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What do I need to know about child care enrollment?

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The process of enrolling a child in a child care program sounds straightforward to most parents and caregivers, but often feels very different. Many first-time parents begin their child care facility tours only to learn that the waiting list is six months, or even years long! While reputable child care programs are always in high demand, the COVID-19 pandemic greatly increased the struggle to earn a spot in certain care programs. Staff shortages, sick days, and higher costs associated with COVID-19 safety guidelines mean that today’s parents should begin touring child care facilities almost as soon as they’re expecting.

Child care facilities are required to follow strict guidelines on how many children they are able to care for–which is a good thing–but it’s not uncommon for parents with prospective students to be placed on a waiting list following facility tours and interviews. While this is a frequent cause of stress in expecting parents and caregivers who are facing a return date at work, there are a few things that can help you move off the list more quickly.

Make a Plan. Once you’ve decided to have a child or enroll your child in a care program, decide when you’d ideally like them to start. Centers that care for infants often have the longer waiting lists, so you may have an easier time gaining a spot if you plan on starting your child at a slightly older age. No matter when their intended start date is, parents and caregivers should brainstorm a list of the things they are looking for in a child care program. Hours, location, tuition, faith-based and many other factors can help guide your decision on where to tour.

Register Early. As soon as you know you are going to have children who need care, it’s smart to familiarize yourself with providers you’re interested in. Submit your registration as soon as possible, even if spots are completely full. The sooner you can get your child placed on the waiting list, the more likely their chances of being accepted into the program before you head back to work.

Plan on Multiple Wait Lists. In a post-pandemic world that is grappling with a shortage of child care workers, it’s smart to plan on registering your child for more than one program and joining multiple wait lists. If your first choice provider remains full, this gives you a few other opportunities for a spot somewhere else. 

Consider Connections. Depending on the child care program, there may be guidelines in place that can help bump your child up a waiting list. If your baby has an older sibling in a child care facility, for example, enrolling them in the same school can help their chances of being accepted sooner. Certain child care programs also provide ‘priority admission’ to families who are connected with the facility, like through employment or church membership.

Keep in Touch. While many care centers and child care programs are good about communicating with families on the waitlist, parents and caregivers shouldn’t be afraid to reach out on their own from time to time. Calling a potential provider every once in a while to check the status of your registration communicates the seriousness of your interest and can help you make any necessary backup plans well in advance of going back to work. 

Have Your Ducks in a Row. When parents and caregivers get the call that they’ve made it off of a waitlist and into a class, they need to be ready to move quickly. Most child care centers only give parents a few days to make the decision before moving on to the next person in line, so make sure your paperwork and all provider requirements have already been met when the time comes.

Lastly, many parents and caregivers wonder if they should remain on a waitlist at a child care facility once they’ve been accepted into another program. While this comes down to personal preferences and circumstances, there is no penalty for keeping your child on the waiting list of your top choice child care facility while they attend another. If the hours or location are better for your family, you may stay on the list until your name comes up. If you find your child fits well at the child care facility into which they were first accepted you should consider removing your name from additional waiting lists so other families will have the opportunity for the spot.

For more information on what to look for in a child care facility, visit www.healthychildren.org, www.whattoexpect.com, and www.childcare.gov.


By ABC Quality Team on November 15, 2022