If it wasn't clear before COVID-19, it is clear now: childcare is essential for working parents. It is often one of the toughest decisions a parent must make in their child's early life. It's also one of the most expensive.

According to Child Care Aware, average child care fees are more than what families spend on food and transportation combined. However, finding affordable childcare presents a challenge in itself. In 28 states the average cost for one child in daycare was higher than tuition at a four-year public college.

To make matters worse, finding information about daycares can be difficult as many don't have up-to-date websites. Any information they have is not easily searchable and often doesn't include prices. Here's how to get started—during a pandemic, no less.

Jennifer, a mom who has been living in Brooklyn for over a decade, shares in this stress of finding a daycare as a new parent: "It is impossibly stressful to start looking for a daycare before you have a child. You have no idea what to look for."

The First Step in Your Search

As you begin your search for a daycare, you need to think about the two biggest factors that impact the decision for most parents: location and price. A daycare needs to be in an area that is an easy commute from either work or home. It also needs to fit in your budget. How can you determine the average cost of daycare in your area when daycares don't list their prices? A new site called Upfront aims to answer that question. Upfront, founded by two moms, Dana Levin-Robinson and Shefali Shah, looks to help parents understand the costs related to daycare by making prices public and searchable. Co-founder Levin-Robinson was inspired to start the company when she met with a florist for her wedding and was frustrated to find out the vendor wasn't in her budget after the meeting. "Why is this pricing hidden?...Why do I get every single piece of information except what it costs," she asked?

With that question, the two launched Upfront, the first resource for accurate, specific pricing for daycares based on real submissions from parents. Beyond pricing, you can also view information like location, hours, and contact information. Before Upfront, parents often had to tour daycares without knowing the fees until after the tour. Now, it makes an already emotional decision even easier. You can pre-screen facilities based on budget before realizing you can't afford it.

Daycares come in a range of prices and Upfront makes it easy to find the best option for you. For example, the average cost of daycare in Boston is $2363/month, but it can range anywhere from $500/month to $3660/month. Parents can narrow down the list of daycares they're interested in and avoid wasting time touring those outside their budget.

Red Flags to Look For When Touring a Daycare

After doing initial research, it's time to actually tour the facilities and meet the staff. A tour is a great way to interact with the staff, ask your questions and see how the children are cared for. As you walk around, here are things to ask yourself and uncover any red flags:

  • Is it safe and sanitary? Take a look at the toys and furniture to make sure that it's clean and nothing looks broken. Also make sure to see the restroom or changing area to ensure that it meets cleanliness standards.
  • Are there large groups of kids? Depending on the age group of the children, there are regulations of the ratio of children to adults. If it looks like the groups of children are too large, the facility might be understaffed.
  • In an emergency, would it be easy for children and the staff to exit? If a bookshelf or toys are blocking the exits, it would be hard to leave quickly. While checking out the exits, also look around for non-expired fire extinguishers, as well as sprinklers in the ceiling.
  • How long have staff members worked there? If you start hearing that employees don't stay for very long, they could be treated poorly or the daycare is a bad work environment.
  • How are the caregivers interacting with the children? While you may not notice obvious signs of mistreatment, you'll want to keep an eye for things like children being left unattended or how caregivers speak to the children.
  • Is the staff wearing masks? In the time of COVID-19, you'll want to make everyone's being as safe as possible. In addition, you'll want to make sure they are mandating children of certain ages are wearing masks and that the facility has social distancing measures in place.

Making the Final Choice

After you have toured several facilities, you'll start to feel ready to make a decision. Trust your gut, but also make sure you have a backup plan. Many daycare centers have waitlists, and you should avoid getting your heart set on one place. If, after the tours, you still feel like you haven't found the right daycare, you may need to go back to your search and consider being flexible in location or costs.