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Childcare is a perpetual issue in parenthood, and it has only been exacerbated in the past few years. Although looking into childcare options isn’t usually at the forefront of your mind when you find out you’re expecting, it’s a good idea to start your search during pregnancy. Many childcare providers have long waiting lists, especially for infants. If you know you’ll need childcare within a set timeframe after giving birth, you should start researching your options as soon as you can.

Many parents have family members watch their little ones while they’re at work, running errands, or enjoying the ever-elusive night out. Unfortunately, however, this type of support isn’t an option for everyone. Navigating childcare decisions can feel daunting, which is why it’s the focus of this week’s blog.

Childcare Options

So what exactly are your options beyond family and friends? There are three main types of childcare: private childcare in your home, childcare centers, and family childcare homes. Whatever type of childcare you choose, you’ll want to ensure the provider is supportive of your parenting choices such as pumped milk or formula and cloth or disposable diapers. It’s also vital that your chosen childcare provider makes you feel safe and comfortable. It’s just as important for you to be at ease and to have a positive relationship with the person looking after your little one as it is for your child.

  • Private childcare in your home includes babysitters, nannies, and au pairs. These childcare professionals come into your home to care for your child, affording you the most control over your little one’s day-to-day environment, activities, schedule, and what they eat. This type of childcare is not regulated by an overseeing body, but there are many reputable agencies and resources that can help you in your search. You can also check references for anyone you’re considering, which should give you a good idea of their previous experience and values.

  • Childcare centers, or daycares, are licensed facilities that care for children of various ages. Some childcare centers are more focused on free play or outdoor time, while others have more structured activities. Some even offer enrichment programs, like music classes. All will have a predictable schedule to help ease your child’s transition, and children are usually grouped together by age. When you’re thinking about a daycare program, make sure to ask if food will be provided or if you’ll have to pack lunches and snacks. Childcare centers are regulated by the New York State Office of Family Services, which provides guidance on size limits and adult-to-child ratios that must be maintained.

  • Family childcare homes offer care for up to 10-12 children of various ages in their own homes. This type of childcare is kind of a cross between private childcare in your home and a childcare center. There may be a mix of ages or the provider may focus on care for a specific age group. Their home will be well-equipped to meet the needs of the children they care for, including age-appropriate toys, activities, and an area for naps. Family childcare homes are usually regulated by either Child Care Resource Network or the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, depending on the number of children in their care. If there are only 1-2 children being cared for in a residence, the childcare home is legally exempt from oversight by a regulating body.

Financial Assistance

Childcare is notoriously expensive. Luckily, there are some programs to help with the costs. Some employers provide discounts or have agreements with certain programs for reduced rates. Additionally, many offer Dependent Care Assistance Programs, which allow you to deduct up to $5,000 a year from your paycheck on a pre-tax basis to pay for childcare. Contact your HR representative to be sure you’re taking advantage of all the benefits your employer offers. If you’re a college student, your school may also have their own childcare center and offer discounts.

Financial assistance is available to working families that meet specific guidelines based on family size and income through Erie County. To apply for a child care subsidy, call the Erie County Department of Social Services (DSS) Day Care Unit at (716) 858-8953. You can even use your subsidy to hire a family member or friend to care for your child. All providers who care for children receiving a childcare subsidy from the Department of Social Services must meet basic health and safety regulations.

Another subsidy for working families is the Workforce Development Institute Childcare Subsidy Program. To qualify you must be employed a minimum of 25 hours per week, have children less than 13 years of age, reside in Erie County, and meet certain guidelines based on income and family size that are slightly higher than the DSS subsidy. For more information, contact the Workforce Development Institute Child Care Subsidy Program at (716) 632-1900. If someone in your household is in the U.S. Military, you may also qualify for a Department of Defense Military Subsidy. Contact Child Care Aware at 1-800-424-2246 or email them at for information.

Head Start programs can also help make childcare affordable. These facilities are federally funded and provide free education for families that meet specific income requirements. Contact local Head Start programs as soon as possible, since they usually have a long waiting list. Other assistance programs include scholarships, sliding fee scales, or multi-child discounts provided by individual childcare programs. There are also tax credits through the IRS including the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit, in addition to the Empire State Child Credit through New York State. Make sure you are receiving everything entitled to you when you file your yearly income taxes!

Resources and Recommendations

We are fortunate in Western New York to have wonderful resources to help you find the type of childcare you need.

  • Child Care Resource Network – a comprehensive resource for information, referrals, and services related to childcare options for families living in Erie County. They provide assistance in finding childcare (including lists of programs that meet your specific criteria like cost, location, and any applicable subsidies), information on subsidies and making childcare more affordable, and education on what to look for in a high-quality program. Check out their website for more information or call (716) 877-6666 ext. 3064 to speak directly with a childcare navigator.

  • – this online directory lists childcare providers including babysitters, nannies, daycare centers, back-up care, and after school care. You can post a job listing and receive responses from local caregivers and view their profiles, including background checks and references.

  • Local Facebook Groups – other parents in Western New York are one of the best resources available to get information on childcare options. There are also groups where you can post what you’re looking for and receive responses from interested caregivers.

  • Friends and Family – Your friends and family with children may also have lots of good information to assist you in your search. Even if your needs and preferences are different, gathering as much information as possible is important to find the right fit for you and your little one.

Fika staff and clients have come up with the following recommendations. Keep in mind that your choice of childcare is deeply personal, so what works for others may not be the best option for you. There are many factors that go into childcare decisions including provider type, curriculum, location, and cost.

Author Mary Badame is the Quality Assurance Manager at Fika Midwifery and is a passionate advocate for midwife-led care, increased birth options, and better reproductive healthcare for everyone.