Having a Baby in DC? Child Care is Competitive, Expensive, and In Short Supply

Like many parents in Ward 6, I know how hard it is to adjust to having a new baby in the family. Doctors recommend that parents take a minimum of 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn child, and for good reason. My husband and I were fortunate to be able to take leave after our daughter was born, and it was still a struggle to adjust to our new life, and learn on the job as new parents.  

Last summer, we transitioned our daughter into daycare. We could not believe how difficult it was to secure safe, quality, affordable child care in DC.  Even before our daughter was born, we were asked to submit applications to various day care centers, all of which required non-refundable deposits of at least $100. We had to spend several hundred dollars just to give ourselves a decent chance at getting into a daycare before we had to return to work.

We were lucky to get into a daycare center that has turned out to be great for our daughter. It’s expensive, but we’ve made it work.  Unfortunately, that’s not an experience shared by many of our neighbors, because the cost and scarcity of daycare in Washington makes it completely inaccessible to many families.

In DC, Child Care Is Unaffordable

Child care in DC costs an average of $2,597 per month - or $31,158 per year - which is approximately 150 percent of what is paid by those receiving child care in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. According to Child Care Aware, single parents in DC spend an average of 89.1% of their income on infant care. The federal child care tax credit is capped at $3,000 per child and $6,000 per family, which is less than 20 percent of what DC families have to pay for child care. DC operates a federally-funded child care subsidy program that is inaccessible to many and not relieving the burden for those who need it most.

We Are Experiencing a Child Care Shortage, and Staff Are Overworked and Underpaid

In addition to being expensive, high-quality child care in DC is scarce, in part because our DC government is not doing enough to support child care workers.  According to Child Care Aware of America, child care workers in DC make an average of $26,470, far below the city’s median income of $65,830.  What’s more, DC will soon require that child care workers receive a college or associate’s degree, which will only further limit the pool of teachers and make it more difficult for highly qualified people to enter and remain in the field.

How We Move Forward: Boost Enrollment, Expand Access to Subsidies, Enact Policies That Support Child Care Workers

We have a moral obligation to ensure our city’s children have access to safe child care that isn’t bankrupting families.  Low-income families are not accessing the federal program at the rates we should expect to see, so DC must do more to promote them and encourage enrollment.  Building on the Federal program, DC must expand access to daycare subsidies to families up to 450 percent of the federal poverty level. Child care is a matter of public health, and this threshold is equivalent to what experts and policymakers deem necessary to help low income families under President Obama’s health reform plan.  

We also need policies that incentivize child care workers to enter, remain and grow in their positions long-term. The policy requiring child care workers to have defined associate’s and bachelor’s degrees does the opposite. The current policy aims for full implementation by 2020, but the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) has already extended select deadlines for coming into compliance.  This policy is flawed. The DC Council must roll it back, and instead work to implement appropriately tailored training, accreditation and certification programs administered by the OSSE.  Centralized standards and competencies are critical to ensure child safety and growth within the daycare setting, but policies that require expensive and unnecessary degrees as prerequisite to child care will decrease the workforce, decrease access to affordable quality child care, and place low-income workers and those with limited-English proficiency at a disadvantage as they find themselves unable to pursue careers in child care for which they are well-qualified.