Evelyn Romans | 

Yes, Free Childcare Exists — but More Likely, You'll Pay a Little

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If you’re marching toward what feels like an impossible situation with your children at home for school this fall, free childcare could be a godsend.

However, I’m not gonna lie — free childcare isn’t something you’ll find everywhere. Churches, grocery stores and gyms that used to offer it no longer do.

But as cities and states continue to realize how much parents rely on school not only for education, but also for childcare, I hope we’ll see some promising options, even if they’re very last-minute.

Here are a few options, along with ideas to help you find childcare and a creative alternative or two.

Do you have a plan for your kids this fall that I haven’t touched on? Share it in the comments so we can all learn from each other!


At least 100,000 kids will get free daycare in New York City.


New York City schools are planning on allowing kids to return to classrooms one to three days a week, on an alternating schedule.

In order to help parents who work outside the home or can’t afford childcare on the days kids aren’t in school, Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering free childcare to 100,000 students, ages three years old through eighth grade.

With 50,000 childcare spots available throughout schools, community centers and libraries, groups of kids will rotate using the spots, alternating based on who is in class and who isn’t on any given day.

All of this is assuming New York City can keep its infection rate down in the 3-5% range, otherwise schools will close, according to the mayor and the governor of New York.

I’ll update you as soon as we find out how you can apply for one of these spots.


Check your local YMCA — many are offering care during school hours.


Since YMCAs are all operated regionally, they won’t be doing the same thing across the nation, but many are working on a plan to accommodate working families with children doing virtual learning at home.

For example, my local Y is offering “School Day Plus,” a program where Y workers will give academic support to kids doing online school during the day. While the price for this program is the same as a summer program, the YMCA offers an income-based tuition option too.

Make sure you move quickly on this if you want to use the YMCA because the downside is they fill up fast and once spots are gone, they’re gone.


Use a free Childcare Resource Network agency to find available childcare in your state.

Screenshot of the child care aware of america website homepage.

Child Care Resource & Referral (CCR&R) agencies are state-funded and community-based programs that help parents find child care options near their homes or workplaces.

CCR&R services are free for you to use, although you may still end up paying for childcare. If you qualify for free or subsidized child care, your CCR&R will point you in the right direction.

Search the online CCR&R database to find an agency in your area.


If you’re in California, use MyChildcare.ca.gov to find an available option near you.

Childcare website map screenshot for California.

Even when California is under stay-at-home orders, Governor Newsom considers child care to be an essential service, open to working parents.

MyChildcare.ca.gov is an interactive map where you can search to find childcare options that have open spots near you.

Once you find one you like, call the provider directly to find out more details about cost and COVID-19 protocols.

Also, keep in mind that last spring the CARES Act gave states the ability to offer money to established childcare businesses, so many of them may be able to offer scholarships.

Of course, many are still in desperate situations — I don’t want to downplay how childcare businesses are being affected negatively by the pandemic at all, but some may have money they can allocate toward scholarships. I’m not promising anything, but definitely ask.



Everyone else, use Childcare.gov to find childcare options specific to your state.

mychildcare.gov website homepage screenshot with a dropdown menu to select your home state

At Childcare.gov you can sort by state to find out what is your state’s current status for childcare centers (if they’re open and what types of protocols are in place).

You can also find out how to apply for emergency care if your state offers it.


RELATED: Free and Cheap Homeschool Resources for Stressed-Out Parents


Know your rights — employees get up to 10 weeks of paid leave to take care of children.

A father wearing a disposable face mask, squatting down, helping put one on his daughter.

Chances are good that you’ve already taken advantage of this option that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) gave us in the spring.

But if not, you’re entitled to 10 weeks of leave at two-thirds pay for any COVID-19 related childcare needs (like, schools aren’t open and you need to take care of your children).

As long as you’re the employee of an eligible company (a private company with less than 500 employees) and you’ve been employed there for at least 30 days, you have access to this benefit through December 31, 2020.

The other fine print is if you work for a company with less than 50 employees, they can deny this benefit to you, if they feel your absence will jeopardize their business.


Pay for in-home child care through Care.com.

Care.com website home page screenshot.

If you simply need help and you’re willing to pay, use Care.com to find someone to come into your home and watch your children while you work from home or outside the home.

The average rate for a caregiver through Care.com is $13.50 per hour, per kid and you can search for someone who offers tutoring services if your kids are at home learning virtually for school.



Create a “quaranteam” with another family (and be grateful you’re one of the lucky ones).

Kids playing with a soccer ball in a park

If you have the luxury of creating a “quaranteam” or a co-op partnership with another family, it’s definitely a privilege — take advantage of it.

When you’re a part of a quaranteam, families take turns caring for the children in a group. This frees up a few hours a day for the parents who aren’t “on” with childcare responsibilities to work uninterrupted.

A side benefit is your children get some social interaction with other kids while school doors are closed.


RELATED: Face Masks for Kids: Places to Buy Them for Bargain Prices


BONUS: U.S. Senators introduced a bill to help parents who need childcare.

It’s still pending, but a group of senators, led by Patty Murray (D-WA), are introducing legislation called “The Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act.”

One aspect of this legislation, if passed, is called the “Child Care Is Essential Act,” and it would give $50 billion in grant money to day care providers who are already licensed and registered.

Child care providers can apply for the grant and use the money to increase their COVID-19 protocols, hire new employees, and pay employees to stay on staff during any future shutdowns.

Care providers can also use the funds to create scholarships for families who can’t pay for care.

I’ll keep you posted when I hear new developments.


Don’t scroll up! Here are the articles I mentioned:

Free and Cheap Homeschool Resources for Stressed-Out Parents
Face Masks for Kids: Places to Buy Them for Bargain Prices


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