The global economic crisis is beginning to affect many families in a highly personal area: the care of their children. Day care bills have always been a challenge for many working parents, but according to a recent Associated Press report, many are abandoning day care altogether because they can no longer afford it. If you're feeling the squeeze because of child care bills, consider these tips.
1Do a cost-benefit analysis. If the lion's share of your income from work is going toward your day care bills, it might be time for drastic measures. Maybe it makes the most sense to pull your child out of full-time day care and scale back your work hours for a time? Write out a monthly budget and see whether you realistically might be able to handle not working or working part-time for a year or so.
2Talk to your boss. If taking a complete break from work simply isn't possible, you could approach your employer and ask about working part time or changing your work schedule so you and your significant other could work opposite shifts. Telecommuting on a part-time or full-time basis also might be an option.
3Talk to your family. Are you in a position to ask grandparents or other extended family members to watch your child while you work? If they agree to provide such labor-intensive support, be sure to compensate them in some way — either financially or by providing help and services that could be useful for them, or both. Come to an understanding that any financial compensation you give them must be less than you had been paying at day care.
4Team up with someone you trust. Another possibility under these circumstances might be to alternate your work schedule with a dependable person you know well. In essence you could coordinate a "job share" of sorts, even if you don't work at the same place. Then the two of you could share child care duties on your days off and potentially save thousands of dollars each year.
5Or try a different form of teamwork. Maybe both you and your dependable friend or relative must work full time. If so, could you team up and split the cost of a full-time nanny who could care for your children and the other person's children during the day? To make this even more cost-effective, you could split your "nanny share" three ways with another parent who lives nearby.
6Think about churches and schools in your area. Does your church or a church in your area offer day care? If so, scholarships may be available for parents who are struggling financially. Another possibility might be a low-cost preschool program offered by the public school district where you live. Call to find out what's available.
7Pursue other options. It also could be worthwhile to call your county government, the nonprofit initiative Child Care Aware (www.childcareaware.org; toll-free 1-800-424-2246), and area civic organizations to find out about different day care possibilities for your child. In all cases, ask about scholarship help if you think you might qualify.
8No matter where you end up, ask lots of questions. Good questions to ask any child care provider include: How is the staff selected? What are their credentials? What are the child-adult ratios? What kinds of safety equipment and emergency procedures exist? How much space do children have inside and outside to play? How long has your business been licensed?
9Do a background check. Request the names of at least three parents and ask them about their children's experiences. Also visit the Web site of the Florida Department of Children and Families (www.myflorida.com/childcare) and click on "Provider Search" to see whether a facility's license is up to date. (You also can search for day care providers in your ZIP code at this site.)
10Remember to save on your taxes. You probably qualify for the child care tax credit as a working parent. Depending on your income, the credit allows you to deduct a percentage of up to $3,000 in day care bills for one child or $6,000 for two or more children.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources and resources: Florida Department of Children and Families (www.myflorida.com/childcare); Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org); Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org); Internal Revenue Service (www.irs.gov).