Child Care Scarcity Has Very Real Consequences For Working Families

January 3, 20177:00 AM ET
Heard on All Things Considered


One of the most stressful questions a new parent confronts is, “Who’s going to take care of my baby when I go back to work?”

Figuring out the answer to that question is often not easy. When NPR, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, surveyed more than 1,000 parents nationwide about their child care experiences, a third reported difficulty finding care.

Searching far and wide, finding little

Megan Carpenter, a new mother who lives in Alexandria, Va., knows well the feeling of desperation that can come with the search for safe, quality infant care.

She had a hard deadline — 16 weeks after her baby was born her maternity leave would end and she would have to return to her job at a nonprofit that serves homeless and low-income women. So she and her husband started looking for child care early, only a few months into her pregnancy.

“At our first few interviews we were asking a lot of questions and were really trying to get a feel for the place,” Carpenter recalls. “And by place 10 or 11, our only question was, ‘Do you have a spot?’ ”

The answer to that question, time and again, was “no.” That meant getting on a lot of waitlists — and paying a hefty, nonrefundable waitlist fee each time.

“There were a lot of places that were totally willing to take our $100 or $200 waitlist fee,” Carpenter says. “We spent over $1,000 in waitlist fees — many of which I never heard from again.”

By the time baby Cora arrived, the couple still had no prospects.