child care provider and child meeting parent at the door

Types of Child Care

As you read about the various child care settings available, think about which approach will be the best fit for your child. Whiles there's no "best" type of child care, there may be one that works better for your family.

Licensed Family Child Care Homes

Licensed family child care providers may care for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children in their homes. State law limits the number of children a care provider may look after. This is because young children need and deserve a lot of one-on-one attention to have safe days that allow them to learn and grow. Many family child care providers offer planned play and scheduled activities that help all the children in their care learn.

Families tell us they appreciate the warmth and family-like environment found in many family child care programs. They appreciate the flexible hours, the mix of age groups and the comfort of keeping siblings together.

Parents should keep in mind that family care programs are often staffed by one caregiver. This means that back up care is needed as the care provider may become ill or plan a vacation.

Child Care Centers

Licensed child care centers care for infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children in a care center, community centers or place of worship. State law regulates the number of children who may attend based on the number of staff working at the center. Children are typically cared for in groups divided by age. Specific programs and classrooms for school-age and preschool children are often offered.

Families tell us they appreciate larger staffs to support the children and each other and eliminate the need for back up care. They also note the flexible schedules available at centers, which are typically open 10-12 hours daily. Some children thrive in the structured routines typically found in centers.

Parents should keep in mind that the larger groups and structure found in a child care center may not fit every child's needs. Staff turnover is an issue at some centers and this can affect a child's sense of security.

Unlicensed Family, Friends or Neighbors (legally unlicensed home care)

Unlicensed caregivers provide care for their own children, related children, and/or those of friends or neighbors.

Families tell us they appreciate keeping their children in the family or neighborhood while they're in care. They may also be drawn to the affordability and flexibility of their type of care.

Parents should keep in mind that these informal caregivers do not meet the health and safety requirements recommended by the State for licensed caregivers. Groups sizes may be larger than is ideal for children and the caregiver may not have the training needed to understand and care for young children.

Preschool Programs

Preschool programs offer two or three-hour sessions per day, a few days per week. These programs offer children an opportunity to play and learn with other children and prepare for school. The programs are licensed and are often located in their own buildings, community centers or places of worship. Enrollment is usually limited to children 3 to 5 years old.

School-Age Care

School-age care programs offer care for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. A license may not be required, depending on location. They usually operate in schools, community centers, YMCA/YWCAs or park and recreation programs. Care is typically available before and after school, on school holidays and during the summer. Family child care providers and child care centers may also serve school-age children.

Other Types of Child Care

Head Start/Early Head Start

Head Start/Early Head Start promotes the growth and development of children from low-income families. Parent involvement, a health program and family support are included. Children ages 3 to 5 years old attend Head Start. Early Head Start serves families with children from birth to 3 years old. Head Start and Early Head Start may be provided in a center or a home-based setting.

Drop-In Programs (may not be available in all areas)

Drop-in programs provide immediate, short-term care for a few hours at a time and are usually located in shopping malls, community centers, etc. Most drop-in programs are licensed, with rules that vary slightly from regular child care centers. Drop-in care may also be found in some child care homes and centers.

Playgroups and Exchanges (may not be available in all areas)

Playgroups and exchanges are no-cost, informal arrangements organized by parents. Playgroups provide time for children to play while parents spend time together. In exchanges, parents take turns caring for each others' children. Because these are unregulated arrangements, there are no limits on group size or the number of young children in the playgroup.

In-Home Care

"In-home care" means a caregiver comes to your home. Most in-home caregivers are friends, family members or "nannies." Nannies often have professional training and experience. In-home caregivers are not licensed. As their employer, you may be responsible for contributing to Social Security, taxes, workers' compensation costs, insurance and vacation time. In-home caregivers may live with you or they may commute to your home.