as a sounding board or even offer solutions to your current needs.
4. Look for companies that support parents
Many employers offer benefits and programs that allow their employees to thrive in their careers while raising a family. For example, some employers provide unlimited paid time off for additional work-life flexibility, while others aim to give their team members peace of mind through backup child care programs. Read reviews to see if the company values a family-friendly workspace. You can also attempt to connect with other employees for an informational interview to ask more direct questions about work flexibility and accommodations.
5. Know when to share personal information
There’s no reason you need to tell an interviewer that you are a parent. Consider waiting until after you have the job offer to disclose your parenting responsibilities—this will keep the interviewer focused on your skills and qualifications. That said, it’s reasonable to ask questions during an interview that allow you to gauge the company's willingness to provide the flexibility you need. Once you have an offer and it's time to negotiate, it might be appropriate to bring up certain relevant requests, like flex time to pick up and drop off your kids from school or daycare.
6. Look for jobs that are well-suited for parents
While your personal responsibilities as a parent shouldn't dictate your job, it's important to factor it in. Look for a job that doesn’t need to be performed within a specific time period. Or you can consider freelance or contract positions—roles that may lack stability and access to benefits, but provide generous flexibility because you can often set your own schedule. Child care roles can also be beneficial because they often come with free or discounted child care.
Child care resources in every state
The federal government provides money to each state and territory to help offset the costs of child care, but the requirements and aid for low-income families vary widely. For example, 14 states exclude job search as an eligible activity for subsidized child care. Among the states that do, 17 states only approve subsidies for parents who become unemployed while already participating in the program.
Below is a complete list of local government resources to find more information about the child care aid you may qualify for in your area:
American Samoa: Department of Human and Social Services
Connecticut: Office of Early Childhood, Care 4 Kids
District of Columbia: Department of Human Services, Child Care Services Division
Massachusetts: Department of Early Education and Care
Michigan: Department of Health and Human Services
New Mexico: Early Childhood Education and Care Department
New York: Office of Children and Family Services
Northern Mariana Islands: Department of Community and Cultural Affairs
Puerto Rico: Programa Child Care
Tennessee: Department of Human Services
Texas: Texas Workforce Commission,
Virgin Islands: Department of Human Services, Child Care and Regulatory Services