Choosing a Child-Care Provider

Chrome 2001
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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Choosing a Child-Care Provider

Guiding Your Child Through The Infant Year
Choosing Child-Care
Choosing a Child-Care Provider
Choosing a Child-Care Provider
Learn what you need to know about choosing someone to care for your child.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Choosing a Child-Care Provider

In-Home Child-Care
Family Child-Care
Child-Care Centers

The search for high-quality, dependable and affordable child-care can be one of the greatest challenges for parents and families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 60% of children under the age of 5 were in child-care. There are three basic types of child-care arrangements: in-home, family child-care and child-care centers. Most young children are in a home-based setting, either in-home or family child-care.

It is a good idea to first identify which type of child-care arrangement best meets your personal and family needs. These questions may help direct your thinking.

  • Do you need full- or part-time child-care?
  • During what hours will you need child-care? Will you need care on evenings, weekends and/or holidays?
  • Do you work regular hours or do you need flexible child-care arrangements?
  • Would it be difficult for you to rearrange your work plans if your child-care provider were sick or unexpectedly unavailable with short notice?
  • Would it be difficult for you to rearrange your work plans if your child were sick and unable to go to child-care?
  • Do you prefer a smaller, more intimate setting or a larger facility with more children and providers?
  • Would you like your child to play with children of the same age or different ages?
  • Is your child more comfortable in a particular type of setting?
  • How much can you afford to pay for child-care?
  • Do you want someplace close to home or near where you work?

In-home child-care is care for your child provided in your home by another caregiver, such as baby sitters, nannies and au pairs. Baby sitters refer to people of all ages who provide occasional child-care, for example, a neighborhood teen-ager who watches your child for a few hours. Nannies earn their living caring for children, full- or part-time, either living in your home or coming to your home each day. They can be of any age, may have completed formal training programs and may belong to professional nanny organizations. Au pairs are young people from other countries who come to the United States, usually for one year, to provide live-in child-care in exchange for room, board and a weekly stipend.

  • Usually provides your child with the highest level of attention from a consistent caretaker.
  • Happens in the setting most familiar to your child.
  • Reduces your child's exposure to illnesses.
  • Often able to care for sick children and provide for hours outside of the normal workweek.
  • May be more cost-effective for larger families.
  • Possibly little or no interaction with other children, limiting opportunities to socialize.
  • Usually is the most expensive, particularly if you have only one child.
  • Requires parents to have backup arrangements for times when their provider is sick or unavailable to care for their child.

Family child-care (or family day care) is care for a small group of children, typically four to six children, provided in the home of the caregiver. In many cases, the child-care provider is a mother who is also caring for her own children. Most states require that family child-care facilities meet certain safety, health, and staffing requirements and be licensed. However, the quality varies considerably among family child-care providers, and many unlicensed facilities exist.


  • Usually done for small groups of children in a home setting.
  • Care is from a consistent caretaker.
  • Provides opportunities to socialize with children of varying ages.
  • May be the least expensive arrangement.


  • Children usually cannot attend if they are ill.
  • Parents need backup arrangements for times when the provider is sick or unavailable to care for their child.
  • Typically is only open on weekdays.

Child-care centers (or day-care centers) are larger places run by a staff of people caring for many children. Although all states require that child-care centers be licensed and meet certain safety, health and staffing demands, quality still varies among facilities, depending on such factors as child-to-staff ratio and the credentials of the staff. Some of the best centers have staff members with training in child development and a full schedule of age-appropriate activities prepared for each day.


  • Care is given by multiple caretakers for many children in small, age-based groups in a classroomlike setting.
  • Typically several children of each age are available for play and socialization.
  • Centers have sufficient staff to cover for an unavailable provider.
  • Costs vary depending on the center.
  • Increased exposure to illnesses.
  • Children usually cannot attend if they are ill.
  • Typically is only open on weekdays.
  • Costs are higher for younger children.
  • May be the most expensive option, if you need to enroll more than one child.

Once you have identified your needs and know what you want, it is time to find the right provider for your child. Some child-care centers and family child-care facilities may be listed in the local phone book; nannies and au pairs are usually available through professional agencies. In addition, you may find these sources of information helpful:

  • Friends, neighbors and co-workers.
  • State and local child-care resource and referral agencies.
  • Local newspapers.
  • Bulletin boards at local supermarkets, libraries and bookstores.
  • Local colleges, especially those with early childhood education or child development programs.
  • Local elementary schools.
  • Local branches of the YMCA.
  • Local religious organizations.
  • Internet.

The next step is to narrow your search by conducting an initial screening over the telephone. Ask a few important questions, such as available hours, licensing, qualifications, provider-to-child ratio and cost. Then arrange times to interview prospective in-home care providers or to visit child-care centers or family child-care facilities. Have your list of questions ready, but also observe your child's interactions with the prospective caregivers.

Checklist: Choosing a Child-Care Provider


child development
Last updated August 12, 2014

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