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Tips for finding “affordable day care”?

by Prince Of Petworth December 9, 2015 at 2:25 pm 75 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Patrick Thornton

“Dear PoPville,

We are expecting and due in May and are having a VERY hard time finding affordable daycare. Just wondering what other people in the neighborhood do? We live in Cathedral Heights, so we are looking in the Cathedral Heights, Glover park, Georgetown area? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!!”

  • Neutorious

    “Affordable” and “daycare” and “DC” do not mix. I have heard that P St. Kids is highly overrated and would avoid that place.

  • Steve Dave

    Doesn’t DC provide free daycare up to age 3?

    • Pre-k 3 starts at age 3.

    • wdc

      No. You can apply for PreK-3 (that’s for 3 and up, not under 3) and maybe get a spot in a public school. But it’s not guaranteed.

    • Truxton Thomas

      Lord, no. It’s expensive as hell.

  • Anon

    Unfortunately, child care is not cheap, and often child care workers are not making a living wage. The ratio for good child care are such that parents need to pay a lot for staff, but each individual child care worker is not making a lot, nor are the owners. The cheapest I’ve been able to find for full time infant care in DC proper is $1500 a month, but many other places were closer to $2000 a month.

    • anon

      +1. For the safety of the child, everyone demands low adult to child ratios and other safety regulations. These cost money, particularly in a high cost of living area. Eventually, the government will have to provide free daycare starting at 3 months.

    • I had a large spread sheet of day cares that we had put our names (and paid the fee) for wait list spots – they were 1500-2400/mo

  • ZetteZelle

    Mary Center (Mary’s Center?) used to have a program that would teach its clients (many of whom are lower-income immigrant women) how to become certified as in-home daycare providers. You could try calling their central office to ask if they might know of any recent graduates of this program who are about to be certified/open a center.

    • Park View

      I would not be comfortable sending my infant to a an in home center run or staffed by someone who just got their credentials 5 minutes. Trust me, you really must get referrals from people who actually have used the center or hired the nanny etc.

      • ZetteZelle

        When my older child was an infant, he was in daycare with a Mary Center-trained provider. Although he was one of the first kids to enroll in her daycare, she did come with references from babysitting/nannying jobs she’d done before. Agreed that you shouldn’t hire someone sight-unseen, but “newly credentialed” =/= “inexperienced.”

      • Whoa, prejudging much? By the time many daycare providers get officially credentialed, they’ve been raising children for years and sometimes decades. They come with tons of loving and grateful references.

        • park view

          thats the point, check references. I am raising a kid and I think I would be a terrible in home day care provider. They aren’t necessarily the same thing.

  • EvilStevie

    Your best bet for keeping childcare costs down is to work split shifts with your partner. See if your boss will let you come in early and leave early, and if your partner’s spouse will let him/her come in late and stay late. Then find a nanny share for ~4-6 hours a day. My brother, best friend, and neighbor are all using this approach.

    • K

      My husband and I split shift. I work days he works nights. It sucks but it beats shelling out 30K for childcare (we have twins).

    • OP

      Thanks to everyone for the suggestions! I am starting to think split shifts is best for us too. I am just worried about the time in between I can get a new job that lets me work 3/12s that includes the weekends or getting a per diem at the hospital I currently work at. I need to talk to my management and see if they are willing to work with me.

      Thanks again everyone for their great suggestions!

    • Anon

      Your partner’s spouse?? Haha, I know you meant boss, but it was too funny to pass up. Although maybe having four people instead of two (if each partner has a spouse) would make it a bit easier…

  • say what

    The post has had a few articles (including today) on DC daycare costs. DC has the highest daycare cost in the entire Country. Where you live there won’t be many, if any, in home day cares. Those are usually the cheapest. They can be very hit or miss in terms of quality. Pros-they are cheap. Cons-kids get less inidividual attention, no controls on who is coming in and out of the house (I worried about some loser relative free loading in the house etc).
    A lot of folks either get lucky and get into corporate day care (bright horizens is probably the biggest in DC but most slots go to feds) and if I remember correctly the one we looked at was 1650/month for an infant and then maybe 1450/month once they hit age two.
    A lot of us just went with nanny shares, super convenient but most expensive. Much like day care, can be hit or miss. You def want a solid referral. We got lucky and got our nanny through a friend. Use your neighborhood listserve to find a share family. Good nannies start at 18 or 20/hour with regular raises,all paid fed holidays, 10 paid vacation days and five paid sick days per year. Plus taxes. I think its working out to about 24k/per year from EACH family. the upside is that DC has free preschool so that will save you two years (then again, not all the schools have preschool on your side of town). by the time my one kid gets to preschool we will have spent about 70k on childcare. Welcome to DC and parenting.

    • Formerly ParkViewRes

      “by the time my one kid gets to preschool we will have spent about 70k on childcare.” EXCUSE ME, but HOLY FU$K!!! On ONE kid!!! That is probably how much it cost for me to go to college!

      • say what

        our kid has a “late” birthday so misses the cut off to enroll in 3 year old preschool so we are on the hook for another 9 months of child care before free preschool. And that number doesn’t include bonus (probably another 2k total) or monthly activity fees for kid (about 40/month for several years) so, yeah 70k plus is about right for a little over 3 years of care. I honestly can’t figure out how people in DC do it with two kids in daycare at the same time. daycare/nanny etc you are on the hook for at least 3k/month. It helps if you have rock solid savings before having a kid and have already invested in a condo or home. DC needs to really figure out how to make childcare more affordable. For everyone, not just folks making less than 45k.

        • Many do it by the mom exiting the work force, which has long term consequences for the economic security of the family and home, nevermind psychological factors that sometimes come in to play.

          • Formerly ParkViewRes

            I thought I would do that, but omg not working right now is driving me nuts. Maybe if I had a kid it would be different, but ugh I don’t like not contributing to our joint account/not earning money even though my partner has no problem covering the both of us. I think I will go part-time so I am still making some money, contributing to 401k, and have time outside the house.

          • this was my problem – My father just said, point blank, every dollar, in any way, you’re earning above what childcare is costing means it’s worth going to work. I wasn’t allowed to work part time – I was a fed with a very unflexible and uncaring work environment. I couldn’t find any childcare so had to take more and more time off. I became a very passionate advocate for paid family leave and childcare when I was on leave and continue today.

        • eli

          There are a handful of charters that will take kids whose birthdays are before December 31st. Shining Stars is one. There is another in Brookland. Do your homework, play the lottery, and you may get a slot. I know several families that have done this.

          • anon

            You do your homework — this isn’t true any more. Since MySchoolDC the cut off is the same (unless you don’t participate) but the schools that you are referring to that used to take 2.5 year olds are n MySchoolDC and no longer do so.

      • Our childcare was almost 28k a year. 40 hour a week nanny with a PT nanny share. Full year. Prek3 in DC depending on where you live might not even be that good. There aren’t many actual preschools (day cares, yes, but preschools, it’s like the JCC and a few others). It was ridiculous.

    • HIll Easter

      “free” is relative – we all pay for it, regardless of if we use it or not

      • textdoc

        “Free preschool” is commonly understood to mean “preschool that is free for the D.C. parent enrolling his/her child,” as distinguished from “private preschool for which parents have to pay” — not “preschool that has no costs whatsoever for the taxpayers of D.C.”

  • PetworthMom

    Not sure if you have the space, but au pairs can be more affordable than daycares.

    Like all child care arrangements, there are pros and cons, but we’ve been happy with an au pair.

    We did a nanny share for two years prior.

    • PetworthMom2

      did you use a company to hire your au pair and, if so, which one?

      • PetworthMom

        Yes, we did. Email the Petworth Parents listserv (mention something about au pairs and POPville) and I’ll look for you post. We can chat offline about the au pair process if you’d like.

  • DC1

    Not sure if ~$2k/mo is considered “affordable” to the OP, but my daughter goes to Capital Kids Inc (located at the WWF building- West End) and I couldn’t be happier with the place and curriculum.
    Also, you should expect an average of 12 months waiting list in pretty much any “good” day care.

    • PetworthMom

      Yes, most will have wait lists. Many folks will do a nanny share in the interim.

    • 12 months is what they say. It’s not actually real for many. My son turned 2 and I’m still on wait lists (not that it matters anymore), and when I would follow up after they had our wait list fees, they couldn’t give me a timeline. But it’s like they’re required to say “12 months”

      • dcbaby

        i have actually had the opposite experience. didn’t put our name on any lists until baby was born in june. less than 6 months later, we have already been offered spots at most of the places, and some told us it would take years. price range of the places for infants in the downtown area seemed to be $2000 to $2600.

  • Suse

    St. Albans Parish early childhood center. http://www.saecc.org/
    But there is nothing affordable about daycare in DC.

  • Formerly ParkViewRes

    Oh good, PoP deleted the rude and unhelpful comments that were here. Ugh. Anyhow, have you seen that spreadsheet with all the daycares in the city? It might be pretty old at this point, but you can just start there and call all of them. Also, I would think that where you live is not going to have affordable daycare. I know it would make your commute harder, but I know a couple people have mentioned Petworth and Brightwood have a few “affordable” places. Can you accommodate an au pair? Seriously the au pair route seems to be the cheapest.

  • above7-11

    @ Steve Dave, LOL. DC offers free daycare for pre-k 3 and 4 however, the amount of spaces is less then the amount of students. The placement is done by lottery and if you don’t get in, you are SOL. Under age 3, their is a full subsidy for duel income families making less then $42k per year, or single parent families making less then $35k. Unfortunately it’s an all or nothing proposition. $1 over the limit and you get squat.
    We pay $330 a week in Columbia heights for full-time day care 7 am to 6 pm M-F including breakfast and lunch at Centronia. Do not be scared off by wait lists. Most places tell you it is 18-24 months, but then they call you within a couple months.

    • kt

      That is an amazing center. I was hoping to get my son in, and we eventually did, but right before moving to NE so we couldn’t accept the spot!

    • Centronia kept us on the wait list for two and a half years before we got in. When they finally called, I stated the obvious: we found another solution. Seemed like a great place though, and I have heard nothing but nice things about it!

  • wdc

    We were very, very happy with our nanny share. It cost about the same as a midrange daycare center, but there were big benefits: you can send your sick kid (assuming both families are cool with sharing bugs); you are exposed to far fewer bugs regardless; if you’re hosting, or trading off hosting, your commute just got way simpler; your kid can bond with one caregiver, instead of multiple and potentially revolving ones; and we really lucked out and got friends for life. The nanny is family, even though she hasn’t formally cared for our kids in years.

  • Leo

    Ana Davila, world’s most awesome nanny: 703-587-9241. Love her; she’s amazing, and she’ll teach your child Spanish. Alas, kids grow up. She might already be working with another family, but worth checking. Doing a “nanny-share” with another family would be cheaper.

  • say what

    one more from the Post today:

    I know its frustrating OP, we have all been there. You just have to deal with it for a few years and accept that you will be broke.

  • We found a great in-home daycare using this OSSE database. We searched by zip code. Our daycare costs are lower than the bigger centers in the neighborhood, and our child benefits from the small size of the daycare. We love it!


  • dcviajera

    There is a Chevy Chase Babysitting Coop. The co-op lets families swap babysitting. Not sure how this works, but the coordinator is Sarah Remes ([email protected]).

    • Brightwood Resident

      How does a babysitting co-op work? Is it for full-time care or weekends only?

      • Anonamom

        I’m in a co-op and it is strictly for evenings/weekends/random days.

  • K

    My suggestion is to think creatively. Most of the parents I know are middle income (dc gov workers, non-profit workers, service workers) and can not swing DC child care costs (1600$ is the low end and out of reach for most of us). My husband and I figured out that if we did the split shift we wouldn’t need to pay for child care at all. I have a friend who had her mother move into her basement apartment. Another friend cut her work week back to part-time and shares babysitting duties with another mom who works part-time (mom 1 watches both kids Monday -Wednesday morning. Mom 2 watches both kids Wedns. afternoon -Friday). Another family had a finished basement that they gave to a young woman free of charge in exchange for daytime childcare (the young lady worked nights at a bar and was taking some grad school classes).

  • uptown mom

    i found our fabulous church-based daycare while walking around my neighborhood when my daughter was just a few weeks old. there was a tiny sign in the lawn of the church, so i went in to inquire. the day care had no web presence, so there was no way to find out about them otherwise. and get this – the infant room was $900, toddler room $800. They have since increased to $1200 and $1100 but still way below market rate. Maybe you should stroll around your hood looking for smaller outfits that will do the job?

    • rj

      yes – keep your eyes open in your neighborhood! there are a lot of places that go under the radar. i have had luck finding smaller neighborhood daycares that have been really good but much more affordable than the larger federal centers, bright horizons and those places. if you can get over to mt pleasant, there is a small place called ‘tiny tots preparatory school’ on mt pleasant street. a few years ago the fee was around $300/week. i had a harder time accepting the idea of in home daycares, but my kid is at one now that is run by a really wonderful woman, so if you have any of those near you, definitely check them out.

      many people also go for a nanny share until their baby makes it off of the wait list in a daycare facility.

  • Anonamom

    My honest suggestion? Look outside of those neighborhoods. You are looking in what are some of the most expensive neighborhoods for child care in the city.

    • Anonymous

      And don’t think you can breathe easy when your kid turns 3. There are currently no pre-K 3 programs west of the park.

  • Kelly

    In this case, it would actually be cheaper to have multiple kids so you can justify hiring a nanny. One infant in decent day care is $2K a month, no way around it. It costs so much in DC that people make the same move/stay calculation regarding kids schools. Move to the burbs and have significantly better schools, cheaper housing and an awful commute. Or, stay in DC, for a fortune for housing, for daycare and have to spend your life fighting the lottery system to get your kid into a “passable” school.

    I actually stayed an extra 3 years in a job I absolutely detested, solely because they had onsite high quality, free daycare for employees who had kids up to the age of 5. It was basically like getting a ~25K a year raise.

  • ASW

    Are either you or your spouse feds? we used a daycare center connected to my husband’s workplace (USDA) and it was loads cheaper than anywhere else! Sure, there was a waitlist, but we got in when our son was 5 months old (i took a longer maternity leave). There were kids there whose parents did not work for the government. It’s worth looking in to. I think we paid $187/week back in 2008. The cost went down each year after infancy. Take heart: while it is expensive, it’s only for a short time in your life. Parenthood comes with soooo many other crazy expenses!

    • Not every federal agency has a priority day care program – I was DOD, no civilian childcare…and my husband was DHS, no employee childcare. So you get second or third priority which is the same as basically never lol

  • My suggestion: Hire a nanny, try to stick to 40 hours a week or less, and add a second family for a nanny share. Don’t waste money on the tons of wait lists you’ll want to get on – it’s $150-$200 per wait list application. The centers are often not good (as in, employees don’t make enough to send their own children there). You can screen your own nanny well. Our first was bad and we fired her after 5 weeks, but our second was a pure wonderful. We specifically paid her very well because we didn’t want to lose her. Was it cheap? No. But we got what we paid for, and the other boy in the nanny share was wonderful for my son (we still meet up too even though we’ve moved!). If you can find a wonderful nanny, it’s the best of both worlds – good childcare in a safe environment, you don’t have to rush out of your house, and you’re in charge of the employment. We have an excellent nanny contract we modified off our local list serve if anyone ever needs one. A nanny share can be about 12-15 an hour. If you can manage 40 hours (we did it by my husband working 7-3:30, and me 8:30-5), you will likely be in the same cost range as a good daycare center.
    Our costs were high because we did not have a FT nanny share. We had another boy 3 days a week and then a section in the contract if they wanted to add another day here or there. For us, it was great because our kid got 1-on-1 time and social time. But a FT nanny share will be on par with a center. We also paid for activities for our son at the JCC and other places because I wanted a good set of activities with other kids and some direction. It worked great and I’m happy to answer any questions offline. Sadly, our nanny moved to NYC so I can’t recommend her. She was the best, though!

    • I couldn’t agree more about getting a great nanny because I am one of them! I have wortked with several families in the Capitol Hill, Petworth, U Street and other neighborhoods in the city.
      I would recommend getting references( I have them) check for CPR certification, and doing an up-to-date criminal background check of your choosing.
      There are great nannies out there!

  • Ally

    The bad news is: it doesn’t exist.
    The good news is: you’re expecting a little one, you’ll be great, and there are options. Here’s what we did. We tried and tried and tried to get into daycare. We applied to all the federal daycare lists and some private ones. We’re STILL waiting to get in, and our son turns 6 months this Sunday. But, there’s hope. We put out a feeler on our neighborhood email listserv for a nanny share. So, you have a nanny who comes to the house, but, even though it’s VERY expensive, you half the cost with another family. It’s worked great for us. Each family pays about $1900/month. Still a lot of money. But, you can probably find one a little cheaper (our nanny had a good education background and we wanted to pay her more). And, eventually you’ll get into daycare and your budget will get back to normal :) Best of luck with you little one; motherhood has been surprisingly exhausting but wonderful.

    • Ally

      And RE the wait lists: We started applying when I was 3 months pregnant, so we’re a year in and still no luck yet.

  • Jessica

    My son has been at Albina’s Home Day Care for almost two years. It’s a nice in-home daycare in Mt Pleasant, we’ve been happy, and it’s .reasonable compared to lots of other options out there!

  • Steve

    City government regulations mandate number of caretakers by age, amount of space per child, bureaucratic approval of facilities, certification of staff, and marketing of the center among many other business related issues. They also claim the right to regulate discipline policy, all aspects of facility operations, staffing qualifications (including continuing education requirements), and workforce management policies.

    89 pages of regulation. Is anyone surprised that childcare is so expensive in this city? The city government bares its teeth, and growls at entrepreneurs, DARING them to start a daycare center, and try to make a living. “Make my day, punk!” And people are shocked that there can be up to a year’s waiting list to get an infant into good day care even when the cost is $2k a month?!!

    All the issues the city government thinks it has the right to regulate would be MUCH more easily handled by the parents who are raising the children, and want the best for them. It is not the city government’s business how they do that. At some point bureaucrats need to learn the simple lesson of letting people manage their own affairs. Lower cost, more options, stronger competition, and more satisfied consumers will be the result.


    • park view

      say what you will about over regulation but sometimes we need a lot of oversight. Especially when it comes to the health and well being of very young children. VA has much fewer restrictions and much much higher mortality rates of kids in in home day cares. the Post did a very disturbing report on the lack of regulation of many day cares in VA tied to deaths of children at those day cares.

      • Anonamom

        Agreed. My kids were at a daycare in Maryland that got shut down. Turns out, when they came for her annual spot inspection, she had let two babies unattended in the home, one (my 11 month old) strapped in her car seat and one in a pack n play. The provider didn’t even think she’d done anything wrong, but had their been a fire or something, the worst would have happened (not to mention other risks). So I’ll take that regulation any day. It’s meant to keep kids safe, and that is far more important than keeping costs down IMO.

      • Another mom

        Agree completely. Yes, it’s expensive. But you get licensed providers with the appropriate certifications. You get appropriate ratios, random inspections, safety regulations, and facility requirements. You get dietary requirements that ensure your child is provided with balanced, healthy meals. This applies to all day cares, even those based in a home or church. I’m happy to pay a high price for DC childcare, because I’m getting a very good product.

  • MKDGman

    One thing to make it a bit less painful is if your employer offers it, enroll in the dependent care flexible spending account. I withhold $5000/year pre-tax to cover day care expenses. It doesn’t cover the yearly cost, but it does help (as well as the dependent care tax credit–I’m not a CPA so I will not go into details… talk to your tax adviser :-)
    I enrolled my 2 month old daughter at a daycare center in Petworth. It didn’t have a wait list, and it is relatively inexpensive ($325/week). The staff is great and she is thriving there. I found it on the DC Urban Mom’s message board. I was hoping to find something closer to home or work, but it will have to do.

    • Lisa

      Would you mind sharing the name of the daycare? We are in Petworth and currently looking. Thanks!

      • MKDGman

        My daughter goes to GAP Community Child Care on Upshur (near the Soldier’s Retirement Home). Very happy there so far.

        Good Luck!!!

  • Kent

    Our first child is due in February and we enrolled in Little Seasons down in Georgetown. It was less expensive than most of the other places near us (Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase, etc). http://www.littleseasons.net if you’re interested, but there is limited space so I’d schedule a tour and get on the list soon if you think you might head in that direction.

  • The Daycare is Too D*mn High!!!

    East of 16th st and north of downtown is usually cheaper, we both work mostly from home so commute wasn’t much of an issue to us, but your mileage may vary. We found having the baby home too distracting and tempting and we wound up crowding and annoying our caregivers anytime he made anything more than burp.
    We didn’t pay any waitlist fees and constantly followed up with our top 3 favorites twice weekly for 2 months. Then one day our #1 called and said they had space!!! It has a diverse staff and student population so I have a little guy that’s speaking English and little bits of Spanish and Amharic. Most importantly he’s happy and safe. $260/ week in Petworth.

    • Expecting in Petworth

      Hi there, Can you you share which daycare you used? I’ve been looking at a number of places in Petworth (where we also live) and haven’t found anything under $300/week.

      • MKDGman

        My daughter goes to GAP Community Child Care on Upshur (near the Soldier’s Retirement Home). Very happy there so far.

  • Chellefish

    Lessons we learned the hard way: institutional daycare for a kid under 1 can be a nightmare if they’re not a rock solid sleeper when they go into care. Nanny shares often provide better care but it can be tricky to find one where everything is 100% above-board – and if you’re going to put money in a childcare FSA or figure out taxes without tearing all yor hair out, above-board is where you want to be. DC needs to step up with daycare help but until and unless that happens DC employers should be providing better benefits and schedule flexibility to help make it work. No such luck at my employer so far, so if we have a second kid there will be some hard choices to make.

  • mamma

    We ended up going with an in home daycare across the border in Montgomery County. It’s $250/week and our son is thriving there. I love the providers, they’re so caring and nurturing. There are 8 kids there and they all seem so happy when I pick up my son at the end of the day. Check out Monday Morning Moms to help connect you to in home daycare providers in Maryland.

  • DC mom of two

    I second (or third) all the comments about not putting money down for a waitlist. They are a scam. We found a great in-home daycare that was small, we liked the woman who ran it and both our kids went from age 8 months until 3 years, and it was a lifesaver. I would say do a lot of looking/ visiting places in person, talk to parents who currently have kids at the day care you are looking at (day care providers should provide references), and go with your gut when you find a good one. And make sure they are licensed. A good licensed daycare should ask you for a copy of your child’s medical records/ vaccine because DC checks on those regularly, and should have a Tax ID number so you can claim a childcare credit on your taxes. Also, don’t sign any contracts that force you to pay for a year or find a new person for the spot if you decide to leave. The right daycare should be flexible enough to allow you to make a switch, with some notice, if its not a good fit for them or the kids.


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