Types of Child Care
Choosing a child care arrangement is a very personal decision for parents. It is one of the most important decisions a parent can make since the care children receive influences their future development.
There are three basic types of child care: child care centers, child care homes, and child care in your own home. This section describes these basic types and also outlines some additional child care programs that may be available in your community: before and after school care; vacation and summer programs; sick child/back-up/emergency care; part-day preschool programs and nursery schools; programs for children with special needs; and the Head Start Program.
Child Care Centers
A child care center provides care for groups of children by a staff of caregivers. The staff have some type of early childhood education training. Centers are generally licensed by the state. Centers are either privately operated for profit by a chain or individual, or operated by non-profit agencies, such as churches, public schools, government agencies, or non-profit vendors. (See the licensing section, and the directories of State and local agencies that can help you locate child care centers in your area.)
Child Care Homes
A child care home provides care for a small group of children in the caregiver's home. These homes are registered or licensed in most States. (See the licensing section, and the directories of State and local agencies that can help you locate child care homes in your area.)
Child Care in Your Own Home
This type of care takes place in your own home. The caregiver may be a baby-sitter, a professional "nanny" trained to care for young children, a student "au pair" who lives in your home, or another caregiver who has some experience with young children. Parents need to check references carefully. When using in-home care, you become an employer, which requires special considerations. As an employer, you are responsible for Federal Unemployment Insurance and Social Security taxes. In many States you must provide Workers' Compensation and State Unemployment Insurance.
Before and After School Care
There are various options for before and after school care. Programs in your community may be operated by child care centers, recreation centers, churches, and youth organizations, such as Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), Boys Clubs of America, Girls Inc., and Camp Fire, Inc. In many communities, schools provide after school care, sometimes called "extended day care" programs.
If your school does not currently provide such a program, your school's principal or Parent Teachers Association (PTA) may be aware of parents' associations that are working in your community to get such programs started or to find other affordable options for school-age care. The resource and referral agencies listed in this publication will assist you in finding before and after school care. In addition, the School-Age Child Care Project of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women and Project Home Safe located in the Federal Organizations section of this publication can provide you with booklets and other information on finding school-age care for your child.
Vacation and Summer Programs
Vacation and summer programs are usually for school-age children, although in some areas they are also available for preschool children. These programs provide a variety of activities such as arts and crafts, swimming, drama, and organized sports. Vacation or summer programs are often operated by the local parks and recreation departments, community organizations, and child care centers.
Sick Child/Back-Up/Emergency Care
All children get sick from time to time. Most child care centers have policies about sick children and very few allow children with contagious diseases to attend. Some day care centers set aside space to care for mildly ill children. These centers usually have a nurse on staff or on call. The need for such sick child day care centers has produced many centers opened around the country. To find out if there is a center in your area, contact the National Association of Sick Child Day Care Centers, (205) 324-8447.
Caregivers also can get sick. Child care centers generally make arrangements for substitutes when a caregiver is ill; however, if you choose a child care home, you will need to ask if the caregiver has plans for someone to care for your child when the caregiver is sick. It is a good idea to plan for back-up care. When looking for back-up care, you may want to consider child care centers and homes, neighbors, close friends, or local college students. Discuss your needs for back-up care with potential providers beforehand to be sure they will be available when you need them. It is a good idea to complete the necessary documents and decide on any fees before you need the back-up care.
Part-day Preschool Programs and Nursery Schools
Part-day preschool programs and nursery schools are group child care programs which operate less than a full day. These programs are located in a variety of settings, including churches, public schools, and child care centers. State licensing regulations may be different for programs operating less than a full-day schedule. This type of care, generally for children two and a half to five years of age, provides an opportunity for interaction with other children of similar ages. These programs usually follow the same academic year and holiday schedules as the public schools.
Programs for Children with Special Needs
Finding child care for children with disabilities can be especially challenging for parents. However, information and assistance is available from national and community organizations and parent groups to make the search easier. One of the organizations that can help parents of special needs children find child care is the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY).
NICHCY can send you free of charge two very useful publications, A Parent's Guide: Accessing Programs for Infants, Toddlers, and Pre-schoolers with Disabilities and A Parent's Guide: Accessing Parent Groups. NICHCY can also send you a State Resource Sheet that lists the addresses and phone numbers of the agencies and organizations in your State that can assist parents of children with disabilities, and a National Resource Sheet that lists addresses and phone numbers of the national disabilities organizations and clearinghouses. NICHCY's toll-free phone number is 1-800-695-0285.
It is also important to note that regardless of your child's specific disability; you may always call the local office of any of the national disabilities organizations, such as United Cerebral Palsy Association, National Down Syndrome Society, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Spina Bifida Association of America, and March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation.
The staff of these and other disability organizations generally know about the services provided in their communities and can usually help parents even if their child has a disability different from the one that is the focus of the organization.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers child care centers and family day care homes. Information about the requirements of the ADA, as well as informal guidance in understanding and complying with the ADA, can be obtained by contacting the U.S. Department of Justice, Public Access Section of the Civil Rights Division, P.O. Box 66738, Washington, DC 20035-6738, (202) 514-0301.
Head Start Program
Head Start is a nationwide federally funded early childhood program for low-income preschool children, primarily ages three to five. It is designed to provide comprehensive services in preparation for public school. Services include cognitive and language development, medical, dental, mental health, nutritional, and social services. The program places particular emphasis on parental involvement. For information about specific eligibility requirements, contact your local department of social services.