Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Child Care Costs

When I was pregnant with my first child, friends and co-workers asked me if I had my day care arranged.  “What?” zipped through my mind, “I haven’t even had the baby yet.  How can I think about day care at this point?”

Getting into quality, licensed day care can be hard depending on what is available in the area.  Families may need to start working on arrangements before the baby is born.  Not only do families need to plan for the kind of care they will have, but the cost of that care.

Over the years I had seen commercials and advertisements for saving for college.  Banks, financial planners, friends and colleges themselves—all sending the message to start early and save for education.   Education for kids is pushed and talked about, but what I had not heard addressed was the cost of day care.  And I had not saved for that expense at all.

In the first year after our baby was born, we paid over $5,500 for day care with a licensed, in-home provider (which was ten years ago).  When my second child was born and in day care as well, we paid over $12,000 per year for both children.  Although our child care costs are different now, summer programs and before and after school programs are still a large part of our budget. 

For many working families, child care is a must.  In the US, more than 11 million children under age 5 are in child care every week. Brain development is critical in birth through age 5.  Children need to be in a safe setting and in a place that promotes healthy learning and development (whether this is home care or day care).  These early years affect school readiness and learning in the future. 

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies released a report on the costs of child care (2011).  According to the report, in 2010, the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a center ranged from $4,650 in Mississippi to $18,200 a year in the District of Columbia.  Care for a 4-year old cost an average of $3,900 to $14,500.

Relative care has costs, as well.  Some people pay family members to watch their children.  Even if families do not have to pay relatives to care for their children, there are still costs involved and someone “pays” for that care in resources, time, etc. The care giver has food, energy and material expenses and is not able to do other things during those times. 

Child care also includes before and after school, summer and nights/evenings care (caregivers may work evening or night shifts or on the weekends and need care at those times).  Families may not think about these times of care, but they affect their budgets.

Many factors affect the cost of day care:

·         Where a person lives

·         The type of childcare

·         The child’s age and the number of children

·         The number of hours per week that the child attends day care

How can families make decisions about child care?  A place to start is to compare different options and see what fits for them.

·         How much is child care in the area? Will the budget cover that?

·         Would it make sense for someone to stay at home and not work outside of the home?

·         What kind of child care does the person want?

·         Are there other options? Such as, part time or flex time at work

·         Has the person talked with friends and others to see what has worked for them?

To look at the pros and cons of different options and average costs for day care, home day care, nanny care, preschool, relative care and staying at home, go to the chart at

To find licensed day care providers and centers, search at

Each community is different, so finding out what resources are available can be very helpful. 

·         What child care options are available to families?

·         Are there resources if families can’t afford quality, licensed care?

·         What types of summer programs are available and accessible to families?

·         Before and after school care?

Economic stress can affect families in different ways and shift how families need or use child care.  A mom shared that her kids’ school district went to a four day week (longer days, but 4 days instead of 5), because the school district did not have funds to continue as they were.  They went to 4 days to save money on buses, energy at the school, etc.  For many families, they now had to find child care for that day off of school.   How did families deal with the extra costs?  Did it open opportunities in the community for someone to offer care on that day?

The care and development of children is critical to families and communities.  Helping families think about child care options and costs can help them find the best place for their children and help them meet their family goals.

For more information on daycare options in your area, visit the Child Care Aware website or call their toll free number at 1-800-424-2246. 

For information on choosing day care, see Missouri Families for article and Q&As on child care



Babycenter. Childcare options: pros, cons and costs. Retrieved September 12, 2011 from


National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies. (2011). Despite weak economy, child care costs continue to rise: Quality child care is becoming increasingly difficult to afford for working families. Retrieved September 9, 2011 from


Lucy Schrader
HES Associate State Specialist and
Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
University of Missouri Extension
162 Stanley Hall
Columbia, MO  65211


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