Why do you need to join child care waitlists so early?

Get on a waitlist years before you need care may sound crazy, but it's actually a good practice



Nationwide, the average waitlist length is 18 months long.


Why is this?



1.) There's not enough child care seats to support working families in the U.S.

There are over 15 million children who need child care every year because all of their parents work. But there are only 10 million seats available, and that number isn't growing fast enough. Demand for care greatly exceeds supply! So you'll sit on waitlists because in general, there just isn't enough care.



2.) Providers can't hire.


Despite child care being incredibly expensive, child care programs are thin-margin businesses, and they can't pay their teachers enough to stay competitive. So they struggle to hire, which means they don't have enough staff to allow as many children in as they'd like, which means you'll end up sitting on waitlists for longer.


3.) Families don't respond to seat offers.

One of the problems with waitlists is that families will forget they're on one, get care elsewhere, and then forget to update the child care program to remove them from the waitlist.


Sometimes families don't respond at all when a seat is offered. Providers will often try to give families a few days to respond to the seat offer before moving on to the next family. This means it can take weeks to find a family interested in this seat.


Often a provider will get so tired of calling and getting no response that they'll accept the first family who calls in!



Knowing all of this, when should you get on a waitlist?

Waitlists are tricky to navigate, but if the provider isn't using LegUp or an organized system, you can count on the waitlist being 18 months long.


How do you know if their process isn't organized? If they take your waitlist information via email or paper form, or if you call and ask and they can't tell you what number you are on the waitlist.




Here's what that looks like in a real-world scenario:

Let's say you're expecting or adopting on January 2022, have 3 months of parental leave through your employer, and need child care so you can return to work:

  • January 1, 2022 (due date) + 3 months of parental leave = April 1, 2022 (child care enrollment date)

  • April 1, 2022 – 18 months (recommended time to start searching for care) = October 2020

  • October 2020 = 6 months prior to the baby's conception


As this example demonstrates, it's not always possible to join waitlists within the recommended timeframe, especially if you're looking for infant care. But here's the good news: On average, families who use LegUp to find care spend an average of 3-6 months on a waitlist before enrolling in care!


By joining LegUp, we'll match you to programs, help you join waitlists, track your waitlist status, and update your preferred enrollment preferences at any time. And you'll receive seat offers from providers through us to make the process more efficient.


Finding child care when you need it is critical to keeping families in the workforce. Waitlists are an essential part of the child care journey, and we've found that it can be helpful to think of them as a way to find the best program for your family's needs, rather than a roadblock on your search for care.