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Child Care “Waitlists Are All a Big Sham”

The Background on the Child Care Waitlist Story

child care waitlists parent anxiety

Sometimes the uncertainty is the hardest part of day care waiting lists.

Like most stories involving children and early childhood education, this one has a happy ending. When a friend and new parent heard that we were working on child care enrollment software to help manage daycare waiting lists, she had so many lively insights from struggling to find childcare in Washington, DC, I asked her if I could publish this Q&A.

Our friends – let’s call them Lisa and Jeremy – are proud first-time parents of a beautiful baby who live in DC and work for the US Government. Since both are employed, they are luckier than a lot of people, but they are not exactly spending their weekends sailing their yacht down the Potomac River either. It also may come as a surprise to you, like it did to me, that some departments of the US Federal Government do not offer paid maternity leave. Therefore, when they could not find childcare for their baby, Lisa and Jeremy were faced with taking more unpaid leave than they had anticipated, which created difficult financial as well as career choices.

The Key Takeaways

  1. Keep up the Good Work!– Parents already appreciate your kindness and respect when calling to ask about waitlists.
  2. Keep it Transparent– The more clear the waiting list process is for parents, the more confident they are going to feel about your child care center and your services.
  3. Work Together– If you can help point parents to other possibilities for gap care while they are waiting for a spot at your center, assuming they do not already know of them, please do so.
  4. Connect Families with Local Resources– Please refer parents to resources like NAEYC or your local or state child care referral agencies if your waitlist has no hope.

I spoke with Lisa while she and Jeremy were balancing the joys of being first-time parents with the anxiety of waiting to hear if a spot was available for their four-month-old baby.

The Questions

Q. When did you start putting in applications with early childhood education centers?
A. We started putting in applications almost as soon as we found out we were pregnant. DC’s legendary waitlists are well known among moms. It’s funny because there is this large amount of wisdom shared by parents about daycare waiting list strategies.

Q. What has the process been like for you?
A. It has been very stressful. It’s been over a year since we applied for waitlists and we still have uncertainty about if and when we are going to find a spot.

Q. What is the best way to manage the waiting lists that you are on?
A. We call directors to let them know we are still interested and to find out what they expect about our chances of getting a spot. They are the best resource because they are most aware of when spots are going to open.

Q. How do childcare directors respond to you?
A. The directors and daycare staff have all been really nice. None of them ever make you feel like you are bothering them. Sometimes it is difficult though. Anecdotally, I know friends whose children got in before our baby. Sometimes it feels like the person who happens to call when a spot opens, gets it. That can make me feel like the waitlists are all a big sham. But I know there are mitigating factors like priority for siblings, so it is not always easy to predict.

Q. What more could stakeholders do to alleviate the tight supply of child care?
A. Employers should work with local governments to make sure good regulations are in place and to spur daycare owners to open more centers. The problem seems quite intractable.

Q. What other options do you and Jeremy have for child care if a spot does not come through?
A. We have limited options. Home child cares are very rare in Washington, DC. I have heard it is because of tight licensing requirements. We have looked at nanny shares, but finding a good nanny can be even more challenging than finding care at a preschool.

Q. What advice would you have for other parents who are in the same situation as you?
A. Get on waitlists early. Make sure you follow-up with centers for which you are on the waiting list. If you can find good in-home care through someone you can trust, definitely consider that.

The Happy Ending

Lisa and Jeremy found a spot at a great childcare center in downtown DC towards the beginning of their baby’s fifth month. Aside from the challenges of parent-child separation and restarting work, everything has worked out for the best.

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Jeff is the Director of Marketing and Co-founder of BumbleBee Childcare Software. He lives in Cambridge, MA, in the United States. You can hear more from Jeff on Twitter and Google +.

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