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Shelling out big bucks to find good day care

When I found out in December that I would have a daughter this coming May, there was precious little time to celebrate. My partner and I both work. We needed to start applying for daycare.

But hold on: Does this mean that the creaky stereotype of moneyed urban professional Mom- and Dad-zillas jockeying for their precious spawn to attend fancy day care centers — exclusive day cares that feed exclusive nursery schools that feed exclusive private schools that feed exclusive colleges in the chain that leads to exclusive law firms, investment banks and periodontal practices — is a reality in Washington in 2010? Can a child’s future be inscribed before he or she has a name?

Scared that the answer might be yes, I toured a few downtown day care facilities to get my unborn baby’s name (that’s “TK Moyer”) on as many day care wait lists as possible. I was prepared with questions about teacher/child ratios. I was prepared to make small talk with other searching parents, some of whom hadn’t even conceived yet. But I was not prepared for a final indignity: the non-refundable wait-list fee.

That’s right — in the District, wait lists for daycare are so long that a facility can charge you for a spot your child may never even get. For a working parent, what’s another $35 or $100?
But isn’t this wrong? Would I pay Taco Bell for the chance that I might get a burrito? No. Why isn’t what’s true for burritos also true for watching babies? And if wait-list fees are an essential part of the day care industry, why did one day care director I talked to take a stand against it? (“It’s just a rook,” she said. “You’re throwing $100 in a trash can.”)

What’s your take? Have you ever paid a day care to hold a spot your child didn’t get? Were you annoyed, or do you think this practice is fair?

Comment below or email me at moyerj@washpost.com

By Justin Moyer  | February 4, 2010; 10:18 AM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story  | Tags:  day care; day care centers; application fees; daycare; D.C. day care  
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Comments

Having heard wait list horror stories, we got on DC wait lists when I was approximately 8-12 weeks pregant. We paid probably close to 500 in nonrefundable fees and got off ZERO lists by the time my daughter was born, and only one list by the time I had to head back to work 4 months later. Even a place where I allegedly had "priority" and was assured that "things likely will work out" never panned out. Many places I never heard another peep from - I guess they laughed all the way to the bank. I think the system is a sham - hundreds of people on a wait list for one of nine spots, but working parents with limited options play the game in the hope that something works out.

We ended up in an in home day care center - no wait list madness, and a provider who is adored by my entire family.

Posted by: teampbgf | February 4, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

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