Read more: Daycare subsidy woes: When the system lets you down
Do your research
To find high-quality child care spaces, you’ll need to conduct your own research. A good place to start is with your municipality’s website and your province’s Ministry of Education website (search for Child Care Services). This should provide you with a list of licensed centres in your neighbourhood. Then go to community centres and check bulletin boards for information on informal, unlicensed daycares. Also talk to other parents, particularly those with older children who have already gone through the child-care struggle and can look back on it more objectively.
List in hand, do a Google search. Even a quick search for the facility and the caregivers’ names can reveal a possibly checkered past. Next, set up in-person visits. If possible, ask for more than one visit, and try to keep the time flexible so you can drop in unexpectedly.
That’s how Tina Jones was able to narrow down the right daycare for her then two-year-old son, Leo. A self-employed silversmith, Jones dropped in, unannounced, to a popular and expensive Toronto daycare. She was appalled to see kids munching on mass-produced fish sticks.
“The menu clearly stated fish.” She was not impressed. Dropping in to another daycare she noticed the kids eating fresh, hot meals. But what really impressed her was seeing the caregivers sit and eat the same meals as the children.
“This made the world of difference to me,” she said.
Once you’ve visited a place, write down your first impressions. Then compile a list of all your needs and wants, and a list of what each daycare offers. Finally, tally up the costs. Only at this point can you make an apples-to-apples comparison.
Read more from MoneySense: 6 questions to ask daycare providers
Look for subsidies
If, after all this number crunching, you’re still struggling to make ends meet, consider applying for a subsidized daycare spot. Even middle-class families are eligible for subsidy, explains Friendly. That’s because child-care subsidies are means-tested, explains Shannon Hyatt, manager of Children’s Services for the city of Windsor. Each province has different criteria, limits and care options: for instance, a family with two kids under three and earning a combined income of $80,000 would receive a subsidy of $112 per month in Alberta. The same family in Ontario could get up to $580 per month.
The key with subsidies is to realize that the burden of proof is on you. You’ll be required to submit tax returns, income statements, rental receipts or mortgage statements. Despite the hassle, 40-year-old Rosalind Tantalo is grateful for the daycare subsidy she was able to qualify for. Without it, the single mother wouldn’t have been able to finish her schooling and build her now-successful decluttering, downsizing and staging business.
Is it worth it?
All this sounds like a lot of work, and you may be wondering if it’s worth it. It’s the question I asked myself after delaying my return-to-work date by almost eight weeks. But with persistence, and a bit of luck, my boys ended up in a wonderful non-profit daycare a 10-minute drive from my home. It’s known in my area for its mix of long-term, engaged caregivers and newly graduated, passionate early childhood education graduates. While its not the cheapest, it’s affordable. Most important, it provides peace of mind that’s worth its weight in gold.
When calculating childcare costs be sure to ask if the monthly fee is a flat, all-inclusive rate, or if there are additional charges. A list of extra charges may include:
- Early drop-off / late pick-up costs: Some daycares operate based on a school schedule. That means if you need to drop your child off before 8:30 am and pick up after 4 pm you may have to pay an early drop-off/late pick-up fee. Expect to pay approximately $60 for one option, or $120 for both options. Some centres will charge a steep $1 per minute for any pick up past closing time (usually after 6 or 6:30 pm).
- Opt-in or mandatory food plans: While some facilities have on-site cooks, the majority of daycares use off-site catering companies that specialize in children’s meals. The cost varies but budget between $60 and $120 per month.
- Uniforms: This only applies to children 30 months and older attending private daycares. Estimate about $150 per year, minimum.
- Holiday fees: Most daycares don’t charge extra for care during holidays, but if your child attends a private daycare, such as a Montessori, you’ll need to budget for additional “camp” fees. Estimate about $250 per holiday week (this includes March Break and Christmas holidays and can include summer camps, as well).
- Daycare supplies: If your child is not potty-trained, you’ll probably need to supply the daycare with diapers, wipes, and creams. You’ll also need to provide bottles, blankets and soothers, as well as extra clothes. While these aren’t strictly, additional costs, you will need to factor in sets of two for certain things (such as summer hats, soothers, or blankets). Variable costs.