The first three years
impact a lifetime

Investing in early learning pays off

The benefits of a high-quality early childhood education last a lifetime. But glaring inequalities still exist in early education because of cost and access, especially for Black and Latinx families.

Under 3 DC believes that a zip code should not determine a child’s healthy beginning. By the time many families of color reach the point of deciding on child care, they are far behind white families and find themselves disconnected from available resources.

Brain Development is Important

A child’s brain develops rapidly from birth to age three – faster than any other phase in life.

Parents Want and Need Support

All families with young children are stretched for time and resources.

Study After Study Shows the Positive Effects

Early education helps children learn the skills they’ll need socially, in school, and in careers. 

Meet our Coalition

Under 3 DC Voices

Meet our diverse coalition of parents, community leaders, employers, community-based organizations, and health, mental health, and early childhood experts.


Under 3 DC is about doing what works for our children

DC policymakers have taken great strides toward building a comprehensive early childhood system in DC. This includes the Birth-to-Three Act that promises to make a difference for every DC family. The act builds on and connects with the success of DC’s universal pre-K program, which now reaches 72% of 3-year-olds and 86% of 4-year-olds. When fully funded and implemented, the Birth-to-Three Act has the potential to be just as impactful.

We all have a stake in ensuring the success of the new law. Families want what’s best for their children. Businesses are more successful when their workers have reliable child care. And early childhood educators love their jobs, but struggle to make ends meet on wages barely above the minimum wage.

                    $01234567890                     K

DC average monthly infant care costs are the highest in the nation

0123456789001234567890                     ,012345678900123456789001234567890

DC has 27,157 infants and toddlers under the age of 3

0123456789001234567890                     %

25% of children in the District are living in poverty 


Going all in to build a system that supports every DC family

Today, there is often a disconnect between the multiple agencies that serve young children and families. This means parents must navigate confusing systems. And early childhood service providers can be stuck in silos. Our campaign prioritizes the coordination of care and services that families of infants and toddlers need most to flourish. In addition to adequate funding, DC needs better coordination between early development, child care, and health care programs and services.


Through the Child Care Subsidy program, the city makes child care affordable for families that struggle with low wages or public benefits and need financial assistance. Right now, not enough families who need financial support are eligible for subsidy vouchers.

Still, high-quality child care in DC is expensive and scarce for the majority of families. It’s a challenge even for families with jobs that pay well. And, COVID-19 pandemic is only making it worse. We believe that no DC family should spend more than 10% of their income on child care. Once the needs of our lower-income families are met – many of whom are Black or Brown – we’ll work to expand support to families of all income levels.


We believe that every DC family should have access to the support they need to ensure their child’s healthy development. DC has a set of great programs to help parents navigate the early years of their children’s lives. Yet not all programs are funded adequately. Parents may not even know that services like home visiting and lactation consultants exist. Mental health support for infants and toddlers can ensure whole health and well-being during a child’s most early developmental years. And support for caregivers and early childhood educators is just as important. The added chaos and stress due to the COVID-19 crisis makes caring for the mental and behavioral health of children, parents, and educators more necessary than ever.

Early Educators

DC needs to expand the pool of skilled and experienced early childhood educators. To create more seats as well as higher-quality care, DC must pay the absolutely essential professionals who care for young children better.

DC child care workers are paid an average of $15.25 per hour. This is not enough for anyone to live on. Further, it fails to acknowledge the training and deep skills required of early educators. That means that many skilled child care workers leave for better-paying positions as soon as they can. Increasing pay for early educators will also address DC’s income inequality — particularly for the women of color who make up the largest part of the early educator workforce. Our youngest residents’ benefit most when DC’s early childhood educators are financially secure and stay at their jobs.

Read Our 2020 Impact Report

A Year in Review

Under 3 DC helped protect funding for health and subsidized child care programs. We reversed the mayor’s budget cuts and we won broad support for our plan to provide emergency grants to the child care sector.

Together we’re connecting the dots for DC kids under 3

Achievement in DC public schools is a tale of two cities. It starts in children’s earliest years, before they even get to school. By investing in high-quality early care and education for infants and toddlers, DC can secure the brightest possible future for all of our children and our city. Above all, we’ll reduce the racial achievement inequities in our schools.

Child Care Subsidies

Child care needs far exceed supply in communities with the highest child poverty.

Child Care Deserts

More than 1 in 4 DC families live in areas with no or few child care options.

Child Care Sector

Operating expenses for child care businesses have risen at least 54% since COVID-19.
Child Care

Ensuring access to high-quality, affordable child care

The high cost, uneven quality, and lack of supply of child care is an enormous burden for all. The average cost of child care in DC is the highest in the nation. Only 8% of our families can truly afford the $24,243 cost of infant care. And more than one in four families live in areas with few or no child care options. In DC, infant care is three times as expensive as attending University of Maryland.

What DC Can Do:

  • Make sure all families can access high-quality, safe, and affordable child care no matter how much money they make.
  • Give parents a reliable, transparent way to know if a child care program is high-quality.
  • Cultivate a skilled, well-compensated, and supported workforce of child care practitioners.
Health & Development

Providing access to health, mental health and child development supports

Across DC, children living in low-income neighborhoods are at a real disadvantage. With few health and education resources, they are less likely to be ready for school. So many fall behind in the early grades. This happens because children aren’t getting the early care and education they need to thrive. And too many families are locked out of access to developmental support programs.

What DC Can Do:

  • Expand access to home visiting programs that offer parents and caregivers coaching and support.
  • Ensure infants and toddlers receive necessary screenings for mental health, developmental delays and disabilities, and referrals to the services they need.
  • Make high-quality early childhood care and education more accessible.
  • Support families of children with educational challenges as they transition into preschool.
Financial Stability

Providing better support for parents and early childhood educators to become financially secure

Right now, many young families do not have access to city programs including child care subsidies. These programs aim to put DC families on the path to more economic stability. Many childcare providers rely almost exclusively on the District’s subsidy program to offer their child care services. The result is many providers struggle to keep their doors open. It’s because payments from the subsidy program aren’t enough to cover what DC says is needed to provide quality care.

It’s time to reimburse early childhood education programs for the full amount it costs to provide excellent care. With steps like equitable pay for early educators, DC can improve quality and access for all of DC’s youngest residents. And importantly, with fair pay for child care workers, businesses can attract, retain, and elevate the high-quality workforce critical to giving DC children every opportunity to succeed.

What DC Can Do:

  • Subsidize early childhood education and care for parents of infants and toddlers, starting with the families who need it most.
  • Provide higher reimbursements rates to child care centers who care for infants and toddlers.
  • Pay child care professionals and other early childhood educators better, on par with DCPS pre-K teachers.

Stay Connected

Add your name to the list of community leaders receiving updates on the Under 3 DC campaign.

    Under 3 DC, care of DC Action
    1400 16th Street NW, Suite 740 | Washington, DC 20036

    For more information or to join the Under 3 DC coalition, contact Travis Ballie.

    ©2023-2024 Under 3 DC. All rights reserved. Site designed by unkanny! Design and MW Plus.