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Several options for child care are still available, as well as help paying for it.

In a year like no other, some things have stayed the same. It’s the start of September, which means families are trying to figure out the usual juggle of school, child care and work. It’s true that things are more difficult this year. But several options for child care are still available, as well as help paying for it. We don’t have room to discuss all child care options in one article, so today we will focus on the types of child care that are getting the most focus given the pandemic.

Family, Friend and Neighbor child care

Family, Friend and Neighbor child care is the most commonly used form of child care in our area and across the United States. About 65% of child care arrangements use family, friends and neighbors. Grandparents, aunts or uncles and well known and respected friends or neighbors usually make up these caregivers. Family, Friend and Neighbor care is often unknown and unrecognized, but these caregivers provide an important resource to the community- care that families know and trust, usually on a flexible schedule developed between the families and caregiver. When using family, friend and neighbor care it’s important to discuss expectations and guidelines. Family, Friend and Neighbor care is based on relationships. You can find more information on the Department of Children, Youth and Families website, as well as Child Care Aware’s website.

If the FFN caregiver completes some state requirements, then they are able to accept Working Connections Child Care subsidy from eligible families.

Learning Pods/Micro Schools are new terms to describe family, friend and neighbor care specifically focused on education as a result of the pandemic. Learning Pods /Micro Schools may rotate the adults in the arrangement overseeing the education, or hiring a tutor.

Licensed family home care providers and centers

When people hear the word child care this is usually the type they are thinking of. Providers can be licensed to care for children at their home or in a center. Licensed home providers typically have a smaller number of children and can offer a cozy environment. Centers usually serve a larger number of children, and often have designated classrooms for specific age groups. Both center based and home based child care meet rigorous quality and safety requirements. They also have support from state wide agencies and organizations.

While the focus is usually on children 5 years old and under, many providers have space for school age children under 12, or specifically focus on school age kids under 12. During this time, licensed child care providers are also following extensive disinfectant and sanitizing protocols, in addition to usual cleaning procedures. The licensing process for new providers has been expedited due to the pandemic and increased need for child care. If you are looking for local child care you can call the Child Care Aware of Washington Family Center hotline at 1-800-446-1114 or visit their website. If you are interested in becoming a licensed child care provider you can learn more about the process here.

School age programs and camps

Campfire is probably one of the most well known school age programs. However, Campfire is not operating right now because of schools being closed to in person services. The YMCA of Walla Walla is operating full day and half day programs for school age children K-fifth grade and sixth-eighth grade. The Blue Mountain Community Church is also offering a program for middle schoolers, giving them a safe place to study, staffed by volunteers.

How to pay for child care

Child Care of any kind can be expensive in Washington State. In the Walla Walla area, child care can cost between 15%-20% of median family income. However, there are options to help pay for it. The first, offered through the state, is Working Connections Child Care. Each application is considered individually, but if your child and/or family are eligible for WIC/Free and Reduced School Lunch, you may qualify. For more information visit Washington Connection website or call the Child Subsidy Center at 1-844-626-8687.

If you don’t qualify for child care subsidy, you can ask the child care provider or program if they offer sliding scale fees or scholarships. Your employer may also offer child care assistance. For federal employees, most departments, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense offer child care assistance. Check with your human resources department for details.

Eiledon McClennan is a third generation Walla Wallan. She is the Project Coordinator for the Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition. When she is not meeting community members to talk about early childhood development, she chases after her own little learners.