GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. — Paying hundreds of dollars a month for child care is a tough decision that some North Carolina parents are forced to make.
Across the state, it can cost nearly $10,000 a year for child care.
“That’s ridiculous. It’s really high,” Lakeisha Dillahunt said.
$800 a month for child care is something that Dillahunt, and many other parents, can’t wrap their heads around.
“It’s crazy how much those programs can be,” she said. “A lot of people can’t afford it.”
Unlike many, she’s able to send her son to a five-star pre-K, because of a state program called NC Pre-K.
Dillahunt calls it a blessing.
“If I didn’t, my son would have to stay with me and I wouldn’t be able to go work,” she said.
She’s not the only one with those circumstances.
“When [parents] come to us, they can’t work because they don’t have child care. Once the child gets into NC Pre-K, they can get employment,” said Brenda Mathis, who runs the NC Pre-K program through the Guilford County Partnership for Children.
“Sometimes, child care is more than your house payment,” she said.”If you’re making minimum wage, that’s more than 70 percent of your paycheck if you have to pay for child care.”
With rising rates, Mathis sees more and more families added to the waitlist each year.
“When you think about it, they’re paying for their infant as much as they pay when their child goes to college for tuition,” she said.
Funding for the programs has increased.
“We were awarded 59 more children than we were last year,” Mathis said.
Now, there are 2,160 children enrolled in NC Pre-K programs in Guilford County, due to an expansion of funding from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Mathis says these early child development programs are crucial for a child’s future. But they can’t accept everyone.
Dillahunt is thankful her son will get the best start to his future.
“I know my son will get the education he needs to prepare him for kindergarten,” she said.
But she hopes other children get the socialization, lessons and reach the same milestones as her son.
“Some kids will have a disadvantage if they can’t get into the program,” Dillahunt said. “Because they won’t be able to get the education they need to progress to kindergarten.”
Each county does have its own NC Pre-K Program. There are also other early childhood development learning centers for kids younger than 4.
To learn more, head to the NCDHHS website.