Long waitlists and high tuition leave parents floundering to get their kids into reputable child care facilities and preschools. Most full-time local preschool programs cost over $1,000 per month, according to a list of local preschools provided by the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Mothers Club. Some are as much as $21,300 per year.
Orange County and the Town of Chapel Hill offer some financial assistance for low-income families through the Orange County child care subsidy program and the Head Start and Early Head Start program. In order to receive financial assistance for Head Start, families must meet the national poverty guidelines.
When researching child care assistance, Stauffer said she was told not to apply for the Orange County child care subsidy program because she wouldn't get the funding in time.
“They told me the waiting list was over two years long and not to even bother signing up for the subsidy,” Stauffer said.
Chapel Hill is looking for alternative ways to support their employees with young children. The Town provides six weeks of paid parental leave for every town employee.
The Town will also implement a flexible work arrangement policy in January 2019 that will allow departments to explore different work arrangements. Anita Badrock, a human resource development consultant with the Town, said the policy will ideally give parents flexibility when they need to pick children up from school or stay home with them when they’re sick.
However, Badrock said the Town does not offer a resource for parents searching for local preschools.
For parents that can afford child care in the area, it can still take months or years to get into a preschool.
Katie Eimers, associate dean for administration at the UNC School of Medicine, put herself on multiple preschool waitlists when she was just over three months pregnant. One of the preschools, she said, did not call her until her daughter was one year old.
“People struggle all the time just to find availability,” Eimers said. “It’s really, really slim.”
There is even less space available for certain age groups, said Betsy Lee, a board member at the Chapel Hill Cooperative Preschool.
Lee, who is also the assistant director of marketing communications for UNC's Office of Admissions, said she struggled particularly to find space for her infant child at a full-day program. Many preschools only offer half-day or partial-day schedules.
“It’s tricky if you’re working full time,” Lee said.
Much of the information about the best and most affordable preschools spreads by word of mouth through groups like the Chapel Hill and Carrboro Mothers Club. Alexis Hugelmeyer, a physician at Alamance Regional Medical Center, said she and her family would have greatly benefited from a centralized source of child care information.
When Stauffer was laid off a few years after finishing school, she and her husband were forced to reevaluate their child care options. Stauffer’s husband quit his job to care for their two children once Stauffer found a new job. He stayed at home until the family’s youngest son got a tuition-free spot at the Head Start program at McDougle Elementary School.
Having a parent leave work is a reality for many families who cannot afford child care. Stauffer said that, though she did not have to worry about child care costs, it was still difficult to provide for a family of four with only one source of income.
“He stayed home for five whole years," Stauffer said. "We did do a little half-day preschool for (our youngest son) when he turned two, and my parents helped us pay for that because it’s a lot of money. They helped pay for it for three years.”