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Care Alternatives

Explore whether there are any alternatives to subsidized child care when interviewing the client. The alternatives may include the client's friends or relatives, school, or programs that provide free or low-cost child care. Head Start, Early Head Start, or Mother's-Day-Out programs, for example, are alternative programs that provide free or low-cost child care. When the client chooses an alternative to Child Care, do not approve Child Care for the time a child spends in one of these alternatives.

Parents in the household

The choice to use Child Care Subsidy or an alternative caregiver is voluntary unless a current or former spouse, a natural parent, or adoptive parentresides in the household. Any parent in the household must either provide child care for their child or meet the need requirement in order for their child to receive Child Care. This rule includes situations where a parent is staying with legal guardians.

Legal Guardians: Courts may appoint a legal guardian for a child when it determines a child's parents are not willing or able to care for a child. When a parent is living with their child and the child's court-appointed legal guardian, you base the need determination on whether the parent is meeting the need factor. You may need to complete a Child Welfare referral in this situation if the court order does not allow parental contact.

When the available alternatives include someone other than a spouse or a child's parent, the client chooses whether to use Child Care or not.


Most parents or caretakers send their children to public schools. You must determine whether any child 4 years of age or older is attending school. Ask their parent or caretaker during the interview if their child is attending school, what grade they are in, and whether it is year-round or traditional school calendar.

Do not approve Child Care for the time a child should be attending school unless the child meets one of these two exceptions.

  1. You may approve care when the school suspends or expels a student and verifies there is not educational alternative available to the child.
  2. A child with disabilities who cannot attend school for the entire school day due to medical reasons may also receive care.

Head Start

Head Start and Early Head Start programs provide free learning and development services to children in low-income families. Children may participate up to age 5. You can find more basic eligibility information and a Head Start locator on this Health and Human Services website. The Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHS-CCP) allows participating facilities to receive both Child Care and Head Start funds. You can see the participating facilities here.

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