An Overview of Child Care

A preschool teacher reading to two toddlers

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Finding quality child care is one of the most important issues parents face. Deciding who will watch your child while you are at work, at a doctor's appointment, or simply out for dinner can be a stressful and overwhelming decision. Child care comes in many forms and looks different for each family.

When to Seek Child Care

For many parents, the decision to seek child care is triggered by the end of parental leave. Parental leave varies by state and country. Current United States maternity leave policy is directed by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), which includes a provision mandating 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborn or newly adopted children. Many parents cannot afford to take unpaid leave and end up going back to work earlier than 12 weeks, leaving new parents looking for child care for their infant.

Different Types of Child Care Providers

Child care providers are individuals who care for and provide supervision for children from age 6 weeks and up. Each child care provider is unique, but they all share a love for children. Your choice of child care providers may be dependent on your child's age, your family's needs and your location.

Daycare Providers

Daycare is where parents drop off their children during the day for care, supervision, and learning. Daycares are formal, structured environments with specific drop-off and pick-up times. Daycare centers specialize in the care of infants through preschool-aged children, although some daycares also offer before-and after-school care for school-aged children.

In-Home Care Providers

In-home child care is where families pay to bring their child to the home of an adult, who looks after children on a regular and ongoing basis. This child care option is different than a nanny because children are brought to the caregiver's home for care.


A nanny is employed by a family in either a live-in or live-out basis. A nanny comes to the family's home to provide care and supervision for a child or children. A nanny share is an option where one nanny provides care for two or more unrelated children in one of the family's homes.


A babysitter is employed by a family to temporarily care for children. Babysitters may be hired regularly or on occasion. A babysitter is responsible for the safety and well-being of the children.


Once your child is old enough to attend school, teachers will be providing child care. Teachers are role models for children and provide support, encouragement, and a safe environment. It is important for parents to have a positive relationship with their child's teachers and keep open communication.

How to Choose a Child Care Situation That’s Right for You

Choosing which child care situation works best for your family requires you to sit down as a family and discuss your unique situation. Some questions to think about are:

  • Do you need a full-time or part-time childcare provider arrangement?
  • Does your family work traditional hours or is a caregiver expected to work early, late, or weekends?
  • If part-time, do the days when care is needed remain consistent, or does a child care provider need to be flexible on days worked?
  • What is your family's budget for child care?
  • How old is your child and what is your comfort level with placing her in a particular child care provider setting at this age?
  • Does your child have any special conditions or needs and is he better suited for a smaller, more intimate childcare provider environment such as in-home care, or does he thrive in larger classes with a great selection of activities that can be found in a traditional day care setting?

Depending on the answers to those questions, you can begin to research what options are best for your family. Before determining what type of child care provider set-up you desire, determine what you can afford. A nanny, for example, will most likely cost much more than placing a child in an in-home center. While day care centers often accept newborns, some parents prefer a different type of setting for infants than they do as their child gets older.

Parents know their children best and should choose situations that best allow them to thrive and grow. When looking at your options, think about your child's needs and age and whether he or she will flourish at home with a nanny or in a group setting, such as a traditional daycare.

Costs and Financing Options for Child Care

It is no surprise that child care costs vary greatly by type of care. These costs also vary by location, age of children, and for nanny costs, it will differ it you are in a nanny share or you have more than one child in your family.

Traditional Day Care for Babies and Toddlers

The average cost of center-based day care in the United States is $11,666 per year ($972 a month), but prices range from $3,582 to $18,773 a year ($300 to $1,564 monthly), according to the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA).

Traditional Day Care for Preschoolers

Costs for day care for preschool-age children are generally lower, averaging $8,800 a year ($733 a month). Depending on where you live, you will pay anywhere from $4,460 to $13,185 a year ($371 to $1,100 a month).

In-home Care for Babies and Toddlers

Similar to traditional day care, costs of in-home day care depend on the age of your child and where you live. The average in-home day care charges about $7,761 a year ($646 a month) for babies and toddlers. Prices start at $3,582 a year and go up to $11,940 a year ($300 to $995 a month) but in large cities this cost will likely be higher.

In-home Care for Preschoolers

For preschool-age children, the average cost for home day care is $7,627 a year ($636 a month). Prices range from $3,780 a year to $12,000 a year ($315 to $1,000 a month).

Nanny and Nanny Share

Depending on where you live, how many children you have, and what the competition is for qualified candidates, nannies cost anywhere from $500 to $700 a week ($2,167 to $3,033 a month) for full-time care for one child and between about $400 and $650 a week ($1,733 to $2,817 a month) for part-time hours. In a nanny share, the child care costs are cut because the nanny is sharing time between the children.


Babysitter costs depend on various factors, such as how many children are being watched, the experience level of the babysitter; if the babysitter is doing additional work; and if the babysitter is being hired for a special occasion, such as holiday or a vacation.

Preparing for Child Care

The first few weeks that your child is in daycare or with a nanny is a transition period for the whole family. Both you and your child will have to adjust to the schedule, the new faces, and the new situation. You will fair better if you expect some bumps in the road.

Preparing For Day Care or In-home Care

Before the first day of dayc are or in-home care, make sure to find out what you need to bring with you. This list will differ depending on the age of your child. Before your child turns 1, you will need to supply the day care with bottles of formula or pumped breast milk to feed your baby throughout the day.

Once your child begins eating solids, find out the policy for food. Do you supply the food or does the daycare provide food? If your child is a baby, the day care may follow the eating and sleeping schedule you dictate, but if your child is older, the day care may have set snack, lunch, and nap times, so ask about schedules in advance.

Preparing For a Nanny

Before you begin with a nanny, it is beneficial to have a trial day, or at least a few hours where your child spends time with the nanny and you can show the nanny around your home. Write out a schedule with your child's eating and sleeping schedule. Consistency between caregivers is important for child development and having a routine is beneficial for children.

Dealing With Child Care Transition Challenges

Starting day care or having a nanny come into your home every day is a big change for the whole family. It is normal for both parents and children to feel sad, anxious, excited, or a slew of other emotions during this adjustment period. Don't be surprised if you encounter emotional, mental, physical, or logistical challenges during this transition.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is when a baby or toddler cries or becomes upset when the primary caregiver is out of sight or leaves them with another caregiver. Separation anxiety is a developmentally normal reaction for a child with a new childcare provider. It can begin as early as 6 months.

Separation anxiety does not only happen when first beginning with a new child care provider. Many kids have separation anxiety even if they have been in day care or with a nanny for a period of time. You can help your child with their separation anxiety by having a clear and consistent goodbye routine and reading books about separating from parents.


If you are a breastfeeding mom, the transition of returning to work and putting your child in child care, has an extra layer of planning. It is important to think about your options in terms of pumping at work, weaning, and supplementing with formula. Discuss your breastfeeding plans with your Human Resources Department or employer to make sure there is adequate space for you to pump. Many moms continue to breastfeed and pump while they go back to work, but it may come with some challenges.


Paying for child care is a huge expense for most parents. A study by Child Care Aware stated that for many families the cost of child care often exceeds the cost of housing, college tuition, transportation, or food. It is important to look at your finances and budget accordingly for child care.


Another issue that may arise when beginning child care is dealing with transportation logistics and figuring out drop-off and pick-up times with your partner. One of the benefits of a nanny is that you do not have to drop your child anywhere. If you choose day care, be sure to know the drop-off and pick-up times. Ask about flexibility with times and if any fees are incurred if you are late to pick-up.

Returning-to-Work Emotions

Leaving your child with a caregiver triggers different emotions for different people. You may feel sad to be away from home, worried you're missing milestones or other important moments in your child's life. Many working parents deal with some guilty feelings when they leave their child in another person's care and supervision. You may also feel envious of your child's caregiver.

If you are lucky enough to have a satisfying career you feel passionate about, going back to the office may feel comforting, exciting, and stimulating. Those type of feelings can lead to a different kind of guilt, where you feel badly that you do not want to be home with your child.

As with many emotions related to parenting, it's hard to know how you will feel about it until you experience it. No matter what form your feelings take, they are all normal. Returning to work is a major transition filled with many conflicting emotions. It is natural to be both sad to leave your baby but also happy to get back to your work environment.

By Jill Ceder, LMSW, JD
Jill Ceder, LMSW, JD is a psychotherapist working with women, children, adolescents, couples and families.