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Health & Baby

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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:

  • The location, price, and hours of operation, and whether there is a waiting list.
  • Age ranges of children. Also ask about the child-to-teacher ratio and the total group size.
  • Types of activities and educational programs offered.
  • Whether there are extra costs for late pick-up, food, supplies, and other things.

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.

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