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Choosing Child Care - Group Child Care Providers

Types of group child care

  • Child care cooperative. Child care cooperatives or babysitting cooperatives are set up and run by parents, usually for occasional child care. But some cooperatives provide regular child care for their members. Parents usually take turns watching each other's children instead of paying money for child care. This often works well for parents who have a flexible schedule, work part-time, or work at home.
  • Child care in someone's home. Family child care may offer more flexibility than larger group care centers, but quality varies among providers. All family child care operations should be registered or licensed in the state, even if it is not legally required. (Some states exempt family child care operations from licensing requirements.) Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommendations for safe child-to-teacher ratios and group size, each state creates its own regulations.
  • Child care center. Centers that provide care for groups of children vary in size, setting, programs, and types of activities. Get a list of child care centers in your region from your state licensing bureau. Each state sets its own licensing standards. Some are lax, and others are very strict. Child care centers are sometimes called nursery schools, preschools, Head Start, Montessori schools, or day care centers.

Selecting a group child care provider

Begin your search by asking friends and family and using your local library and newspaper. You also may want to contact referral organizations and your doctor. See the Other Places to Get Help section of this topic for more information.

Choose a few providers you'd like to interview, and write down the questions you have. Do a first screening over the phone and take notes. Ask about or consider:

Set up a meeting with the director of each facility or home setting that passes your first screening. Plan enough time to take a tour and talk about their service guidelines, such as when payment is expected and scheduled closures. Make sure you are shown the entire facility or home. Notice whether the children appear happy and playful, and notice how they are treated by the care providers.

A child's environment should be safe, healthy, and clean. Make sure that staff are knowledgeable about preventing safety hazards and responding to emergencies. There should be:

High-quality staff and programs are also important:

  • Child care providers of high quality will have a solid educational background, which includes training in childhood development, and will have acquired years of experience working with children. Group care programs should have low teacher turnover. Caregivers should be warm and responsive to children.
  • Safe staff-child ratio will vary by age group. Higher-quality centers have low child-to-staff ratios and small total group size. Children are generally grouped by age: infants (birth to 12 months), toddlers (13 to 35 months), preschoolers (36 to 59 months), and school-aged (5 to 12 years of age).
  • Educational programs and activities should offer variety and appropriate indoor and outdoor activities to match the ages and developmental levels of the children.
  • Licensing should be a consideration. Although any program you consider should be licensed by your state, in itself licensing doesn't mean the care given is of high quality. Each state has different child care licensing requirements and enforcement procedures.
  • Accreditation is additional insurance that a child care facility is of high quality. Look for those programs that have or are in the process of obtaining accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 09, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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