Child Care in the City

The adage, “the early bird catches the worm,” was never more apropos than when thinking about child care in Washington, DC. Although NW DC isn’t Manhattan, I had a premonition that the process would still be complex and expensive. Boy, was I right!

Back when I was 21, I worked as a live-in nanny for a summer in DC. There are a myriad of respected nanny and au pair agencies in this city, and an agency helps to assuage concerns and make sure that all legal and financial ducks are in a row. However, the cost of using such agencies is exorbitant.  How exorbitant? Through an agency, a family can spend up to $4,000 a month!

Costs can be somewhat more manageable if you don’t work with an agency, but the risks and responsibilities are higher! Likewise, the thought of having an extra adult in a two-bedroom apartment with a home office sounds limiting and a bit cramped!

My building only has one other child in it – just one! I like the idea of encouraging Little Bit to interact with other children her age. That won’t happen if she’s just around adults all the time.

The aforementioned factors caused child care centers to seem like the best bet. All of the centers we visited boast low teacher/children ratios, customized programming, and very good reputations.

Prices for child care centers in DC are still significantly higher than centers in most of the United States. How much higher? Well, the average family in the US spends $972 a month on child care. In DC, infant care at a center typically runs $2,000 a month. $2,000!

The most surprising part of this process, though, is the wait list. Quite a few child care centers within a 20-minute walk of my building in NW DC have a wait list of 18-24 months. That’s a waitlist for a newborn! Think about it. You need to know before you’re pregnant that you might get pregnant in a year or 18 months! Is anyone that telepathic?  One center director admitted that a woman had placed her baby-to-be on the wait list when she was neither pregnant nor in a relationship. As ridiculous as that sounds, that’s not a bad strategy with such long waiting periods!

I was reluctant to move forward with much involving the baby-to-be until I reached the third trimester, but I thankfully got on several wait lists for child care centers back in early February. Two of the centers expect to have openings in the late summer, which would work out perfectly! (Yes, I'm keeping my fingers crossed!)

I trust that Little Bit will end up wherever she is meant to me. And, I also recognize that I might not want to be away from her for five days a week every week. For now, though, I’m glad our child care ducks appear to be in a row.

For those of you who live in major metropolitan areas and are planning on having children, check out centers near your home and work and find out their wait lists sooner rather than later. I saw one woman with a baby approach a center only to find out that she’s out of luck…until 2015!

What’s the child care situation in your area like?

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