Paying for Child Care

Quality child care is very expensive to provide. In a good program there are only a few children to each teacher. The environment is stimulating, with many fun, child-oriented toys and things to do, and lots of space for children to move around. Well-trained and compensated teachers, toys and equipment, space and nutritious meals add up to high costs.

Types of Assistance

Tax Credits

Parents who have child care expenses and pay federal and/or state income taxes may be eligible to receive assistance through the federal and state Child and Dependent Care Tax Credits, the Child Tax Credit for families with children, and the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income families.

Child Care Subsidy Assistance 

County Departments of Social/Human Services manage the largest direct child care subsidy programs to help low-income families. Funds for these child care subsidies come from the federal government and the state of North Carolina. Child care assistance through the counties is primarily available to income-eligible parents who are working. If you need child care to work, if your family is in crisis, or if your child is developmentally delayed or has special needs, you may also qualify for assistance. In some cases, parents attending community colleges or undergraduate schools are eligible. Priority is given to families who are receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Unfortunately, there is often a waiting list for these services. As soon as you know you will need child care and think that you may be eligible for assistance, you should call your local county Department of Social or Human Services, listed below, and ask to be connected to the child care subsidy program.

Head Start and Early Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded programs that serve families earning incomes below the federal poverty guidelines. Eligible families receive free child care and a variety of services designed to meet the medical, dental, nutritional and mental health needs of their participating children. Head Start serves children ages three and four years old. Early Head Start serves children from infancy through two years old. Early Head Start gives special priority to teen parents. Both Head Start and Early Head Start do not provide full-time child care. Families needing help with child care for the remainder of the Head Start or Early Head Start day should apply to their county Department of Social/Human Services or to CCSA for child care subsidy or scholarship assistance.

For a list of Head Start and/or Early Head Start locations in Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance or Wake County, please call Child Care Referral Central at 855-EARLY-ED (855-327-5933).

NC Pre-K

The NC Pre-K program is designed to provide at-risk four-year-old children with an opportunity for a quality preschool education. This state-funded, part-day program provides young children with access to a specific curriculum and preschool experience to enhance their school readiness.

Top priorities for enrollment are children who have not had a previous child care experience; those who are from low-income families that are eligible for Head Start or free and reduced school-lunches; children with special needs; or Spanish-speaking children. NC Pre-K slots exist in various locations throughout every county in North Carolina.

For information on the organizations in charge of the NC Pre-K application process for the nine counties in Alamance, Caswell, Durham, Franklin, Granville, Orange, Person, Vance and Wake Counties, please call Child Care Referral Central at 855-EARLY-ED (855-327-5933).

Durham PreK

Durham PreK improves the quality of preschool programs in Durham County by providing financial support and training opportunities for teachers while increasing eligibility and accessibility for families to enroll their children.

CCSA’s Child Care Scholarship Program

Child Care Services Association (CCSA), with funds from Durham’s Partnership for Children – a Smart Start Initiative, United Way of the Greater Triangle, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH), the Towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and other private donors, administers a child care scholarship program for families in Durham and Orange Counties, and families affiliated with UNC-CH.

Program Discounts, Scholarships and Sliding Fee Scales

Some child care centers and a few homes offer their own forms of financial assistance to families. Possibilities include: discounts for multiple children, or referral and recruitment of new families; exemptions from annual re-application or other special fees; partial or short-term scholarships for low-income families or emergency situations; or sliding fee scales in which tuition/fees are tiered based on family income. Child Care Referral Central has information about which programs provide this assistance. However, if your child is enrolled in a center or a family child care home, do not hesitate to ask if they can provide you with some assistance. Sometimes centers or homes may be willing to help out on an individual/emergency basis, even though they do not have a formal program or fund.

Employer Assistance/Flexible Spending Accounts

Some employers offer child care tuition assistance or Flexible Spending Accounts as part of their benefits package. A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is an agreement where your employer sets aside the amount you pay for child care before calculating deductions from your paycheck. Therefore, that portion of your income is not taxed. After paying your child care bills, you submit a claim to your FSA administrator, who reimburses you with your own pre-tax dollars. Employers may also allow you to apply pre-tax benefit dollars directly to your child care expenses, or have arrangements for discounted rates with partnering child care programs. Ask your employer if they offer any support for child care expenses.

Have child care questions? We can help!


Our staff members are part of the team of NC Child Care Resource and Referral Specialists who are operating the statewide child care referral hotline. If you are a family needing referral support from the hotline, please call us (toll-free). If you need other information or support or are a prior referral client needing additional/follow-up services, please email us (, and we will respond as soon as possible.