Bearing the Pains of Child Care

Denise Trowbridge

Diapers, formula, hospital bills. We all expect new expenses once baby comes along. But there is one cost that might be a bit of a shock: the bill for child care. Most parents work, but profiting from that work becomes much harder once Junior arrives. The cost of child care has risen 255 percent since 1985 according to the Census Bureau, rising at more than twice the rate of inflation.

In Ohio, the average annual cost for full-time infant care was $7,889 in 2012, according to the nonprofit Child Care Aware. The cost was $6,376 per year for a 4-year-old and $4,732 for a school-age child. These bills are for one child. The pain intensifies for families with more children.

To put those numbers in perspective, the average annual public college in-state tuition in Ohio in 2012 was $8,904. According to LendingTree, the average 2012 monthly mortgage payment adds up to $9,504 per year.

The question therefore is - what can you do if you need to work and can't afford care? It depends. There is no easy answer.

Friends of ours who work for an airline have had to split their work shifts so that someone is always home with their daughter. It has reduced the child care bill, but it isn't great for their relationship: They see each other only a few hours each week. Others, myself included, have gone from full-time to part-time work to keep the child care bill for two young children in check. Still others rely on family, but extended families often live far apart, and grandma might still be working on her own career.

The tax code offers some minimal relief for child care bills, so make sure you're taking advantage of those tax credits. If you're married with two children and make $45,300 or less, you're likely eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit of about $5,000. Other families can claim a child care tax credit worth up to 35 percent of the cost of care, with a limit of $3,000 in expenses per child. Some employers also offer child care flexible spending accounts, which would save you money by allowing you to use pre-tax dollars to pay for a portion of your child care bills.

If you're a lower-income parent, Title XX financial-assistance programs are designed for families making up to 150 percent of the poverty level who need child care in order to work or go to school. That is a gross income of about $2,485 a month for a family of four. The programs include Ohio Works First Child Care, Transitional Child Care and Publicly Funded Child Care. All are administered by your county's Department of Job and Family Services office. You can apply in person or online via (click the Child Care tab) or through the Ohio Benefit Bank at

The Ohio Works First Child Care program provides child care assistance to those who are receiving Ohio Works First cash assistance and who are employed, in school or in approved education and workforce training programs. The Transitional care program is for families who are no longer eligible for the Ohio Works First program but who need child care; the benefit lasts up to a year. The Publicly Funded Child Care program also serves families earning up to 150 percent of the poverty level. Families enrolled in these programs still pay part of the cost of child care but also receive financial assistance to cover the bulk of the bill.

If you make too much to qualify for state-funded programs, or you are experiencing only a temporary downswing in income due to job loss or a health crisis, your options are more limited. Some preschools offer scholarships or temporary-assistance programs, but there is no central database outlining those programs. Sometimes you just have to ask. Certain nonprofits, such as the YMCA, operate child care programs and offer their own assistance programs.

Unfortunately, the rest of us have to make hard decisions to ensure our kids are taken care of while we pay the bills. If we're lucky, we can occasionally rely on friends, family, neighbors or an after-school enrichment program to help cover the gap between school's end and work's end.