Child Care Guide Part II: Finding Affordable Child Care in Washington, DC

This blog is by Jacquisha Cardwell. Jacquisha is a third-year law student at the Catholic University of America in DC, and will graduate in May with a JD and a certificate in Law and Public Policy.

Choosing a child care provider is a complex and time consuming task. As we noted in Part I, there are several options for affordable child care in DC outside of the subsidy program. As Part II, this guide provides a list of resources for licensed and official[1] child care options that fit a variety of family needs, including general child care search tools ranging from options for parents who work for the military or who work non-traditional schedules, Pre-Kindergarten care options, Head Start and Early Head Start options and child care options for children with developmental delays or disabilities.

Searching For Child Care

Whether a family is eligible to receive a child care subsidy or not, there are still options for affordable child care in DC. Families are able to use the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)’s child care locator tool. This tool allows the parent to choose from licensed child care centers and homes, and tailor the results of their search by preference, such as age of the child and the days and times care is needed. For families that have the child care subsidy voucher, this tool also allows parents to search for centers that accept the child care subsidy.  Parents can also find providers by location (zip code, quadrant or ward).

Child Care Payment Assistance for Parents in the Military

Child Care Aware of America provides information for child care fee assistance for members of the United States Armed Services by branch of service.

Child Care Options for Parents with Non-Traditional Work Schedules

There are child care options for parents who work non-traditional hours (outside of the standard hours of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday). Non-Traditional child care is available on the weekends, nights, and evenings. Eligibility is based on the parent’s employment or training schedule. More information about non-traditional child care eligibility and options can be found here. Parents who qualify for non-traditional child care can also use OSSE’s child care tool to locate centers and homes that provide care during non-traditional hours.


Pre-K is a public early care and education option that serves children from 30 months to five years of age. Often referred to as PreK3 and PreK4, these programs do have age cutoffs and students must apply to attend DCPS or DC charter schools. Parents can search for Pre-K programs offered by DC Public Schools and public charter schools and community based organizations.

LearnDC’s profile search allows parents to pick any grade level (including Pre-K), search schools, view their respective report cards and evaluate and compare Pre-K programs on the basis of school classification, DC CAS scores, attendance rates and qualifications of instructional staff. 

Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start are federal programs that provide free care for children from birth to age five that come from families with low incomes. Head Start serves children aged PreK3 and PreK4, while Early Head Start serves children ages birth to 3.[2] The comprehensive set of services includes free medical and dental care, healthy meals and snacks, safe playtimes indoors and outdoors and special services for children with disabilities.

Early Head Start provides services for infants and toddlers and can also provide services for pregnant women. For children at the PreK3 and PreK4 levels, Head Start also provides special services for families, including training classes and help for family problems such as alcohol or drug abuse.

There are two types of eligibility for Head Start and Early Head Start programs. Families with incomes at or below the poverty guidelines are eligible; people above the poverty guidelines can also be eligible dependent upon how far above the poverty line they are. There is also categorical eligibility for children in foster care, homeless children and children from families receiving public assistance (TANF or SSI).

To find a local Head Start or Early Head Start Program, click here.

Additional Options for Children with Developmental Delays or Disabilities

The DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education operates the Strong Start Early Intervention program for children ages birth through 3 with learning delays; this is a part of DC’s Early Intervention Program, which we covered in a recent DC KIDS COUNT Data Snapshot.

Services can be provided at any location where the child spends most of his or her day, including child care centers, and should be considered as supplemental services to a child care regimen. While some services are provided at no cost, like multidisciplinary evaluations and service coordination, the care provided to the child is charged on a sliding fee scale as determined by the family’s ability to pay when financial assistance is requested.

For those who believe their child may qualify, the process starts with a referral by a parent, family member, teacher, or caretaker. Almost anyone can call (202) 727-3665 and refer a child. From that point, the office contacts the child’s parents to set up an intake meeting. Referral forms are available here. The Strong Start Roadmap can provide an idea of what to expect throughout the process. Infants and toddlers from birth through three years old are eligible for the program if they meet other eligibility requirements based on whether the child has a diagnosed condition or a demonstrated developmental delay and based on a performed evaluation.

For those who need diagnostic services for a child over 3 years of age, the Early Stages Program helps identify delays a child may have and recommends appropriate services for those with special needs. 


[1] Many families also opt for more informal arrangements with neighbors or use nanny shares; however, this post will only cover licensed care options.

[2] Although both programs serve different age ranges now, soon there will be a more inclusive birth to five framework piloted. 

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