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Calling On Your Support Network: Childcare Alternatives for Adult Students

Katie Creel

As more and more adults are going back to school, many are facing the same question: Are there enough hours in the day to work, go to school, and care for my children? If you’ve found yourself asking this question, you’re not alone. A 2017 report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research has shown that 26 percent of American college students are going to school while caring for children.

With 4.8 million Americans juggling these responsibilities, affordable child care programs have become increasingly important. There are a number of alternative childcare options available to you, including co-ops, family members, and government benefits. Here are a few you may not have considered yet:

Alternative Child Care Options


First off, you’re probably asking already, what’s a co-op? Many people have heard of co-op grocery stores or restaurants, but childcare? Childcare co-ops are gaining popularity in the US and UK.

A child care co-op can be as simple as something that you begin with your friends who are also working parents going back to school, or as established as an official childcare co-op near your campus or home.

These organizations allows parents to work or go to school while taking shifts for watching each other’s children. For example, if you enroll your child in a childcare co-op, you might be asked to watch the children on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8-12. You might care for them in your home, someone else’s home, or a designated facility. When it’s not your shift, one of the other children’s parents are watching your child.

If you’re interested in trying out a co-op, there are a few things you should consider before diving in.

  • Do you and the other parents who are a part of the co-op agree on your parenting philosophy and goals?
  • Is everyone in the group reliable?
  • Can parents discipline other parents children?
  • How will you manage if there is an emergency or someone is out of town?
  • How often will the parents meet to discuss future plans or changes that are needed?

Some co-ops charge fines for parents who don’t share enough of the burden of child care, but many child care co-ops have found that those fines are rarely necessary. Many parents who have participated in co-op child care have found that they feel more engaged than if the child was enrolled in a traditional daycare.

Family Members 

Another affordable child care alternative is to have a family member take care of your child. For some families, it might work well to have retired grandparents or nearby aunts or uncles to step in for a period of time when child care is needed.

As with any family agreement, there are potential problems with asking for family members to provide child care, so make sure you consider this option carefully. Having agreements and rules in place before entering into an agreement with family members for child care is very important to help make sure the family dynamics continue in the best way possible.

If you’ve asked a family member to care for your child while you go back to school, it’s important to discuss your stance (and theirs!) on all of these issues:

  • Discipline
  • Food
  • Appropriate activities
  • Lines of communication
  • Sleeping
  • Crying
  • Leaving the child with someone else
  • Emergency situations
  • Compensation for their time

It’s important that everyone is open and flexible to new ideas when working with family members for childcare. That being said, some families will be better suited for this arrangement than others. Be sure to consider the dynamics of your particular family as you weigh this option. Ideally, having a family member care for your child will save you money while strengthening familial bonds.  But if it’s a bad fit for your family relations between you could be strained.

Government Benefits

The government also offers many different ways of receiving funding, tax breaks, or discounts on child care while you’re going back to school.

  • Child Care and Development Fund: This program provides low-income parents with children under the age of 13 to receive funding for child care while they go back to school.
  • Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA’s): Also known as a Dependent Care Account, a Flexible Spending Account allows you to put aside up to $5,000 pre-tax for child care expenses. This is done through your employer.
  • Tax Credits: The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit Form 2441 allows families to deduct up to $3000 of child care expenses per child, with a maximum of $6000. This can save families approximately $600 per child.
  • State Assistance: Most states offer some form of child care assistance through the Child Care and Development Block Grants, but it can vary widely from state to state.
  • Sliding Fee Scales: Some child care centers offer special pricing for low-income families on a sliding scale or in the form of a scholarship.
  • Help for Military Families: There are specific child care subsidies for military families that are available through their specific branch of the military.

Help From Your Employer

You might be surprised by what resources your employer offers, you just have to ask the human resources department. Some employers offer FSAs and subsidies to help families to pay for childcare.

Help From Your School

Many schools are now adapting to the influx of students who are also parents. They may offer financial assistance to help pay for childcare. Some colleges offer on-campus child care subsidies to pay for childcare at a local daycare, or some other form of assistance to make it easier for parents. The federal government and some states also offer grants for student parents to afford school and child care at the same time.

With so many available resources to pay for school and find affordable childcare while you’re in class, we hope this makes it just a little bit easier for you make the decision to go back to school. Do you know of other affordable childcare option? What has worked for your family? Let us know on Twitter

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