Many times the motivation for adults to return to school is the well-being of their children. Children require extra food, clothes, space, educational materials, toys, and a myriad of other things that nothing but money can buy. You may have been fine on your own or with your spouse, but now things are tight with those extra mouths to feed.
Returning to and completing school is the best way to improve your earning potential and financial situation. Unfortunately, that same motivation for your return to the halls of scholarship can be an enormous hindrance. Child care costs are no laughing matter, nor should those who raise concerns about them be dismissed as making excuses. Child care costs can easily reach as much as the equivalent of your monthly housing costs. On top of simply paying for child care in general, there is the issue of peace of mind. You want to be assured that your children are in good hands, but the higher the quality of the day care or after school program, the higher the costs.
There is hope! In this case hope goes by the name of Child Care Assistance. Child Care Assistance is offered through state welfare agencies via Federal Child Care and Development Grants. If you are returning to school full-time, odds are you are operating your household on a single income or no income at all and should meet your state’s minimum income guidelines. To make sure you do, you can visit your state’s Department of Welfare website or call your local welfare office.
How to Obtain Child Care Assistance
In order to obtain Child Care Assistance, you will need to fill out an application with your state’s Department of Welfare. Many states offer this application online through their websites, but every physical welfare office has applications you can fill out in person. Before you go, it is wise to bring all necessary paperwork so that the process does not take any longer than it has to. Every state varies in its requirements, but if you prepare these documents odds are you will be set to go: pay stubs/proof of income for the past month, two forms of personal identification including a photo ID (or you can use a passport as this generally fulfills both requirements,) rental agreement or mortgage paperwork outlining how much you pay for housing each month, utility bills, landline phone bill, and proof that you either work or are enrolled in an academic/workforce training program.
You will also need to provide evidence of your children including birth certificates and immunization records. Varying from state to state, Child Care Assistance is generally offered for children age 13 or younger, with the exception of disabled children who are eligible until the age of 18.
Concerns about Quality of Care
In order to receive Federal grants, the program that receives the money must be licensed with the state or run by a public school board. If this does not give you peace of mind, there are other resources out there that can help. Child Care Aware is a program within the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies that helps parents understand what makes a good facility and program and how to locate one in their community.
Their website can help you locate help at a local level. There are also several highly reputable national associations that certify child care or early education centers. One of them is Head Start. They have offices that serve local communities. These offices can direct you to a Head Start program in your area that meets their high standards. Your caseworker should be able to give you information about your local office. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (or NAEYC) certifies early education centers that service children ages eight and under. They are also highly reputable and are pioneering the field of early childhood education by defining professional standards and certifying higher education programs for those that study early childhood education. You should ask your child care center what certifications they have, if any, and take heed if NAEYC is one of them.
Child Care from Family Members
If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your children with a child care center, no matter how highly accredited they are, some states will allow you to allocate your Child Care Assistance to a family member or friend that you trust to watch your children, but needs or wants to receive payment for their services. Some states require the caregiver to become licensed while others require state or federal background checks. If this is an option you are interested in, it is best to contact the Department of Welfare in your state or talk to your caseworker at time of application.
Tribal values and cultural norms may be important to you. If so, you may want to look into child care run by or certified by your tribe. Child Care Assistance can also be used towards these facilities and programs in many states. To find these programs, ask your caseworker about TriTAC (the Tribal Child Care Technical Assistance Center.) TriTAC not only helps people locate programs that meet their needs, they also provide trainings for tribal child care workers and administration at the local and national level.
Concerns about Using Welfare
There is a definite stigma about welfare and those who use it. The assumption is that they are lazy or abusing the system. Do not let these stereotypes deter you from doing what is right for your family: returning to school. If people ask how you are doing it, gracefully tell them the truth, “I am working hard.“ Your finances don’t have to be anyone’s business but yours and the government’s. You are working hard so you can contribute to society on a larger level, provide for your children, and set a model for them as they advance in their own lives. Besides, once you re-enter the workforce you will be paying the money back by paying your taxes, and then some.
(See also Time for School, Mom!)
Brynne Mack is a mother and student studying Educational Interpreting. Upon graduation, she will work as an Interpreter for the Deaf for children in educational settings. In the meantime, she maintains a blog, Femme Frugality, about how she is saving money while a student.
Editors’ Note: Many institutions have re-entry centers, special programs, and support services for adults, and colleges often offer child care facilities at lower rates. An example of this is Penn State University’s Student Affairs Center for Adult Learner Services. Because of the rising need for child care services on college campuses, Congress has approved a significant increase in funding with The Child Care Access Means Parents In Schools (CCAMPIS) program providing child care for single parents in financial need. Information on the program and additional resources for child care are available on the Department of Education Web site.