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Topic Overview

What is child care?

Child care is short-term care by someone other than a parent. There are two basic types of child care: individual and group.

  • Individual providers care for only your child or children. The provider may be a family member or friend, a nanny, an au pair, or a babysitter.
  • Group providers care for your child and other people's children. Your child may attend a small or large home day care, a child care cooperative, or a child care center such as a preschool or Montessori school.

Finding good child care can seem overwhelming and a bit scary. It is an important decision. But if you take your time and do some research, you can find a place where your child can play, learn, and be well taken care of.

How can you find good child care?

When choosing child care, consider your child's safety, how much you can afford to pay, and your daily routine.

When choosing child care, make sure that it is:

  • Safe. Check that it is licensed with your state (also called registration or certification). Licensing guidelines vary by state. So make sure that all care providers know how to handle emergencies and are trained in first aid and CPR. Also, ask for references. Get the names of people and agencies you can talk to about the care center's safety record.
  • Right for your child's age, skill level, and natural outlook. Ask what ages of children go to the care center. Think about whether your child would do best at home, in a family home setting, or in a group center. For example, a child who makes friends easily may do well in a group center. A shy child may do better in a small, home-based center.
  • Right for your family's values. Ask what kind of learning programs the center has. Think about whether these fit with your family's beliefs and values.
  • Well staffed. Make sure there are enough staff members to care for the number of children at the center. Ask if caregivers are able to give each child one-on-one attention as needed. Check that the main caregivers and program directors are trained in child development and have a college degree or are otherwise highly experienced. Also, find out how long staff members have worked there. It can be upsetting for a child if the staff changes often.
  • Caring. Watch how the staff works with the children and if they are kind and caring with them. A good caregiver helps your child learn, interact, and solve problems while protecting him or her from making choices that could be harmful.
  • Affordable. In the United States you can deduct part of child care costs from your state and federal income taxes. Your employer also may offer benefits or help with child care. Or you may qualify for a reduced rate at some child care centers.
  • Reliable and consistent. You'll want to know that your provider will be available when needed. Have written agreements outlining specific hours, holidays, and other breaks.
  • Convenient. Think about the location of the care center and whether the hours work well with your schedule.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 14, 2012
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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