First Time User? Enroll now.
As the COVID-19 situation has evolved, our visitor policy is evolving as well. Get full details.
For the most current information, please visit our Coronavirus resource pages.
Home > Health Library > Choosing 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.
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.
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:
Federal and state laws allow equal access to public education and other services such as speech and physical therapy for children with disabilities or certain conditions that require special care. Find out which laws apply to your child and how to get available services. Contact your local government's mental health office or your state department of education.
Children need time to adjust to child care. It is common for a child to cling or cry when a parent leaves. But you can take steps to help your child do well in child care.
If you spend time with your child and are calm and loving, he or she will be more likely to adjust to and enjoy child care.
When you start looking for child care, narrow down your choices by considering practical issues as well as your child's needs. Do you need an individual or group care provider? Or do you need an after-school program or camp to fill in gaps between school hours and your work schedule? Here are some other questions to consider:
Visit the facility or caregiver's home, and get involved in any special activities. Watch the interaction between caregivers and children. Make sure you feel comfortable with your decision.
Have a clear idea about what type of person you are looking for. It may be helpful to:
There are two basic ways to find an individual child care provider:
It's important to interview potential providers. Use a phone interview for the initial screening. Ask questions about their work experience, their references, and whether they have questions for you.
When you have narrowed down your selection, conduct a personal interview with each of your top choices. Allow enough time for the applicant to be introduced to your child.
Be sure to check the references of your top choices. Ask each reference how long he or she has known the provider, specifics of the provider's duties, and why the employment ended.
Choose a babysitter or mother's helper by asking friends and other caregivers you trust. You may also want to ask for recommendations from a local organization, such as the YMCA.
Before you hire a teen to watch your child:
Schedule a meeting with the caregiver and your child, and watch how they interact. Some caregivers may not have confidence. This doesn't mean they will not ever be able to watch your child. But it may mean that you will need to have a few babysitting dates while you are present before leaving them on their own.
Classes help babysitters prepare for the responsibilities of watching your child. They can also provide valuable skills in case of an emergency, such as first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) training. Classes often are available through local agencies, churches, hospitals, or schools.
If you use an individual care provider for your family on a regular basis, you may be obligated to comply with employer rules and regulations of the federal, state, and local governments. Call the United States Department of Labor (1-866-4-USA-DOL [1-866-487-2365]) for information about your responsibilities.
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:
At the start of a new child care routine, it's common for a child to show some signs of anxiety, such as clinging or crying when you leave. With your child's needs in mind, try to ease the transition.
Make sure your child is immunized. Illnesses and disease can spread easily among a group of children. Keep your child's immunizations up to date and give a copy of the record to your child care provider. For more information on childhood immunizations, see the topic Immunizations.
If at any time you suspect your child may not be safe, immediately remove him or her from the situation. Notify the proper authorities if you suspect abuse.
Budgeting for child care takes work. Plan ahead and think about your future child care expenses as far in advance as possible. Keep in mind that it may take time to process applications or that there may be a waiting list, especially if you are trying to qualify for financial assistance.
Child care referral agencies or other experts (such as some state or federal government agencies) can help you research your options for child care financial aid. Some general options may include:footnote 1
Brainstorm ideas about ways you might be able to reduce the number of hours of child care you need or about ways to pay for it, such as:
Ask providers if they require a written contract. If you pick a provider who doesn't use a contract, prepare one yourself. Include the hours of care, payments, and other details that are important to you. Keep a copy with your records.
Whether you choose an individual care provider or a group care setting, make sure you communicate and have an understanding with your care provider about expected behavior, discipline methods, and appropriate activities.
Child care changes will occur and will require careful planning. As children grow, their needs change. Also, personal preferences, a move, or other life events may require a different arrangement. Allow time for both you and your child to adjust by talking about it ahead of time. You may want to plan something special for your child's last day at the child care center, such as bringing treats and taking pictures.
Talk with your child about what to expect. Stress the positive parts of the change, but acknowledge the challenges.
Some parents worry that the relationship with their child will suffer for having another caregiver. Another common concern of parents is whether children will develop and learn to their potential in a child care setting.
The quality of the child care, the type of care (for example, group or individual), and how much time a child spends in child care have an effect on a child's development. But it is not as great as the effect that you have on your child.footnote 2 You have a big impact during the times that you are with your child. Spend quality time with your child whenever you can. For example, have meals together and do fun things that help your child learn and grow in healthy ways.
Your child is more likely to become ill when he or she is frequently with other children. The spread of many diseases can be reduced by practicing healthy hygiene habits regardless of what type of child care arrangement you have.
Plan what you will do if your regular provider cannot keep your child or if your child is sick. Children with mild upper respiratory illnesses such as minor colds usually can attend child care. (Usually, mild upper respiratory illnesses are spread before symptoms develop.) Keep your child at home if he or she has a condition that prevents attending child care, such as a fever or a rash.
Some cities have child care centers just for sick children.
Child Care Aware (2009). Finding Help Paying for Child Care. Available online: http://ccapub.childcareaware.org/docs/pubs/110e.pdf.
Sosinsky LS, Gilliam WS (2011). Child care: How pediatricians can support children and families. In RM Kleigman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., online chap. 15. Philadelphia: Saunders. Available online: http://www.expertconsult.com.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Early education and child care. In SP Shelov et al., eds., Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, 5th ed., pp. 421–456. New York: Bantam.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Finding a sitter. Available online: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/work-play/Pages/Finding-a-Sitter.aspx.
Bauer NS (2011). Nonparental childcare. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 364–366. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care, American Academy of Pediatrics (2005, reaffirmed 2009). Quality early education and child care from birth to kindergarten. Pediatrics, 115(1): 187–191.
Moran D (2009). Childcare. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 159–163. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (2006). The NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Available online: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/publications/pubs/upload/seccyd_06.pdf.
Current as of:
September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.