Waiting for Day Care

Earlier this year, the National Association for Family Child Care published a list of ten child care trends on the rise in the United States. A few things stick out on this list, specifically numbers 1 and 6. 

  1. “Competition from other child care programs will continue to increase. 

6.     “It will take longer to fill child care openings.” 

These forecasts point to a growing problem among child care providers and seekers: there are fewer spaces available than there are children who need care. This issue is amplified in high-population-density areas, where multiple families of similar socioeconomic backgrounds may be vying for the same spot at the neighborhood daycare. This results in long wait lists and an increasingly stressful experience for the parents and providers.  

Wall Street Journal story illustrated how wait-list pressures had turned one day care worker into “a spreadsheet geek.” The woman, Susan Herbert of Mableton, GA, now spends a significant portion of her day tracking data to help avoid making promises to parents that she can’t keep. She records things like birthdays, projected enrollment dates for wait-listed kids, and information based on projected first step or bottles needed for babies already enrolled at her facility. These variables help her predict openings with some accuracy, a necessity when she gets daily calls from parents begging for admission. 

So, why is this happening? And what can parents do to ensure their little ones get spots at nearby centers? We’ll break it down. 

What’s Going On? 

Parents are more intent than ever on getting high-quality child care for their children. They are so intent, in fact, that some sign up at popular centers within days of finding out they are expecting. To make things easier on the care providers, some child care centers don’t even offer paper applications, opting instead to hand parents wait-list forms when they arrive.  

There are a few reasons for this boom, but one of the most important has to do with changes in the work force. There are more women than ever working, which means there are fewer parents staying home to be full-time care providers. Infant care spots usually have the longest wait lists, indicating a general shortage of maternal and paternal leave. With more people in the workforce, and without generous parental leave laws, new parents are pressured to get back to work as soon as possible. This means they will seek out child care earlier.  

What Can You Do? 

It sounds crazy, but some child-care centers allow parents to wait-list children before they are even conceived. Directors will often accept a wait-list entry before conception so long as they pay an often-refundable deposit. Some directors will accept wait-list entries with no questions asked.  

However, we want to note that most parents don’t have the ability to plan their children with this type of accuracy, and putting down a deposit might not be feasible for some families. We have a few tips that might help you get into your preferred day care center, whether it’s the one with the best services or the one closest to your home or workplace. 

  • Visit several centers and try to get on more than one wait list. Ask about deposits and whether they are required or suggested. 
  • Register for child care at least one year before you will need it. This doesn’t have to be the moment you conceive, but you should start thinking about it while planning for the baby and sorting out parental leave. 
  • If you get on a wait list, call the center every month or two to ensure your status is accurate.  
  • Plan to enroll in summer, if possible. This is when more slots tend to open. 
  • Stay on the wait list at your first-choice provider even if you enroll elsewhere.