The average parent expects to pay almost $1,000 for child care this summer

Darby S | Twenty20

It's going to be a long and expensive summer for working parents, as they spend the next couple of months trying to cobble together child-care options. For many that consists of stringing together a patchwork schedule of camps, babysitters, grandparent care, and family vacations thrown in for good measure.

It's not only complicated, it's expensive. Parents say they expect to spend an average of $998 per child, according to an online poll of almost 3,900 U.S. adults with kids conducted by Bankrate.com. Nearly one in five parents say they plan on spending over $2,000 per child for summertime child-care services, and that includes summer camps, classes, as well as daily babysitters or nannies.

During the school year, parents in Bankrate's survey say they spend about $11,619 on average for child care for each child. That means, including summer expenses, families are spending just over $1,000 a month year-round on child-care services.

"Child care in general is expensive, no matter what time of year it is," Cristina Novoa, a policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at the Center for American Progress, tells CNBC Make It. It's not uncommon, she adds, for child care to be a family's largest household expense — more than rent or a mortgage.

Why child care costs so much

Spending almost $1,000 per kid seems like a lot until you realize that parents regularly underestimate the final bill. The Center for American Progress, using data from the Afterschool Alliance's America After 3PM survey, found last year that parents with two children actually ended up paying closer to $3,000 for summer programs. That's about 20% of a typical family's income.

That's not surprising when you break down the rates of care. The average weekly rate for day camp ranges from $199 to $800, while overnight camps will set parents back between $680 and $2,000 a week, according to the American Camp Association.

And while those figures are from 2018, Novoa says there's no real reason to believe that things will be cheaper this year.

Additionally, that $3,000 budget doesn't include the family vacation and care from grandparents that 44% of parents depend on to fill any gaps in the schedule, according to a 2018 online survey of parents conducted by the D.C.-based policy organization New America. These stopgap solutions can also fuel additional spending.

One of the biggest reasons child care is so expensive is that caring for young kids is a labor-intensive business, Novoa says. One you can't really automate. "You'll always need an adult in the classroom who will ensure that kids are safe, healthy and happy, and who will provide the kinds of sensitive, one-on-one interactions kids need," Novoa says. And that comes at a price.

Another issue is a lack of options: 51% of Americans live in neighborhoods classified as child-care deserts by the Center for American Progress. These are areas with an insufficient supply of licensed child-care providers, according to a comprehensive study the organization undertook last year.

Where to find cheaper summer child-care options

With so many parents in the same situation, it can help to start looking for summer child care early, Novoa says. In a recent survey from the Center, she says one in three families reported starting to look for summer care before March.

For parents struggling to find options, she recommends checking with organizations such as Child Care Aware and local Child Care Resource and Referral agencies may be able to help. Parents might also want to consider these other options:

Nonprofits like the YMCA and Boys & Girls Club

The YMCA has a network of over 2,700 locations nationwide, many of which offer summer camps and activities for kids.

Each location has its own programming, so parents can search to find the nearest location and check out their upcoming schedule. For example, the Meadowlands YMCA in New Jersey is running almost a dozen in-depth weeklong camps for children starting at $270 per week.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of America also has a local organization search tool. In Florida, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Miami-Dade offers a summer program that's open to kids ages 5 to 17. A four-week session costs $125.

Local parks & recreation departments

Many local and state park departments offer weeklong summer camps and day-long activities. For example, the Cleveland Metroparks offer two-day nature camps throughout the Cleveland area for children ages 3 to 15. Prices start at $38, and scholarships are available.

However, parents need to register for these options early, as many of park programs fill up fast, including the Metroparks — which opened online registration in March and is sold out for the season.

Another outdoor option is the local zoo, which can provide a great opportunity for kids to interact with animals in a world-class environment. The San Diego Zoo offers week-long day camps for elementary school aged kids for $325 for non-members.

Scouting camps

For those looking for the overnight camp experience, Boy and Girl Scouts offer a wide range of relatively inexpensive summer programs and camps. And your kids typically don't have to already need be a scout to attend.

The Girl Scouts have a local camp finder search tool that can help parents locate the nearest options. For example, Camp La Jita, about 85 miles west of San Antonio, Texas, still has spots left in several of the weekly overnight camp programs that start at $350.

For boys, parents can check out the local camps run by the Boy Scouts by finding their local council. For those in the Seattle area, there are still spots available at Camp Parsons. A week session starts at $352 ($403 for non-scouts).

Still not finding summer child care that works? Care.com suggests parents check out local churches, Salvation Army locations, museums, Montessori schools and even town or city websites.

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