Families like the Harveys know the challenges firsthand and how busy life can get. Mom Mia Harvey has her hands full on maternity leave with a 4-year-old boy Elijah and a 4-month-old baby Harrison.
“It’s tiring but very rewarding,” Harvey said. “When Elijah was born I was working full-time so one of the challenges looking for child care when went back to work, it was so expensive.”
She’s not alone.
Most parents experience sticker shock when they start exploring childcare, according to Trina Gillam, manager of early childhood services with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.
“It depends on the age, type of services parent needs so there’s no one particular cost," Gillam said.
For example, daycare for infants can be pricier than toddlers.
But generally, Gillam says prepare to spend at least 25 percent of your income on childcare.
The Harveys realized this pretty quickly.
“One place we went to was close to $300 a week. You have to do what’s comfortable in your budget," she said.
The Memphis Jewish Community Center is a provider in that price range: children over 1 age cost $1,155 a month and children under 1 cost $1,200 a month. The JCC offers daycare and preschool programs from 6 weeks until 5 years old.
“The majority of my budget goes to staffing so being able to provide ratios we have," said Lindsey Chase, director of the Early Childhood Center at the JCC. “So absolutely I don’t want parents to have to spend too much but I also want to be able to provide a quality program for the community.”
Chase explained they offer scholarships for families. A lot of other providers do as well, so experts say parents should always ask about financial assistance.
Then there are options like Head Start and Early Head Start programs with federal funding.
“Those programs offer free services to families with children that meet the age, income and resident ZIP code requirements," Gillam said.
But beyond the cost, Gillam also said parents should feel comfortable at their child's facility.
She recommended two people visiting the facility before signing up and watching for the following things:
- How do teachers interact with children?
- Are there enough toys in the classroom?
- How many teachers are there per child?
- What is the curriculum?
- Is this a loving, supportive environment?
She also suggested parents check past inspections of the facility via the Tennessee Childcare licensing website. On the website, parents will have to click on their county and then their ZIP code in order to see past inspections and the facility's star rating (if available).
She said coaches are available to accompany parents on the visit.
“I did a surprise visit," Harvey said. "Of course on a tour they’ll show you but once I did a surprise tour, I really fell in love with the place again.”
It’s clear, Elijah has grown into a sociable and happy little boy.
His mom credits his interactions at pre-school.
But the reality is, his grandfather took care of him until he was one and they’ll do the same with baby Harrison to help with the tight budget of this working family.
But she knows not every family has that type of support.
For more information and resources regarding childcare in Tennessee, visit www.kidcentraltn.com.