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How to apply for child care financial assistance in California

Child Care SearchParent Resources

21st September 2017

If there’s one thing I hear over and over from parents, it’s that they want quality child care that they can afford. 

The cost of child care has skyrocketed in recent years: according to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of infant care in California is $11,817 a year, or $985 per month. And for a 4-year-old? It’s still incredibly high at $8,230 annually or $686 each month in California on average. Now imagine if you have more than one child.

For perspective, infant care costs more per year on average than a four-year public university.

Thankfully, if you find yourself in a position where you can’t afford child care, you may qualify for child care financial assistance in California, also known as subsidized child care.

What is subsidized child care?

Subsidized child care includes child care assistance programs run by state and federal governments that help working families pay for child care.

The most common form of subsidized care for in-home preschool and child cares are state-funded vouchers programs.

How to apply for subsidized child care in California

1. Enroll with your local subsidy agency

Find your local Child Care Resource and Referral Center (the full list here) and get in touch with them. The resource center is there to guide you through the process. Browse their website to get a better idea of how they can help you.

When you’re ready, call your local center and book an appointment. The team there will guide you through the application process. Once your application is in, your case will be processed by a caseworker. They’ll let you know how long it will take.

2. Choose a program

The caseworker will decide what type of subsidized care you qualify for, and then you can pick the child care program you want. Many Wonderschool family child care programs accept subsidy payments. You can double check with the provider when booking a tour.

Both you and the provider have to fill out the necessary paperwork. At this stage, the caseworker will go over all the financial information with you. They’ll walk you through any fees and copays (if applicable) and how to pay them.

If you’re unsure about anything, ask your caseworker. They’ve helped a lot of families successfully apply for, and receive child care subsidies.

At Cherished Child, an in-home preschool

3. Once you’re in

Any fees are paid at the beginning of the month. Your caseworker will talk you through the payments you have to make and how to make them.

At this point, most of the paperwork is handled by the provider and the agency. The local subsidy agency mails the provider an attendance sheet. At the end of the month, the provider mails the attendance sheet to the agency. As a parent, you have to sign the attendance sheet to confirm it’s accurate.

Speak to your caseworker about absences and the process around them. The rules tend to be pretty strict. Ask them how many times your child can be absent before they are removed from the program. If your kid is removed, you can reapply.

Maintaining subsidized child care once you have it

As a family receiving subsidized care, you are responsible for any applicable fees, consistent attendance, approving and signing monthly attendance sheets, and keeping in touch with your caseworker.

Any applicable fees

You may be responsible for paying a monthly Family Fee or Program Fee. Family Fees are determined by your caseworker, whereas Program Fees are agreed upon directly between you and the child care provider. Learn more about these fees below.

Consistent attendance

There are strict rules concerning your child’s attendance while receiving subsidized care. If your child has too many absences (excused or unexcused), you may be terminated from receiving support. Contact your caseworker to learn more about the allowed number of absences.

Approving and signing monthly attendance sheets

At the beginning of every month, your child care provider received an attendance sheet that she or he must fill out completely in order to receive the subsidy payment. You are required to approve and sign the attendance sheet at the end of the month. Without a signed attendance sheet, your provider cannot get paid for your child’s care.

Keeping in touch with your caseworker

You are responsible for notifying your caseworker of any changes in your needs and circumstances. Failure to report these changes can result in termination from the subsidized care program. Contact your caseworker to find out more about what you must report and when.

Playing guitar at Mi Cunita de Noe Valley Nursery

What will I pay for subsidized care?

If you’re receiving subsidized care, you may be responsible for two monthly fees: a Family Fee and a Program Fee.

Family Fee

This is the amount that your caseworker has determined you are able to contribute monthly toward your child’s care. Your caseworker will send your chosen child care provider a statement that includes this dollar amount. Your provider has no say in determining this amount.

In some counties, you will pay this fee directly to the provider; in other counties, you may pay it to the administering agency. Call your caseworker to find out where this payment should go. If you pay the provider directly, the provider will send a receipt to your administering agency every month to prove you paid. Family Fees are generally be collected at the beginning of the month.

Other fees

Your provider may choose to charge fee outside the fee determined by your local agency. You will pay this fee directly to them at the beginning of the month.

Some providers choose to add this fee if the county’s reimbursement rate is well below their normal tuition rates. The provider should discuss this fee with you before enrolling your child. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out the provider. In some states, they’re not allowed to this, but they are allowed in California.


Sophia is a freelance copywriter and content marketing strategist. She has spent time volunteering in a Global Classroom Initiative in Europe and has worked as a preschool teaching assistant in Slovakia.