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Child care centers have struggled to maintain a stable workforce for years, but the pandemic wreaked havoc on the industry, and it hasn’t been able to recover. As of last month, child care — a sector that offers some of the lowest wages in the country — is still short 60,000 teachers. This has led to a monthslong, sometimes yearslong, waits for parents looking for care.
Long waitlists and expensive tuition have left many parents without the option of choosing where they get care — or even getting outside care at all, something reporter Chabeli Carrazana recently wrote about. We asked you, our readers, how long day care waitlists have affected you, and your responses highlight how securing care has become a luxury. Below are just some of the responses we received, lightly edited.
How have long day care waitlists affected you and your family? Have you seen success in securing a slot, and if so, how long did that take? What questions or concerns do you have about the process? We want to continue hearing from you! Email us or leave us a comment on Instagram to share your experience with us.
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Occupation: Communications manager
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
As a former teacher, and now a working mother of two young boys (ages 1 and 4), I am at a loss as to how child care teachers are some of the lowest paid people in this country. I wonder what job could be more important than educating and caring for the future generation that, no doubt, will be tasked with addressing the ever growing number of complex issues we will leave behind?
I toured multiple day care franchises for my younger son and have been laughed at by numerous in-home and private day cares with two to three or more year waitlists. When I was on my tours, it was so evident that these are not places filled with happy teachers who feel supported and taken care of. And how could they be? How are they then expected to take care of our children? They are shamefully underpaid, overworked and doing a job that is immensely taxing, both physically and emotionally.
Occupation: Administrative assistant and content provider for the Feminist Book Club podcast
Location: Eugene, Oregon
I got on a day care waitlist super early with my first pregnancy — around seven weeks pregnant. And then I miscarried and the thought of being called for a slot devastated me, so I removed our name. A year and a half later, I found myself pregnant again. I waited until I was almost out of my first trimester and got back on the list. Just to be safe, I got on two other lists in town, as well. The cost was probably around $50 to $100 per sign up. One day care assured me there would be a spot. We didn’t need anything until my baby was 6-months-old, so it felt safe. Maybe even overkill.
When my daughter was 3 months old, I called the centers to check again. One said I could expect a two year wait, and the center that told me they would have a spot was full with another two year wait. The third center promised a slot.
At 6 months old, there was still no place for her. The third center had filled up. I got on three more waitlists, each one requiring another fee. In the meantime, I tried to work from home with a child that needed increasingly more attention and interaction from me. My workday started at 4:45 a.m. and ended when I finally fell asleep late at night.
Finally, when my daughter was 10 months old, a center opened a spot for her. We had a $200 enrollment fee, non-refundable. She was there for six weeks before we had to pull her due to suspected child abuse. We went back to working from home with a baby, electing to try to find a nanny — an exorbitant expense.
Occupation: Operations manager
Location: Seattle, Washington
We virtually toured and interviewed day care centers close to our home in Seattle starting in my second trimester of my pregnancy — summer 2021. Our preferred center had two potential locations. I paid the $150 waitlist fee for each location and hoped there would be a spot by the time I was planning to go back to work in early June 2022. Additionally, we put ourselves on waitlists for a couple other locations and given that we have family nearby, along with flexible employers, we did a bit of a shrug and hoped for the best believing it would all work out.
We got lucky and it did work out. We got the email in May 2022 that there was a spot available for our daughter. But it was available three weeks before we needed care. We could pay for the tuition for those three weeks to hold the spot (>$2,000), or it would go to the next person on the waitlist. So, we paid for the tuition for care that we did not need or take advantage of.
I feel lucky, but I realize that I wasn’t lucky — just privileged. We had the privilege of money, time, roles, flexible and understanding employers, and the proximity of family to make this all happen.
This whole thing cost me thousands of dollars to make sure my kid had a place to go so both my husband and I could work. I recognize that my success is not replicable because I have resources available to me that others do not have.
Occupation: Operations manager
Location: Tampa, Florida
I had to quit my job to care for our son back in January 2021. Thought it was a “short term” thing, thinking we’d surely get child care soon and I’d be able to find work that helped pay for it. Not so much. It took an additional year for him to get a spot and start at 15 months old. Even now with “priority” for an infant spot, we have 30 people ahead of us on a waitlist that ultimately has over 300 infants on it, so we can’t begin to plan for the next baby.
Occupation: Writer and editor
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Our neighborhood day care assured us we’d have a spot when our firstborn was three months old. I still remember the words: “June? No problem!” Then June rolled around and they informed us we were 19 on the waitlist.
We didn’t get off that list until my son was 15 months old and had aged into the toddler room (higher staff-to-child ratio). But by that point, we’d had to figure something else out. We’ve had four different nannies in two years (they’ve moved, changed jobs, gotten pregnant, etc.), and each time one has fallen through we’ve checked back in on the day care lists to no avail.
We just had our second baby four months ago, and instead of going back to work as planned, I’m staying home with the kids.
Occupation: Marketing director
Location: Denver, Colorado
I relocated to Denver one year ago with a 15-month-old. Called every single reputable day care I could find. Ended up choosing what part of the city to live in based on the day care that had a part-time room for her, and found an amazing nanny for the other three days of the week. It shouldn’t be a luxury to have suitable child care, but it’s certainly treated like one.
Occupation: Product manager
Location: Glenwood Springs, Colorado
When we moved to Colorado (Glenwood Springs area), for a new job opportunity, our son was 12 months old. I called as soon as we knew we were moving and got on all the lists. We ended up having to get an au pair. A day care employee I spoke to on the phone told me he puts his friends on the waitlist when they get married as a gift. We don’t stand a chance!