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Child Care

What do parents need to know about childcare?

During the past two decades, there has been a big increase in the number of families with two parents working outside the home.  Currently, about 80% of kids entering school have had regular care in either child care centers, preschool, their own homes, relative’s homes, or family day care homes. The quality of care in these crucial early years varies, and parents need to make informed choices regarding child caretot with caregiver

The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on childcare states that quality care should have:

What are the different kinds of care to consider?

Choosing the right type of care is a personal choice. When deciding, you will need to consider your hours, finances, values, need for flexibility versus routine, and most importantly, your child! In order to find care that fits your child, choose childcare that is in line with your child’s personality.

What about childcare for school-age kids (ages 6-12)?

Here are some resources:

When is my child old enough not to need care anymore?
There is no set age at which all kids are ready to stay home alone. You know your child best. Consider factors like:latchkey kids

Moving your child to this level of independence is a process. Start by reading this: Is your child ready to stay home alone? If you think your child is ready, you can make sure they know all the important safety and house rules. You can use YourChild's babysitter resources as a starting point. Talk to your child about their feelings about being home alone. Start small, with short periods away, and gradually increase the time you are away if everyone is comfortable with it.

For more information on Children Home Alone and Babysitter Age Guidelines, this page from the National Child Care Information Center is useful. It lists some local community guidelines as examples of appropriate ages for being home alone. Basically, if your child is age seven or younger, they should never be left alone. Kids ages 8-10 can be alone briefly, and ages 10-13 for longer periods, provided there is back-up supervision. Babysitters should be at least 12-13 years old, and can babysit for longer periods as they grow older. Again, this is a very individual decision, and these ages are only general guidelines. You need to decide if your child is mature enough.

What do I need to know about having an older sibling sit for my younger kids?
If you plan to have your older child babysit for your younger children, it would be a good idea for them to take the American Red Cross babysitter class and become familiar with sitter safety information.

How do I decide between all the different types of care?

Here’s a chart to help you weigh some of the advantages and disadvantages:

Type of care:

Pros:

Cons:

Center-based

  • Centers are licensed
  • Care is usually structured and predictable
  • Staff will be stable in a well-run center
  • Usually open year-round
  • May be less oriented to individual child if group is large
  • Usually expensive
  • May have high staff turnover

Family day care

  • Usually reasonable in cost
  • Family day care is licensed
  • Consistent caregiver and small groups allow close relationships to form
  • Quality of care and skills of caregiver vary greatly
  • May have to find substitute care when caregiver is ill or on vacation

In-home (nanny or au pair)

  • Usually very flexible
  • Child may get more individual attention than in group care
  • Usually caregiver will care for sick child, so parent does not have to miss work
  • Usually most expensive type of care
  • Parents need to take on responsibilities of an employer, supervise daily activities, keep records, and pay taxes

Relative or friend

  • Usually most affordable
  • Often flexible hours
  • May be conflicts over how to care for the child

School-aged care (at or near an elementary school site before and after school and during vacation time)

  • Provides safety, adult supervision, and peer companionship
  • Children supervised after school may be less at risk for social problems
  • Cost is higher than leaving child alone, to care for self
  • Some older kids may not like being in an organized program

How do I go about finding childcare, and making sure it’s a quality program?

Here are some tools to help in the search for quality care:

Where can I get information about childcare for babies?

If you are planning to work after your baby is born, you should shop around for childcare while you are pregnant.  Choose several quality programs (see below) and get on their waiting lists, even if you have arranged for Grandma or a friend to care for the baby.  Waits can be as long as a year and a half for daycare for babies!

What if I want to breastfeed my baby and work?

Breastfeeding while working is a challenging balancing act, but well worth it for you and your baby. The level of support for breastfeeding varies greatly from one workplace to the next and it can be a difficult issue to discuss with your employer. 

What is preschool?

Another option for childcare is preschool.  These are usually half-day programs.  For some things to consider when looking for a quality preschool program, read The Preschool Classroom—Room to Improve.  Check out these ten signs of a great preschool.

What is Head Start?

Some families may qualify for Head Start Programs, which are enrichment programs for low-income children in the pre-kindergarten age groups. Find out more about giving your child a Head Start (also in Spanish: Dele A Su Hijo La Ventaja Educativa Inicial De Head Start

How can you get your child into Head Start?  Get the answer, and find a Head Start program near you.  The Children's Defense Fund offers more Head Start resources.

What should I do to get my child ready to start in a new childcare setting?

You definitely need to begin to prepare your child before their first day.  Make sure they have time to visit the center and play a little, so it's familiar.  It can really help to read children's books about daycare together.  Make sure your child gets to meet the new care provider before the first day.  When that first day finally arrives, here are some tips to help it go smoothly.  Your child may have some trouble adjusting, but there are many things you can do to help.

What about toilet training while my child is going to day care?

Parents often wonder about how toilet training at home translates to the childcare center. In order to help children learn to toilet most effectively, the care provider and parent should act as a team.  You should share with your caregiver what you are doing at home and how your child is responding.  Keep the program as consistent as possible between home and day care.  Your care provider may also have a great deal of experience and be a helpful resource for you as your child learns to use the potty. 

What about finding childcare for kids with special needs?

Choosing quality childcare for a child with special needs—this pamphlet, also available in Spanish, will help answer your questions.  Read more in this article about the benefits of inclusive programs. If your child needs medication while in day care or preschool, here is a medication information form that is helpful.

What if my kids are already in daycare, and I just want to know more, or I'm having problems with child care?

What are the drawbacks to having my child in day care?

Although it's unpopular to say it, there is mounting evidence that child care has disadvantages for children over being with a parent. Leading experts are beginning to draw attention to this fact.  Even most good daycare programs do not do a good enough job of fostering kids’ emotional development.  There’s just not enough time for caregivers to give kids individual attention.  Also, children usually have many different caregivers, and don’t get to form strong attachments.  Kids tend to enter school with good academic skills, but poor social skills.  According to child psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan, kids are increasingly aggressive, antisocial, depressed, and lacking in empathy and the ability to handle conflict. 

The Irreducible Needs of Children, a book by Stanley Greenspan and pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton encourages parents to limit the time spent in childcare in a child’s early, crucial developmental years. The authors suggest alternatives to full-time work and call for a national policy more supportive to parents.  Stanley Greenspan has written another book called The Four-thirds Solution: Solving the Childcare Crisis in America Today.  He puts forth the idea that in two-parent families, if each parent could cut back from full-time work to two-thirds-time, the family’s need for childcare would go down to only one-third of the time. 

You may want to consider how much your second income actually costs to help you evaluate how much you are gaining financially from your second income.  In many cases, it’s less than you might think, once you factor in all the expenses of working.

What are some alternatives to traditional workdays that would reduce our family’s need for childcare?

While many parents want or need to work outside the home full-time, there are alternatives to the traditional career path.  How your family chooses to balance work and kids is an important decision, and will require much thought and discussion.  How can you reduce the amount of time you spend at work and/or the amount of child care your children need?  Here are some options to consider:

Where can I get more information and support relating to childcare?

Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan.
Updated June 2010

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