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New Report Shows Infant Care Costs in Ohio Are Near College Tuition Levels

A report published by the Economic Public Institute has revealed a startling reality for parents in Ohio: the average annual cost of care for one infant in Ohio is $9,697, nearly matching the average in-state tuition for a four-year public college.

This financial burden continues to weigh heavily on families, especially those living at and below the Federal Poverty Guidelines, highlighting the crucial need for accessible and affordable early childhood education.

Studies show that early childhood education can substantially improve the cognitive, social, and emotional development of young children.1 Beyond the benefits for children, early childhood education positively impacts communities like Cuyahoga County. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, such programs facilitate parental workforce participation, which bolsters local economies. Additionally, children who receive quality early childhood education exhibit higher educational success rates, leading to improved long-term health and increased earning potential.

Despite the advantages, many families throughout Northeast Ohio struggle to access affordable, high-quality childcare.

"Childcare costs can put a strain on families,” Trina Derrico, Step Forward’s Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, Enrollment, and Attendance (ERSEA) Manager, acknowledged. “Expenses are influenced by things like teacher-to-student ratios, educator credentials, classroom resources, and more. Essentially, the higher the quality of care and education, the higher the cost.”

The Department of Health and Human Services’ standards for affordable childcare recommends that childcare costs should not exceed seven-percent of a family’s income. Yet, according to, a significant number of parents report that they are spending nearly 30 percent of their household income on childcare. For Ohio families with an average household income of $66,990, the cost of childcare for an infant consumes about 14 percent of their family’s income. Care for a preschool-aged child, which averages $7,895 annually, amounts to 11 percent of the family’s household income.3

“Families are facing a daunting reality where the cost of childcare are not just a portion of their income, but a significant burden alongside other essential services,” Dr. Thea Wilson, Step Forward’s Vice President of Children and Families, pointed out. “As educators, we continue to advocate for policies and support systems that address these challenges holistically, ensuring that all families have access to the resources they need to thrive.”

The financial strain is exacerbated by transportation challenges, as highlighted in the same report, which found that 75 percent of the families surveyed had access to fewer than half a dozen daycare centers within a 20-minute drive of their home.

"Depending on where a family lives, it can be difficult to find suitable childcare that meets their needs and this is made even more difficult if a family relies on public transportation or has limited access to a vehicle,” Derrico emphasized.

When looking for childcare, families often face the difficult decision of choosing between quality and cost. This becomes even more challenging when comparing early childhood education programs with daycare sites that may not offer an educational component.

“While daycare may offer a more budget-friendly option, it doesn't serve the same function of an education program,” Antoinette Hawthorne, Step Forward Head Start’s Early Childhood Education Service Manager, explained. “Early childhood education programs like Head Start offer curricula and resources that support a child’s emotional development, language, literacy, and motor skills as well as physical development.”

Studies show that high-quality early childhood education programs that provide enrichment beyond minimal health and safety requirements are more likely to benefit children’s cognitive and social-emotional skills than lower-quality care.2

Step Forward is Cuyahoga County, Ohio's largest Head Start program. It serves pregnant mothers and children from six weeks of age to three years old through Early Head Start. The agency’s Head Start program serves children aged three to five years old. With seven early learning centers, the program serves more than 1,000 students every year, providing high-quality early learning environments at no cost to income-eligible families. Through strategic partnerships with school districts and childcare centers, known as Childcare Collaborative Partnerships, Step Forward significantly enhances the accessibility of high-quality early childhood educational opportunities for Cuyahoga County families.

Currently, Step Forward Head Start partners with 50 childcare centers and two school districts, including the Cleveland Metropolitan School District and Euclid City School District. Through these collaborations, Head Start was able to serve an additional 936 children and families throughout the 2023-2024 school year.

Similar to Step Forward's directly operated Head Start sites, Childcare Collaborative Partnerships are rated by Ohio’s quality rating and improvement system, which recognizes programs that meet quality program standards. While collaborative partners have different operations than Step Forward Head Start sites, each partner dedicates at least 3.5 hours per day to meet Head Start performance standards. Each offer low teacher-to-child ratios, high-quality curriculum, and parent engagement opportunities.

Step Forward Head Start, along with its collaborative partners, play a pivotal role in addressing the affordability challenges faced by families. By providing comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families, Head Start programs aim to alleviate the financial burden of childcare for thousands of families.

“These programs ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to high-quality early learning experiences, setting them on a path towards academic success and lifelong wellbeing,” Hawthorne said.

Additionally, Head Start’s focus on parent involvement and family support helps empower parents to actively participate in their children’s education and overall development, creative a more supportive and engaged community. Parents are encouraged to become advocates for their children’s educational needs, helping to ensure that their children receive the best possible start in life.

Evidence shows that individuals involved in a quality early childhood education experience complete more years of education and more often graduate high school. Statistics also show that those who receive an early childhood education have lower involvement with the criminal justice system, compared to individuals with similar backgrounds who did not participate in high-quality early childhood education.2

“As a Head Start program, we recognize the urgent need to change the trajectory of childcare costs to ensure all families have access to affordable, high-quality early childhood education. To achieve this, we must advocate for increased public funding and support for early childhood education programs, including Head Start,” Dr. Wilson concluded. “We must also work to increase public awareness about the importance of early childhood education and the impact it can have on our communities.”



1 Annie E. Casey Foundation. "2023 KIDS COUNT Data Book." 2023. [Online] Available:

2 Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. "Benefits from Early Care and Education (ECE): Highlight 508." 2023. [Online] Available:

3 United States Census Bureau. "Data." [Online] Available:

4 Economic Policy Institute. "Child Care Costs in the United States." [Online] Available:

5 "How Much Does Child Care Cost?" [Online] Available:

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