Finding Child Care and Getting Help Paying For It: A Guide for Parents

State-subsidized day care centers

There are various state subsidized child care programs that target low-income families and certain population groups, such as foster families, immigrants, and the homeless.

The programs typically serve children from birth to 12 years of age; there are some aids for older children with disabilities.

Who qualifies: Your family may be eligible for state-subsidized child assistance if it meets at least one of these conditions:

  • Your family receives CalWORKS aid.
  • Your family income is at or below 85 percent of the state median income. (See income eligibility chart below.)
  • Your family is homeless or needs permanent housing.
  • Your family has children who receive child protective services or who have been identified by an agency as being at risk of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Your family’s 2022 pre-tax income must be within these limits so you can take advantage of California subsidized child care:

Most subsidized care programs also require families to show that they need child care by meeting at least one of these conditions:

  • Be studying or receiving training

state preschool

State Preschool is a publicly funded program for 3- and 4-year-olds designed to prepare them for childcare. State preschool can be part-day or full-day and is offered by school districts and some day care centers.

Who qualifies: Families with income equal to or less than the median income of the state are eligible. For a family of four, that means making $112,105 a year or less.

Disabled children can benefit without meeting the income requirements. Children can also receive help if they are homeless, receive child protective services or are considered to be at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

transitional kindergarten

4-year-olds can attend transitional kindergarten, which is a free elective course offered by public schools. Transitional Kindergarten programs are part-day or full-day and may not be available at all schools in a district.

Who qualifies: During the current 2022-2023 school year, Transitional Kindergarten is open to children whose fifth birthday falls between September 2 and February 2. In 2025, it will be available to all children who turn 4 before September 1.

Head start

Head Start is a federal program that provides free child care and family support services for children ages 0-5. To find a Head Start program, you can call 1-866-763-6481 or visit

Who qualifies: Families with income at or below the federal poverty level are eligible. By 2022, that means a family of four should earn no more than $27,750 a year.

Children in foster care or homelessness, or whose families receive public assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income) are also eligible.

military child care

The military runs its own childcare programs and offers financial support to families who cannot find a place in military childcare.

Who qualifies: Eligibility and priority for military childcare depends on a number of factors, including your position and whether you are single or married. Military families can apply for premium aid, regardless of income level.

Visit for information on the requirements you must meet.

Preschoolers listen to their teacher at the CSUSM Center for Children and Families in San Marcos. In California, there are several subsidized day care programs for eligible 4-year-olds, and the state’s new transitional day care program will serve more of them in the coming years.

(Hayne Palmour/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Finding Child Care and Getting Help Paying For It: A Guide for Parents