As a single mother who needs to work, you know that the decision to leave your young children in somebody else’s care is a difficult one.
Note, this currently applies to the USA, but we will have a Canadian and UK version soon.
Making it even more difficult is the outrageous cost of child care in America today. It’s not just you having trouble finding affordable child care—according to the latest statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund, the annual cost of out-of-home care for a 4-year-old is more than the annual tuition at a public college in most states. Ranging anywhere from $4000 to over $10,000 per year, monthly child care expenses can rival even your rent or mortgage payment. And costs can even go higher for an infant or toddler.
So what can you do? You have to work, which means you need a safe, reliable, high-quality environment in which to leave your child or children while you’re away from home.
What Are Your Choices?
- A child-care center (chain or non-profit)
- Private day-care (usually in a person’s home)
- In-home care by a nanny or baby sitter
- An informal network of family and friends who watch your kids
There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above. For instance, a child-care center is more likely to have trained, accredited guardians for your children; the trade-off is that they are more expensive than having an informal arrangement with a sitter or family member.
On the other hand, financial aid programs and tax credits require that child care expenses be paid to recognized child care professionals, such as those in a larger center, or a private day-care run as a business.
Even with all those trade-offs and restrictions, though, you can use a little ingenuity to find a solution to your child care dilemma:
- If you can work out a flexible schedule at your job, you can swap private day-care in your home on your days off with somebody who needs day-care on those days.
- Providing room and board for a night student can be exchanged for baby-sitting services.
- You can volunteer or donate goods and services to a child care center to offset some of the costs of care.
- Get together with other moms and hire a nanny who will mind the children of several families during the day. With everybody pitching in for the salary, you can make it well worth her while.
- How much do you love children? More than you love your job? Maybe a good solution is to get the training and certification you need to start a new career as a child care provider, whether in your own home or in a center your children already attend. You’ll get to see them every day and make money at the same time.
Still Need More Help?
If none of the above ideas will work in your situation, don’t lose heart. Finding affordable child care is a complicated and time-consuming project, and one of the first places to start is to explore two options that may be right in front of you: a Dependent Care Account through your employer, and the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
Save Money On Child Care Expenses
Method One: Dependent Care Account
Does your employer offer a Dependent Care Account? This account is similar to the Flexible Spending Account many employees use to pay some medical costs. It’s a plan whereby a percentage of your income is set aside pre-tax, reserved for child-care expenses made necessary by the fact that you work. Children in care must be under the age of 13. The federal limit if $5000 per year, per family (no matter how many children you have). A couple of important things to keep in mind:
- In order to claim these funds, you’ll need to provide the taxpayer identification number or social security number of the child-care provider. The person or business to whom you’re paying child-care money must report that income.
- Do not overestimate your child-care expenses. Any amount that is taken out of your paycheck, that is not actually used for child-care, is forfeited at the end of the year.
- If you leave your job or are fired, you also forfeit any unused funds set aside to date.
- If you’re taking advantage of the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (see below), you must reduce your child-care expenses first by using any available employer-sponsored Dependent Care Account. In other words, the Dependent Care Account, if offered by your employer, must be your first method of reducing expenses.
Contact your Human Resources department (or whoever handles payroll for your place of business) for specific advice about how much you can save using a Dependent Care Account. Your company may also refer to this as a Dependent Flexible Account, or part of a Cafeteria Plan. Almost 90% of American employers offer some form of this plan, so it’s worth checking out.
Method 2: Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
This is a non-refundable tax credit, meaning that if you do not earn enough income to pay federal taxes, you do not benefit from the credit (the government will not send you money—they will only reduce the amount you owe by the amount of the credit).
You multiply your child-care expenses (maximum of $3000 for one child, or $6000 for two children) by a percentage based on income. For example, a woman with one child earning $15,000 can claim a 35% credit, for a tax break of $1050 (35% of $3000).
The most recent budget proposes increasing this credit from 20 percent to 35 percent of child care expenses for families earning less than $85,000 per year. Formerly, the income requirements were more stringent.
As with the Dependent Care Account, the child must be younger than 13, and the child-care provider must report the income properly.
Many states offer a version of this credit (or in some cases a tax deduction). See what your state provides by accessing the state government website from the link below, and searching for “Child Care Tax Credit”:
Find Financial Aid For Child Care Expenses
Our Federal and State governments have long recognized two important facts: it’s better to have more people working, and investment in early childhood education is vital to the success of future generations of Americans. Obviously, the more people who are working (especially single mothers), the greater the need for investment in quality child care options.
For this reason, the government is a rich source of aid in learning about, locating, and being able to afford child care in environments that are most likely to be beneficial to the health, well-being and development of your children.
These programs are unlikely to be cut during the current economic crisis. Unfortunately, that very crisis is going to put a huge strain on the resources available. If you apply to these programs, be persistent, try to meet with agency personnel face-to-face, and keep track of your funding applications for the best chance of success. Follow-up is key when dealing with agencies of this size—it’s easy to “fall through the cracks” if you just make an inquiry or two and wait for someone to get back to you.
State Child Care Assistance Programs
The Federal government provides funding each year to states through Child Care and Development grants. In 2010, the total grant amount was $5 billion; the proposed budget for 2011 increases this amount by $1.6 billion.
The website of the Child Care and Development Fund has many helpful links, including a Frequently Asked Questions page that is very manageable and informative:
Each State receiving funds determines eligibility requirements for its families. To find a list of the State agencies that control these funds and have information about financial assistance for child care, click the link to the National Child Care Information and Technical Assistance Center website below:
Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) Agencies exist in many communities, forming a network of information to help you explore the most affordable child-care options in your area.
That network is called the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, and is the nation’s “leading voice for child care”, working with more than 700 state and local agencies to ensure that families in 99 percent of all populated ZIP codes have access to high-quality, affordable child care.
The easiest way to access the CCR&R closest to you is to visit the website of Child Care Aware, sponsored by the NACCRRA (http://www.childcareaware.org). Simply enter your zip code to bring up a list of agencies in your area.
Note: There is an optional short survey, but you can skip it by scrolling to the end of the page that appears after entering your zip code and clicking the “No Thanks” button. However, the survey is short and asks only very general questions that seem designed to capture a demographic picture of the people using the service. This could be helpful in securing funding in the future, so to help others down the road, fill out the survey.
The CCR&R nearest you will offer several options. They can refer you to child-care providers that are affordable, and they can also supply information about applying for state assistance.
Early Head Start/Head Start Program
These linchpin programs in the nation’s effort to break the cycle of poverty continue to grow and adapt to meet emerging needs.
Beginning in 1965, the program was conceived as a “catch-up” for low-income students to prepare for kindergarten. The success was so overwhelming, and deemed so important, that it became a program of the US Department of Health and Human Services agency called the Administration for Children and Families.
When child development research demonstrated the crucial role of environment and stimulation during the very early years, Early Head Start was added for children aged 0 to 3 years (Head Start is for children from 3-5 years old).
Both programs now enjoy wide popularity and access, and provide many flexible opportunities for working moms to participate in their children’s early education.
Eligibility for either program starts with income—you must be considered a low-income family to qualify. For more information and to find out if your family qualifies, contact the Head Start/Early Head Start agency closest to you using either of the following links:
YMCA Programs for Child Care
Everyone Knows The YMCA
The four core values of the YMCA are caring, honesty, respect and responsibility—all ideally suited to a safe, high-quality environment for your child out of the home. You might not know it, but the Y is one of the nation’s largest providers of child care programs.
Dedicated to the unique needs of the communities it serves, the Y is accessible to all people and offers financial assistance to individuals and families who cannot afford membership or programs.
Find your local YMCA and ask about child care programs by following this link:
Emergency/Temporary Child Care
2-1-1 Connecting People in Need with Community Services
2-1-1 is a community services help line. If you have an immediate housing problem, or simply don’t know where to turn for help with child care, expenses, addiction, aging parents…this is the place to call. Services are provided by United Way Worldwide and the Alliance for Information and Referral Systems (AIRS).
Catholic Charities USA
Catholic Charities agencies serve people of all faiths. They provide a wide range of services, including services for single moms and children: housing, emergency services, health care, child care, adoption, counseling, financial assistance, food pantries, and other critical services.
Some Charities have their own websites:
Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice – FL
Catholic Charities Oklahoma
Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, NC
Catholic Diocese of Raleigh, NC
Catholic Charities of Los Angeles – CA
Catholic Charities Health and Human Services – OH
Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Denver – CO, from the left side drop down menu select services
We hope this informational page helps you single parents get the child care help you need. If you know about any other LEGIT programs to help single parents with child care, please leave a comment with the information or post about it in the single mother forum.