Young girl holding a piggy bank

According to Child Care Aware of America’s 2017 report, Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, child care is one of the biggest items in families’ monthly budgets. It is often higher than the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation, or food. Families across the country know that it can be hard to find quality child care that is affordable.

High-quality child care programs may cost more than other options. But when children are in a quality child care program they are able to develop, explore, and grow. A safe and nurturing early learning environment allows children to get ready for school, and allows their parents to focus on work or school knowing that their child is in a healthy, caring environment.

It is important to make sure your child care provider meets health and safety requirements. You should always ask to see a copy of the provider’s license. It is also a good idea to review the provider’s inspection reports. Visit our state resources page to learn how to access these reports in your state.

If you’re not sure whether you can afford quality child care, keep reading. We’ll start with a list of some resources that may be able to help you pay for child care. At the end of this page, we cover some suggestions that may help you find lower-cost options.

Financial Assistance Programs

A number of financial assistance programs offer help paying for child care. Click on each category to review options that may be able to help.

Government Programs

  • Child care subsidies (also called vouchers and fee assistance): Each state receives funds from the federal government for a state-run child care subsidy program. These programs help low-income families pay for child care so they can work or attend school. Eligibility requirements are different in each state. Visit our state resources section to find information about your state’s program.

  • Head Start and Early Head Start: Head Start and Early Head Start programs help prepare children to start school and provide services to support their mental, social, and emotional development. Families who have low incomes or meet other requirements may be eligible for Head Start. More information about Head Start and Early Head Start is available here.

  • State-funded prekindergarten: State pre-k programs serve children between 3 and 5 years old. They focus on early education and school readiness. Some states offer these programs to eligible families at low or no cost. Programs may be part-day or full-day. Your state child care resource and referral agency can usually tell you if there is state pre-k where you live and where to find local programs. Find your state CCR&R agency here.

  • Military fee assistance programs: Child care fee assistance is available to eligible members of the military. This program is managed by Child Care Aware of America. Eligibility requirements are different for each branch of service. More information is available here.

Work- and School-Related Programs

  • Assistance for high school students: Some states offer financial help for high school students who need child care to finish school. Contact your local CCR&R to find contact information for your state child care subsidy office. Ask about help for high school students.

  • College or university child care: Some colleges and universities offer child care on campus. These programs may offer special discounts to students, faculty, and staff.

  • Employer-assisted dependent care: Some employers may allow employees to put a portion of each paycheck into a special fund to use for child care. The money placed in these funds is not taxed and can only be used to pay for child care. Check with your human resources department about what might be available where you work.

  • Other employer resources: Some companies offer child care onsite for employees’ children. In addition, some child care programs may offer discounts for employees of certain companies. Find out if your employer has relationships with any nearby child care programs that offer employee discounts.

Local and Provider-Specific Assistance and Discounts

  • Sliding fee scale: Some providers allow families to pay a rate based on their income. This is called a sliding fee scale. Call providers you’re considering and ask whether they offer a sliding fee scale. You can also ask whether they offer payment plans or other options to help pay for child care.

  • Local assistance and scholarships: Local nonprofit organizations and individual child care providers may offer fee assistance or scholarships. Be sure to ask your child care resource and referral (CCR&R) agency and any providers you are considering about assistance and scholarships.

  • Sibling discount: Some child care programs offer a discount to families that enroll siblings. They may take a percentage or dollar amount off of a child’s weekly or monthly rate. They may also offer to waive the registration fee or other fees. If you need care for more than one child, ask providers whether they offer sibling discounts.

  • Military discount: Many child care providers offer discounts for military service members. Ask potential providers if they offer any discounts.

Native Hawaiian, Native Alaskan, and American Indian Programs

  • American Indian and Alaska Native Assistance: Many tribes and tribal organizations receive child care grants from the federal government to provide child care assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native families. The tribes and groups that receive these grants are referred to as “grantees.” You can find tribal grantees by looking at a list for your state. There are also more than 150 Head Start and Early Head Start programs for American Indian and Alaska Native children. Find these programs with the Head Start locator.

  • Native Hawaiian child care and preschool programs: In Hawaii, there are programs that assist with child care and preschool for children who are Native Hawaiian or of Native Hawaiian ancestry. Families should contact PATCH (the local child care resource and referral agency) for more information.

Tax Credits

Tax credits reduce the amount of tax you owe and may result in a refund. To claim tax credits you need to meet certain qualifications and file a return, even if you have no other filing requirement or owe no tax.


This text has been adapted from content originally created by Child Care Aware of America Grant #90LH002 for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Child Care (OCC).