How to Find Affordable Child Care in Georgia

How to Find Affordable Child Care in Georgia

By: Atlanta Journal-Constitution 

As more people return to workplaces and families seek child care, it can be hard to know where and how to find affordable and quality care for your kids. Here is some information to help you get started.

What is the average child care cost in Georgia?

The cost varies depending on the child’s age, where they live, and when the child care is being provided.

In metro Atlanta, the average weekly day rate for children from birth to 5 years old at a child care learning center was $179.75, according to the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning’s (DECAL) 2016-17 market rate survey, which is the most recent one available. Nighttime care for the same age group can range from $178 to more than $200.

Those rates make Georgia comparable to other states. The annual cost of infant care in a center is almost $9,000 ($8,729), according to Child Care Aware of America. The national organization found that single parents pay almost 35% of their income for infant child care at a center. Parents with two kids at the poverty line pay over 62% of their household income on child care, according to Childcare Aware.

When families turn to what’s called “informal child care providers,” such as family, neighbors, and friends, the average weekly day rate dropped to $94.76, while the average weekly night rate ranged from $140 to more than $200.

How can I get started to find affordable child care?

Here are two initial steps:

  • Reach out to your local Child Care Resource and Referral Agency (decal.ga.gov/ccs/ccrrsystem). These agencies, which are divided by regions, help families find licensed care centers. They also may be able to help families find local scholarships and aid. Regions one through four and six include metro counties.
  • Call this number: 877-255-4254. This helpline, run by Quality Care for Children, a statewide organization, helps families find child care tailored to their preferences, such as location, hours of operation and quality ratings. Families in crisis situations, such as leaving a violent domestic situation or needing temporary assistance to transition to work or complete a job training program, may qualify for up to 12 weeks of emergency child care depending on available funds.

What’s a good way to search for child care centers in Georgia?

Go to qualityrated.org. This site, which is maintained by both DECAL and Quality Care for Children, allows families to search for licensed child care. Families can filter through different options for information such as hours, state inspection reports, and whether a center takes Childcare and Parent Services program subsidies. However, Quality Care for Children recommends families reach out via the helpline if they have any questions or need help.

Don’t just do a Google search. It may not pull up all the centers that are available and may show centers that are not licensed. Some centers may not be able to afford to put up a website as well, so reaching out through the helpline or qualityrated.org ensures you can find a center near you.

What do you mean by licensed and quality rated?

Those are two key terms to know.

Licensed: DECAL monitors licensed centers twice a year. These centers have to abide by more than 400 rules and have to follow guidelines for health and safety. You want to make sure that whoever is taking care of your child has had a criminal background check, said Pam Stevens, deputy commissioner of child care services at DECAL.

Quality rated: Centers that are quality rated voluntarily choose to go beyond basic health and safety requirements from the state and have DECAL certify them through a 1, 2 or 3 rating. DECAL conducts classroom observations and centers submit a portfolio. Some scholarships and subsidies can only be used for centers that are quality rated. DECAL said that any of the three ratings are positive and show a center going “above and beyond basic health and safety requirements.”

Centers also can ask different organizations, such as the National Association for Education of Young Children, to evaluate them in order to receive different accreditations.

What is an alternative to a typical daycare center?

Look for Family Child Care Learning Homes. These can host up to six children. These centers must be licensed by DECAL and may be more flexible in their hours because they are run by a person in their home.

There could be one in your neighborhood, but families may be unaware because the center may not be listed online because they do not have or cannot afford a website. Search qualityrated.org or call 877-255-4254.

In metro Atlanta, the average weekly day rate at a family child care learning home for birth to 5 years old was $140.19 and the average weekly night rate is $195.71 to more than $230, according to DECAL’s 2016-17 survey.

What financial resources could I turn to?

Look for subsidies from the state and scholarships, which some nonprofits may offer. Parents can apply for DECAL’s Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) subsidies to help cover child care costs. As of May 17 CAPS will cover the full tuition for child care until Oct. 2, 2022. Families can start the application process here: gateway.ga.gov/access.

If a family qualifies, DECAL’s goal to approve the subsidy is 30 days. However, the timing may depend on the volume of applications they receive.

All centers that accept this subsidy must be quality rated by the end of 2021. To find centers that accept the subsidy, visit qualitycare.org. However, CAPS is only serving less than 15% of children who are eligible, according to a 2016 study by the Center for Law and Social Policy. This number was highlighted in Georgia’s 2019 Preschool and Development Needs Assessment.

How could Head Start help me out?

Head Start is a federal-to-local early childhood grant program for children from birth to age 5 and their families, who are experiencing poverty. Enrollment slots can be limited; priority is based on the family needs, such as those experiencing homelessness, children in foster care, and children with disabilities. Head Start centers provide comprehensive services that include education, health, and mental health services, family engagement, and nutrition.

In Georgia, 32 local agencies serve as Head Start grantees across 157 counties. Federal funding is available for about 25,000 children.

Families can apply for the Head Start program here: eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/how-apply. Families can find Head Start centers at 877-255-4254 or this site: eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/center-locator.

Can I call a child care center and ask for a discount?

Yes, some child care centers provide financial assistance directly to families. When you contact a center, ask if there is a “sliding scale fee” where families pay a certain amount for care based on their income, as well as discounts for multiple children or scholarships. However, due to the pandemic’s impact on the industry, fewer centers may be offer discounts or assistance.