California day care information: Methods to get youngster care help

State subsidized child care

There are a variety of state subsidized child care programs geared toward low-income families and certain populations, including foster, migrant and homeless families.

Programs generally serve children from birth to age 12; some aid is available for older children with disabilities.

Who qualifies: Your family can likely qualify for state subsidized child care if it meets at least one of these conditions:

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

Your family’s 2022 pre-tax income must fall within these limits for you to qualify for California’s subsidized child care:

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

  • Working
  • Seeking employment
  • In school or training
  • Experiencing homelessness
  • Incapacitated

State preschool

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

Who qualifies: Families with incomes at or below the state median income qualify. For a family of four, that means making $112,105 a year or less.

Children with disabilities can qualify without meeting the income eligibility. Children also qualify if they are experiencing homelessness, receiving child protective services or identified as at risk of abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Transitional kindergarten

Children who are 4 years old can attend transitional kindergarten, which is a free, optional grade level offered by public schools. Transitional kindergarten programs are either part-day or full-day and may not be available at every school in a district.

Who qualifies: During the current 2022-2023 school year, transitional kindergarten is open to children whose fifth birthday falls between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2. By 2025, it will be available to all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1.


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

Who qualifies: Families with incomes at or below the federal poverty level qualify. In 2022, that means a family of four must make no more than $27,750 a year.

Children who are in foster care or homeless or whose families receive public assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income) also qualify.

Military child care

The military operates its own child care programs and offers financial aid for families who can’t get a spot in military child care.

Who qualifies: Eligibility and priority for military child care depends on a variety of factors, such as your position and whether you are single or married. Military families can request fee assistance regardless of income level.

Visit for information on what you qualify for.

Pre-kindergarten children listen to their teacher at the Center for Children and Families at CSUSM in San Marcos. There are several subsidized care programs available to qualifying 4-year-olds in California, and the state’s new transitional kindergarten program will serve more of them in the coming years.

(Hayne Palmour / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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