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Tips for Moving Off a Daycare Waiting List

Learn how to improve your chances of getting into the daycare of your choice.

Tips for Moving Off a Daycare Waiting List

Tips for Moving Off a Daycare Waiting List

It can be a very lengthy and competitive process to enroll your child in your preferred daycare center. With so many families interested in similar programs and not enough providers, it is common to be placed on a daycare waiting list.  However, there is a way to navigate the enrollment process to increase your chances of getting your child into the facility of your choice. 

In this article, we'll explain the daycare waiting list process, what to expect while you wait, and offer tips to improve your chances of being accepted into a daycare program.

Why you’re on a daycare waiting list 

Because childcare centers are held to strict capacity guidelines, there is often more demand than the center can accommodate. When this happens, usually additional interested families are placed on a childcare waiting list. There are several factors that can cause you to be put on a waitlist:

A limited number of childcare spots

Childcare centers are held to strict child-to-adult ratios and group size requirements that vary from state to state. Often, the maximum number of children allowed in a daycare center depends on the type of program, children’s ages, and amount of staff at the childcare center. Because of these requirements there may be a limited number of open childcare spots at a particular center. Below are some general recommendations for child-to-adult ratios and group sizes:

Child’s age

Child-to-adult ratio

Group size

Total number of adults in a full group or class

Infant (younger than 12 months)

1 trained adult should not care for more than 3–4 infants

No more than 6–8 infants together in a group

2 trained adults should always be present in a full group of 6–8 infants

Young toddler (1–2 years)

1 trained adult should not care for more than 3–6 young toddlers

No more than 6–12 young toddlers in a group or classroom

2 trained adults should always be present in a full group of 6–12 young toddlers

Older toddler (2–3 years)

1 trained adult should not care for more than 4–6 older toddlers

No more than 8–12 older toddlers in a group or classroom

2 trained adults should always be present in a full group of 8–12 older toddlers

Preschooler (3–5 years)

1 trained adult should not care for more than 6–10 preschoolers

No more than 12–20 preschoolers in a group or classroom

2 trained adults should always be present in a full group of 12–20 preschoolers

School age

1 trained adult should not care for more than 10–12 school-age children

No more than 20–24 school-age children in a group or classroom

2 trained adults should always be present in a full group of 20–24 school-age children


Delayed registration

If parents wait to register their child, fewer daycare spots are available. The rise in double-income families has increased the demand for daycare center services. Registering several months in advance is important, especially if you’d like your child to start daycare in January or September, as most daycares receive several enrollment requests for these months. It will help to check with the daycare centers you’re interested in to determine how far in advance you should register.

Failing to meet daycare requirements 

Some daycares may have strict requirements for instance, vaccination or potty training requirements, but not all families meet them. While you’re on the waitlist, try getting all the requirements together. Some daycares will contact you with a deadline for the requirements if a spot opens up for you. If you don’t make the deadline, another family may take your spot, and you’ll have to wait for another opening. Find out whether your preferred daycare will keep you on the waitlist and for how long.

What to expect if you're on a daycare waitlist

Daycare centers usually add families to the list as they express interest. Families are then notified as soon as spots become available.

When added to a waitlist, remember:

  • Some waitlists may operate on a “first-come, first-served” basis–so the sooner you get on the waitlist, the better.
  • Realize there is no set timeline for your child's acceptance into the program. When children are placed on a waitlist, they are put in a pool of other applicants and evaluated based on qualifications like age and skill level. 
  • Daycare providers will, however, keep you in the loop about your place on the list and how long it will take you to get into a program. If the provider uses brightwheel to manage their admissions, they can easily message prospective families with waitlist updates.
  • You're allowed to register with more than one daycare provider. This way, if your preferred provider is full or cancels at the last minute, you will have other options.

Two women playing with babies at daycare center.


Tips for getting off the daycare waiting list

Although daycare competition is stiff, these tips can help you secure a spot:

Get on multiple waitlists

If there are two or more options available, apply to all of them, then later make an informed decision about which daycare center best meets your child’s needs.

Start looking months in advance

Many daycare providers operate on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you apply, the higher your child’s position on the waiting list. This can greatly increase your chances of being accepted as spots open up.

Tap into your networks and connections

If you have family members or friends at a daycare you are interested in, ask if they can call or email on your behalf to let the director know you are interested. Ask your friends, family, and neighbors if they know of any openings at daycares in your area. You can also check online forums or classifieds websites to see which daycares are currently accepting applications. 

By using your network and connections, you stand a chance to find an opening at a daycare that you wouldn't have otherwise known about.

Keep in touch

You can expect regular updates from the daycare center about your status on the daycare waitlist. You may also be asked to provide additional information or documentation to the center to remain on the list.

Be sure to stay in communication with the daycare center and follow their instructions to increase your chances of being offered a spot. In any case, consistent communication will show your commitment to that particular daycare.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What's the best age for children to start daycare?

There is no ideal age for children to start daycare, as each child and family has a unique set of needs. Each daycare provider may also have their own specific age requirements, so it is best to check with each program before applying. Childcare enrollment also depends on several factors, such as your parental leave duration and financial capability. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what is best for your child and family.

When should you register for daycare?

The earlier you register for daycare, the better. Some families begin researching, touring, and applying to daycare a few months before their due date. Early registration allows you to get on a waiting list and ensure that you get a spot at the daycare of your choice. It also gives you time to research different daycares and find the one that is the best fit for your unique needs.

How long are daycare waiting lists?

The length of daycare waiting lists varies depending on the area and the demand. Some areas may have a short waiting list of a few weeks, and others have waiting lists that are much longer, especially for children between 0 and 2 years old. 

The time of year, the location, the type of daycare, and the demand for daycare all play a role in how long you may have to wait. The best way to find out is to ask around and call different daycares to get an idea of their wait times before you enroll your child.

Is your child guaranteed a spot once placed on a waiting list?

In most cases, priority is given to the first child who meets admission requirements. Therefore, if your child is placed on a waitlist, it is crucial to continue exploring other options as you wait for a spot to open up.

Teacher with children at daycare.


Is there a daycare waitlist fee?

There is no universal answer to this question, as it depends on the specific daycare provider. In addition, some providers may charge refundable daycare waitlist fees, while others may not. Therefore, check with the provider beforehand to see their policy and plan accordingly.

Should you get off the waitlist if accepted into another program?

Each family's situation is unique, so there is no one-answer-fits-all solution to this. However, you may want to consider each program's cost, location, and personal circumstances before leaving the waitlist. 

How much does it cost to enroll my child in daycare?

The average cost of daycare is $10,000 per year for one child. However, this number will vary significantly depending on where you live and what kind of facility you enroll your child in. 

If your child has needs or medical conditions that require special attention from staff or equipment, you might need a more advanced facility, which could cost more. 

Information about childcare waiting lists in your area

If you are looking for a local childcare waiting list, your best bet is to contact a local Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) agency. These agencies are government-funded organizations that connect families with available childcare options in their areas. They usually maintain lists of childcare providers with open spots and may be able to provide other resources and assistance.

Search for your local CCR&R agency in your area or find more information about child care in your state

Final thoughts

Being placed on a daycare waiting list can be daunting. However, to navigate the process seamlessly, be sure to register early, get on multiple waiting lists, tap into your connections, and regularly keep in touch for updates.

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