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If you are looking for childcare, you are not alone. Most parents need at least some form of childcare. Unfortunately, childcare can be quite expensive. However, the good news is it doesn’t have to be! It is possible to find good childcare and still stay in your budget. From school and government programs to private arrangements with other parents, there are a number of ways to find quality childcare.


This is possibly the cheapest method of childcare. Bartering is typically an exchange of goods, but it can also be an exchange of services.  If you work mornings and your friend works afternoons, offer to watch her child in the afternoon if she watches your child in the morning. You can also talk to other parents at your child’s school and take turns watching the children after school. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to watch others’ children, perhaps you can offer a different service, such as music lessons or meal preparation in exchange for childcare.

Babysitting Co-ops

Babysitting co-ops are similar to bartering. Websites such as or can help you find a co-op in your area. Some co-ops are also found on Facebook. These sites can help you find reliable babysitters as well as save you money. Instead of paying money for the sitter, you use a token system. Tokens are earned by providing babysitting for someone else. You then can redeem your earned tokens when you need a sitter.

School-Based Childcare

Some school districts offer childcare to children as young as three years old. Talk to the schools in your zoning district about programs available. In addition to a typical school day, many of these programs offer free or reduced-price before and after care as well as free and reduced-price meals. Head Start and Early Head Start are also options for childcare for some families. Programs vary according to local needs but can include full and half-day childcare, school-based care, and in-home care as well as childcare for children with special needs. Eligibility is based on family income. Visit Head Start ( to determine your family’s eligibility or find a program near you.

Traditional Day Care Facilities

Day care facilities often have scholarships available or charge fees on an income-based sliding scale. Your child may qualify for a scholarship to your local day care facility. Some local and state governments also offer childcare subsidies for families in which the parent(s) are in school or meet income guidelines. These subsidies or vouchers can be used to pay for childcare in a licensed day care facility. In addition to these childcare options, some employers offer on-site care for employees. On-site childcare is a great resource for working parents. Your employer’s human resources office will be able to help you determine availability and eligibility.  For more options, visit the National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agency ( to find a free local childcare provider.

College Students and Mother’s Helpers

If you are both a parent and a student, finding someone to watch your child while attending classes can be hard.  Your school’s counseling center or health center may be able to connect you to childcare services in your area. Many colleges and universities operate job boards where students advertise their childcare availability. Some schools offer childcare facilities on campus while others have babysitting services that are run by student volunteers. Your classmates may also be able to point you in the right direction. Many college students would love to spend some time with kids and take a break from college. If you have your own house or apartment, offering them food or a place to do their laundry can be a great incentive. Education or nursing majors might be especially interested with spending time with children.

A mother’s helper is someone who watches a child while the parent is at home. This can be helpful if you need to study, work from home, or check off some items from your to-do list. Children as young as 10 or 11 years old can make great mother’s helpers. Mother’s helpers are often less expensive than babysitters. is another resource for finding a babysitter, nanny, or mother’s helper. After determining what type of caregiver you need, you can create a job on the website. The available caregivers are able to contact you, and you can then request background checks, interview the candidates, and look at references before you make your decision.

School-Age Children

Around the age of 5 years old, children are typically enrolled in elementary school. This means that you have childcare covered from 8am – 3pm. But what about the afternoons? Both The Boys and Girls Club ( and the YMCA ( have a variety of after-school programs and different activities for children from elementary school to high school. Many schools offer free or reduced-price before and after care options at the school. These programs often offer homework assistance, free play, and enrichment activities such as science classes, language classes and sports. Often free or reduced-price meals and snacks are part of the program. Eligibility is often based on income. Check with your local school district to find what options are offered.

Talk to your school. Often local public schools offer programs for children during the summer. These programs can be both educational and fun for your child. Most communities have a variety of summer camps. Though they can get pricey, talk to the camp staff about scholarships that might be available.


Your child’s well-being is of the utmost importance, so take the necessary steps to ensure that your childcare provider is not only reliable, but also safe.  Get references of each childcare provider you consider and follow through on contacting them. Previous employers can provide great information about what they thought of the childcare provider, and can tell you about their family’s experience with the provider’s services and quality. is a great online resource with general information about childcare as well as help to find a childcare provider near you. Do not hesitate to ask important questions such as what the adult-to-child ratio is, how many children will be in the group, and whether the caregiver has qualifications, certification, or has completed a background check and drug test. As a parent, remain involved as an active participant in your child’s life. This will show caregivers that you are invested in your child’s learning and safety, as well as allow you to keep a closer eye on the interactions and relationship between your child and their caregiver. Some childcare centers offer parents the ability to watch their child live online. Showing up unexpectedly can also provide assurances that your child is in good hands.

Get All the Facts

Childcare is a big decision. There are, unfortunately, many predators out there who could take advantage of a parent desperate for childcare. The utmost care must be taken when choosing a childcare provider, whether it’s a neighbor’s kid working as a mother’s helper or a professional nanny. Visit to research fact sheets on childcare costs, services, and other data within your state ( Look into all your options thoroughly, make an informed decision, and enjoy the adventure of parenting!

Updated by Elise Huntley. Original article by Erin Jones in the 2009/10 issue of
The American Feminist, “Raising Kids on a Shoestring” published by Feminists for Life of America.


Baby Sitting Co-op,
Baby Sitter Exchange,
The Boys and Girls Club,
Child Care Aware,
Child Care Aware Fact Sheets,
Head Start,
National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agency,

What You Can Do

  • Form a co-op or trade services. If you are a parent, work out a schedule with another parent so you two are trading time or services for childcare. For example, one mother could take the kids to school and the other could pick up. The best people to look to for reliable childcare are the neighbors, friends, and family right around you!
  • Advertise yourself. If you are a high school or college age student and you are in need of a part time job or some extra cash, take up babysitting! It is quick and easy to become CPR certified and tell your friends and neighbors that you are available to watch their children when needed. You can even take it a step further and advertise yourself on sites such as
  • Ask around. If you are a parent considering a certain daycare facility or childcare program to enroll your child, ask the fellow parents in your area for their recommendations, opinions, and tips before making your decision. If you are a parent with a