Dear PoPville – How Do You Handle Childcare Options?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Ranpuba

“Dear PoPville,

I’d love to hear how people have handled the lack of Childcare options in dc. We’ve hired two nannies both of who have backed out just before they were supposed to start, including one who – after signing a contract – tell us she needed more money. A third, we loved and wanted to hire but was undocumented and given the nature of our jobs we couldn’t do that. I have been on day care wait lists since I was 6 weeks pregnant and we have joined a nanny share but we can’t get a nanny to commit (for a very good compensation package, mind you). I would love to know how PoPers have handled this and what we think, as DC residents, needs to happen to help solve this problem.”

67 Comment

  • gotryit

    Live-in mother-in-law. Yes, I feel like the luckiest person in the world. We’ve also lucked out with sittercity to connect with an extra pair of hands for some days.

  • Honestly, this is one of the reasons my spouse stays home. As to your question, what needs to happen is that people need to open more daycare centers, simple as that. Daycare is a business and demand has outpaced supply.

  • We do a nanny share with another family. Absolutely love the nanny, but it is so expensive that we have to look for daycare options. What is the deal with the lack of daycare options would be a great question for a poll. Over in Cap Hill/Hill East are would make a killing. I know there are some, but the demand is so much more its crazy. Is it that DC’s regs are too burdensome for day cares to start?

    • I think the start-up cost is a big issue. Child care has to happen in a place where people are, so it’s often downtown near worker offices. DC regulations state that child care facilities have to be on the ground floor for easy exit in case of an emergency (so you’re not trying to get 30 toddlers down the stairs), and ground-floor facilities that are affordable enough to balance out costs are probably hard to find.

  • Other parents: “Sorry, I can’t tell you who I use.”

  • DC regs for home day cares are ridiculous. If they would allow more to open up, it would help enormously with the supply issue. My son attends a wonderful home day care that is constantly facing pushback from DC because they are the only one who has managed to navigate the arcane, stupid set of laws and get to max capacity. I lucked out big time. I’m still on waiting lists at every Bright Horizons Center I applied to, 2.5 years later.

  • This issue is the only one that makes me want to leave DC.

    • Our day care is one of the only things keeping us in DC, frankly. At least you can get high quality day care, you just have to luck into it. Now the public schools? That has me looking at houses in Montgomery County every day. I’m absolutely confident I will not live to see those fixed.

      • gotryit

        What neighborhood are you in? Have you visited the public school? The reputations are about 5-10 years out of date in some places.

        • Even 5-10 years out of date still puts the DCPS schools in my neighborhood at crap. They’re improved, absolutely. And I appreciate the effort that is going into making them better. But they’re still not in a place where I’m happy with them (especially past the elementary school phase), and I’m willing to move to have my standards met.

      • Funny, I’d say you can get good elementary education in DC, but you have to luck into it. Charter schools, friend. There are several that are not just good enough, but really, really good. Like, people would happily pay money to get into them if that were an option.

        • So they would have you think. I know a couple who just pulled their kid out of one of the top charters because they didn’t feel he was getting an adequate education.

          • My kid is in a top charter, and she’s getting a better education than some of my friends’ kids in the mid-range private schools.

    • jim_ed

      No snark intended, but if you’re planning on leaving DC proper for cheaper daycare prices, I hope you’re prepared to move really far away from the city to see a substantial discount. I work in Rockville, and all of the daycares here were just as expensive (and oftentimes moreso) than the ones both downtown and uptown in DC, with the exception of some particularly sketchy looking home daycares. Also, my brother and sister-in-laws live all the way out in Manassas and pay slightly less than we do.

  • We’re on several daycare waiting lists. I’ve been told spaces tend to magically open up close to the due date. Many daycare options are not what we would consider adequate, and I think that is the issue that will be resolved. As higher-income families move into gentrifying areas of D.C. and have families, there is an increasing demand for daycare services. Supply will ultimately catch up and, presumably, drive down prices.

    • “As higher-income families move into gentrifying areas of D.C. and have families, there is an increasing demand for daycare services. Supply will ultimately catch up and, presumably, drive down prices.”
      I don’t see how prices are EVER going down when you have higher income families moving into the area and demanding services. If anything, prices will go up even as supply increases. Kinda like housing in DC.

      • I’m talking about increased supply of decent child care, not what is currently available in many neighborhoods, which is simply not an option for higher-income families. Yes, I would expect that the lower-end child care that is available now will be driven to improve, at a higher cost, or will be replaced.

        • don’t underestimate what folk may label “lower end”. we were a little more relaxed for our second child and went with the neighborhood old victorian with window units, etc. turned out to be a great, nuturing, and relatively inexpensive option with no waiting list, and our child learned a ton. just make sure it’s licensed by OSSE. same advice goes for neighborhood public schools.

          • Agree. Don’t write off home day cares. They’re hit or miss, but the hits are great. Very nurturing, small environment that builds great bonds between the kids and families. Ours is magnificent and I would never consider going nanny or corporate.

  • i lucked out in that my husband is a fed. we got a spot at his agency when my son was 5 months old (we got on the list after my 1st trimester). i would recommend connecting with other families through a listserve in your neighborhood and trying to get into an exisiting nanny-share situation. they are hugely popular on capitol hill.

  • If you have the space in your home, consider an au pair.

    • We’ve used Cultural Care and Au Pair in America, and found good au pairs through both. Good value, especially if you have 2+ kids and a yen for second language acquisition, and it’s on the books for those DC families concerned about a “nanny problem.”

  • We did a nanny share, and it took a few tries before we found the right fit. We stayed three years with the second family/ third nanny.
    I agree that it’s crazy hard to find childcare you can feel comfortable with. You have to keep plugging away. Ease into it– stay home with the new nanny a bit, stipulate a trial period, etc.

  • There are a million daycare providers on Kennedy St NW that nobody seems to know about. I’m sure that most of them have spaces available.

  • Coming from the other side, I’ve been looking for evening/weekend babysitting work in DC and haven’t had any luck finding anything. I’m new to the area and guess I’m not really sure where to look, but it seems like is full of spammers (I actually found one “lady” seeking childcare on a stock photo site and another whose photo was ripped off a completely different woman’s blog) or agencies looking to farm out work, which I’m not interested in. I’d be most comfortable doing an interview with a parent in a neutral place, then meeting the kid(s) at home. seems to not be interested in using people who aren’t “professional” babysitters or nannies.

    Anywhere parents normally look for babysitters that I’m not aware of?

    • try the dcurbanmoms nanny forum.

    • We are always looking for sitter’s. If you’re interested, I can give PoP my email address.

    • I work full-time for a think tank and supplement my income by babysitting nights and weekends, as does my roommate and several of my friends. I’ve been babysitting in DC since 2007 and have found the families I work for through word-of-mouth, but many of my friends have found families through the Moms on the Hill listserv or other neighborhood listservs.

    • gotryit

      sittercity worked well for us from the “need care” side

    • Get tapped into a neighborhood listserv in an area with lots of new families, like Mt Pleasant, which has the forum and also a yahoo group. Also try Sittercity, which I used to find a regular sitter for my son. I posted a job and got about 30 responses, most of which were ignorable but about 4-5 people warranted a call back.

    • Post on — they have been doing a huge push in DC to raise their profile.

    • I think Sittercity may be less “professional” sitter oriented than, so you might want to try there. Also, I found both of our recent sitters via a neighborhood parents Yahoo group. If there’s one in your neighborhood, you may want to join. And I am also always looking for another sitter to have on call so I’d also love your contact info if PoP can put us in touch!

  • We had a nanny for the first 3 years and then sent our son to a preschool that also had afternoon care. We also wanted a legal nanny. They are out there. Just keep trying!

  • A nannyshare is a very viable option if you are patient and willing to put the work in (interviewing other families then finding and interviewing nannies). We priced it out and the share was slightly cheaper than most daycares we researched in DC and about the same as daycares used by friends in Arlington. I’d recommend searching (religiously because opportunities come up quickly and are filled quickly) dcurbanmoms and the logancirclemoms yahoo group (or whatever neighborhood you’re in) for both the family and the nanny.

  • We’ve had a few full-time nannies. They’ve left for family reasons generally. Our current nanny came from a friend. For the earlier ones, we used and, and we followed tips from parents on dcurbanmom. Our experience has been that if you offer a compelling package you will get some outstanding candidates. You will also get dozens and dozens of unqualified candidates.

    But a compelling package is pretty easy to put together: pay market rates for the amount of experience you’re looking for ($700-800/wk gross is common for a professional nanny with experience), consider offering guaranteed weekly pay, offer a benefits package that includes vacation time, sick pay, subsidies for health insurance and transit, do taxes correctly (hire a payroll service like breedlove), and be very clear on hours and responsibilities.

    1st screening: Toss all candidates that don’t meet the minimums specified in the listing. Tell them thanks.
    2nd screening: Email the rest and set up phone calls. If they don’t nail the phone call, they’re out.
    3rd screening: In-person interview, where they meet you and the baby. This is typically the best 10 percent. After the in person interviews, hopefully you will have 1 or 2 candidates that you think you want to make an offer to. Invite them back for second in-person interviews where they can spend more time with your child. Then make an offer.

    This whole process can be done in 2 weeks if you are organized. But it is difficult and quite stressful. We have also worked with White House Nannies. They sent some phenomenal candidates, but in the end it didn’t work out. If you can afford their finders fee, it’s worth it. They do all of the filtering for you, and you only talk to the 5 or so very best candidates.

    • +1. I wonder what OP’s version of a very good compensation package is.

      • Probably not a very good one, if they are both Feds (hence their aversion to an illegal)

        • Im the op. compensation was $900/wk, two weeks vacation and every federal holiday off paid. 5 days of sick leave. Contribution to health care. Using a payroll service. This was for a share and what a nanny specifically asked for as her compensation.

          So thanks for assuming because I’m a fed I am cheap. I met the demanded salary.

          • So you already have all the bases covered. I think you just have to keep working at it. With a nanny, there’s always going to be an element of luck. And it might take a few tries. Took us 4 tries, not including the one from White House that quit on her first day (“it’s hard than I thought bit would be… I’d have to focus all day long.”… Yup).

          • Not the previous poster, but I don’t think it was necessarily critical. I’m a fed and my husband has a fed-like salary. We wouldn’t want to pay that full amount for a nanny (or, honestly, for even half of that).

            If you work near L’Enfant Plaza, my son goes to the Children’s House in the HUD building and we really like it. Their waitlist is not nearly as long as many of the other facilities and it’s pretty affordable.

  • We did a nanny-share for the first year and then daycare after that. There is a major shortage of infant daycares in the city, but it isn’t that hard to find toddler care, and kids start school here at around 3, so there are openings all over the place then. If you aren’t one of the lucky few who finds an infant spot (which you likely won’t be if you don’t have some kind of employer preference), you really have to choose between nanny, au pair, and nanny-share. They all have downsides and take set-up, but they are doable with some cash.

  • We didn’t get into any of the large downtown centers when I got on waitlists. We went with a smaller daycare center in our neighborhood, and I’m very happy with it. My friends who have nannies have all had one difficulty or another along the road. When they find one they’re happy with (usually using some service like White House nannies), they pay through the nose.

  • What about the cheap new toddler program at Stead Park in Dupont? We need more of them. I saw it on some blogs and in the paper.

  • When conducting your nanny search, think about other people’s “must haves” and see if you can eliminate those. If you speak a second language, would you be ok with your nanny speaking that language but not speaking fluent english? A non-english-speaking nanny will be less expensive. I know one family who found a nanny who was an illiterate refugee. Tons of street smarts and common sense, just didn’t know how to read. So many parents are all about their kid’s “development” and wouldn’t even consider a nanny who couldn’t read to him. Driving is obvious… if you live in Logan Circle, you don’t require your nanny to drive. So that widens your pool, and might bring the cost down. Go ahead and put “drivers license not required” in your ad, if you place one.

  • I am the OP.
    While my own situation is really frustrating, I am more frustrated by the lack of resources in DC. I paid to be on every wait list in town and the general feeling is that you pay the fee even though you’ll never get in so it’s an additional revenue stream for them. I got so frustrated that Bright Horizons wouldn’t even verify that I was the wait lists that I contacted corporate. The woman from corporate called and I told her point blank there is a feeling here that you all just use the wait lists to make money. I told her that I was quoted list lengths and when we just followed up, we were told that 118 families were ahead of us on one list. Why would you take more applicants?? Especially at federal centers – if they are getting subsidies from the Feds they shouldn’t be ale to take those application fees IMO.
    I’m fortunate (???) that I have never taken a vacation day or sick day basically so I still have move leave and then all of my unpaid FMLA if I need it. But to me, in this city, there should be more resources. Especially if the district gov wants all these young families to stay. I’m less concerned about my own situation – id rather a nanny screw me over before they’d be starting to be honest. I just think the problem needs to be addressed.

    • Agree completely. At the end of the day, DC really isn’t that family-friendly a place. The daycare options suck and the public schools are terrible. Before I had kids, I thought I would never leave the city. Now it’s looking like a better idea every day.

  • So what is a fair/just monthly price for daycare? Can a person take in 2 children and earn enough to live in DC?

    • The salaries they are asking are about 50-60 a year. So yes. It’s more than I made for a very long time. It’s a difficult job, I understand, but there is a price cap at some point.

  • My son is in an awesome in-home daycare in CoHi. He’s been there since I started back at work when he was 4 months old. The home is near 14th and Randolph and fully licensed. Gladys (who runs the place) is so wonderful and I plan on spending my next kid to her too. There are actually a few families with 2 kids at the daycare (ex. 1 year old and 2.5 year old). I’m happy to give you her contact info if you msg me (is that possible on popville?) or respond to this post.

  • Interesting when you read everybody’s comments. Every parent thinks what they did worked out really well. Knowing that should make your decision much easier.

    • Very true. Been through this with 2 kids now, and have experienced/witnessed countless panic attacks. Fact is, things usually work out. They may not be — and usually aren’t — what you had in mind to begin with, but kids thrive in all sorts of situations.

    • I agree! I think when you first start looking, the process is so daunting. But once you find something, very rarely is it bad. It may not be what you initially had hoped for, but it’s still pretty good and it works for your family. There are a lot of good options out there, I think people just need to be patient and flexible.

      • To be fair, it’s hard to be patient when you’ve been searching for care for a long time. You have to pay a fee to apply to every day care and then nothing. And then nannies are unreliable (which I guess is good to know before they care for your child). Patience and flexibility are one thing. I think a lot of this system takes advantage of desperate families who have to get back to work

  • Look a little closer around your neighborhood, there may be some small day cares or home day cares that you don’t realize are there. I used to live in Mt Pleasant and was very happy with the small neighborhood day care there, which was also incidentally very reasonably priced. My friends use a small home day care in Petworth. While they’re not fancy Bright Horizons Centers, you may be able to find a small local place with great people.

    My biggest issue now is not access but cost, with a second baby on the way, having two kids in daycare at the same time is not going to be doable for my family’s budget. Try paying state college tuition out of pocket. My family is not low income enough to qualify for subsidies, but when your family’s income is well under $100K, how are you going to nearly $30K for two kids in daycare. So we might need to switch to a nanny share if it’ll save us money. I think there should be something similiar to student loans for child care costs.

  • What would the parents commenting here consider a qualified nanny? Is a associates degree in early childhood development always required or could a someone be hired based on her excellent skills with children, sterling references and sweet character. I have a young cousin who has been a nanny in Charlotte NC for a great family but is bored with the area. Reading about how difficult it is for parents in DC to find nannies I’m starting to wonder if she should move here!

    • To me, experience is everything. I want someone who enjoys the job and is confident they can handle anything thrown at them by the position. I don’t think that can be taught. Keep in mind that a lot of nanny gigs end by 5 and your cousin could easily take night classes which might boost her earnings later. Good luck to her!

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