Types of Childcare Providers

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Whether you are planning to return to the office full time or just need childcare on a part-time basis, there are a variety of childcare providers from which to choose. From nannies and au pairs to parent helpers and in-home daycare providers, the plethora of choices is extensive.

This means you are likely to find just what you need at a price that meets your budgetary constraints. Keep reading to learn more about the different types of childcare providers available as well as what to look for. We even provide you with ideas on how to subsidize the cost when needed.

Types of Childcare Providers

When it comes to picking a childcare provider for your child, there are a lot of options from which to choose. Whether you only need help part-time or you want someone to watch your kids in your home around the clock, there are options for every need and budget. Here is a closer look at the most common types of childcare providers.

Daycare Providers

Daycare is a childcare option where parents drop off their children during the day for care, supervision, and learning. Traditional daycare centers are formal, structured environments with specific drop-off and pick-up times.

Daycare centers specialize in the care of infants through preschoolers, although some daycare facilities also offer before- and after-school care for school-age children as well. Each daycare has different rules, but many will take babies as young as 3 months.

Some daycare centers transport children to and home from school, while others also provide transportation to certain extracurricular offerings or sports programs. Many daycares have formal schedules, like a school, when children become toddler age. And although most daycare centers are national or regional chains, you will find some that are privately owned.

Be sure to check with your state to determine regulations, licensing, or accreditation requirements. The daycare director should also be able to tell you what type of education and training teachers have received as well as what you can expect day-to-day.

In-Home Care Providers

In-home childcare, also known as family care, is a childcare option where families pay to bring their child to the home of an adult who provides childcare on a regular, ongoing basis. This option is different than a nanny because the caregiver does not go to the child's home. States often limit the number of children who can be cared for in a home environment.

Plus, home childcare providers should be licensed by the state, and individuals should have basic training in first aid, safety, and childcare. Many in-home providers also have training in early childhood education and will provide educational opportunities throughout the day. Some even provide meals while others require that you bring meals and snacks for your child.

Nanny

A nanny is an individual employed by a family in either a live-in or live-out situation. The essential function of a nanny is to be responsible for all care of the children in the home in a largely unsupervised setting.

Nannies can be found through a nanny agency, a website, or through word of mouth and recommendations. A nanny's duties are focused on childcare and any household chores or tasks related to the children, such as doing laundry and preparing food.

A nanny may or may not have any formal training; however, many nannies have years of experience working with children. A nanny may work full-time (40 or more hours a week), part-time, or may be involved in a nanny share.

Au Pair

If you think you might enjoy live-in childcare for your family as well as exposure to another culture and language, you may want to consider an au pair. Often considered part of the family, an au pair's duties can include anything related to caring for the children, but usually do not include housework or cleaning.

In the U.S., the host family provides room and board for the au pair as well as a stipend in exchange for a set number of childcare hours. These hours are firmly established up front, often include weekends off, and require the host family to abide by them.

If you are interested in an au pair, you must hire one through one of a dozen or more approved agencies regulated by the U.S. Department of State. Keep in mind, that the expenses typically include the stipend, plus agency fees and travel expenses.

Relative Care

Many people turn to a relative such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, or other family member to help with the children. You may find this type of care preferable because someone you already know is caring for your child.

But, this type of arrangement can also add potential stress to a family relationship especially if you find is hard to communicate your expectations. You also may run into difficulties if your parenting styles differ.

Sometimes family members will agree to watch your child for free. But be sure you discuss some form of payment or compensation for their time and effort. You want to be sure that your family member feels appreciated and that they do not feel taken advantage of.

Babysitter

A babysitter is an individual who temporarily cares for children on behalf of the children's parents or guardians. A babysitter is responsible for the safety and wellbeing of the children.

They also may be responsible for planning activities or supervising playdates. Other babysitters may cook, clean, help with homework, or drive children to scheduled activities. Be sure to discuss specific responsibilities before hiring a babysitter.

Most babysitting jobs are considered part-time jobs and are paid by the hour, either on specific occasions or according to a regular schedule. What's more, many babysitter's have completed first aid training although this is usually not a state requirement. If this is a skill you want your babysitter to have, be sure to discuss it up front.

Parent Helper

A parent helper is an individual who helps out a parent or family needing extra care with their children while the parent is at home. Sometimes the parent simply wants an extra set of hands during the day, especially if they have more than one child. Other times, the parent may be working from home and need to someone to care for the kids while they tend to work responsibilities.

This role is often held by young people who are just getting started with babysitting or looking to make some extra money without the time commitment of being a nanny or full-time babysitter. Usually, parent helpers are in middle school, high school, or even college and the time commitment per day is usually smaller than a full-time nanny.

A parent helper works under some supervision to handle childcare, homework help, meal preparation, and even light housework. The responsibilities of the parent helper should be agreed upon in advance so that the person knows what is expected of them.

Camp Counselor

During the summer, camp counselors may take on a role as a childcare provider for your kid. There are various camps for kids of all ages and with different interests. Camp counselors are often high school or college students who supervise a group of children or direct a particular activity.

Camp counselors can also be role models for children, and many kids form strong bonds with their camp counselors in both day camps and sleep-away camps. If you are looking for summer childcare for your school-age or older children, this can be a good option that not only provides care for your kids but can be an enriching environment as well.

What to Look for In Childcare Providers

Choosing the right childcare option for your family is one of the most important—and challenging—decisions you will make. Whether you choose a nanny, in-home childcare, or a daycare center, all options should meet a certain set of criteria including everything from licensing and experience to programming, nutrition, and even warmth.

To help you evaluate childcare providers, the U.S. Office of Child Care indicates that there are 15 must-haves that every childcare provider should have. They even provide a printable list to help make your evaluation process more efficient.

Overall, when visiting a potential childcare site or interviewing a potential provider, you want to evaluate their licensing, credentials, experience, and guidelines. You also want to look at how they interact with your child as well as other children in their care. Ideally, you want to find a site or a person who is both warm and welcoming.

You also want to make sure their approach to childcare aligns with your own parenting philosophies.

In other words, how do they comfort fussy babies at nap time or preschoolers that act out? You want to be sure that they will interact with your child in a way that is consistent with your parenting. Try to find out how they approach illnesses, too.

For instance, if you are looking at a daycare center or in-home daycare, do they have sick-child policy? Or, if you are planning to hire a nanny or an au pair, what happens if they get sick? Is there a backup plan to care for your child?

Finally, be sure to trust your gut. Even if everyone in town is raving about a particular daycare center or a nanny comes highly recommended, if something does not feel right, trust your instincts. You know what is right for your family and your child. And, if you enter into a situation and realize it's not what you anticipated, don't be afraid to make a change.

What to Do About the Cost

Sometimes finding the resources to pay for childcare can feel overwhelming. In fact, data indicates that child care expenses amount to 35% of low-income families’ earnings.

Fortunately, there are several financial assistance programs available that can help families who qualify subsidize or even pay for childcare. Although it may take a little legwork to see what is available to you, it might be worth the effort. Here are some options you can look into to help you pay for childcare.

State-Run Programs

Each state in the U.S. offers child care assistance programs that are funded by the federal government. But, the eligibility is different depending on your location. The best place to start is by checking with your local child care resource and referral agency. They can let you know what is available in your area.

Another option is to visit the Child Care Aware of America (CCAA) site and use their map to select your state. Once you select your state, you will be able to see all the childcare resources there.

Military Assistance

If someone in your family is in the military, you may eligible for assistance in paying for childcare. Even some daycare centers provide discounts for military families. To find out what type of financial assistance you might qualify for, you can check with your particular branch of the military.

Or, you can visit the government's Office of Child Care website to find out more. Their website provides you with information on each branch of the military.

Nanny-Share Programs and Childcare Co-ops

With a nanny-share program, two or more families share the cost of a single nanny. In some scenarios, the nanny watches all of the kids together. In other cases, the nanny alternates between families based on needs and work schedules.

A nanny-share is a good option for families who do not need full-time daycare or for neighbors, friends, or relatives with similar work schedules. And, because two or more families are paying the cost, they end up paying less for childcare than they would in other situations.

Meanwhile, with a childcare co-op, a group of parents that know and trust one another take turns caring for each other's kids. Usually, there is no money involved. Instead, parents provide free childcare in exchange for childcare.

These arrangements work well for parents who work part-time or have different schedules. If a co-op does not exist in your area, you may want to organize one on your own. They can be a beneficial and cost-saving option for families but it is important to establish clear guidelines to ensure everyone benefits and that no one takes advantage of the system.

Employer-Based Programs

When it comes to employer-based childcare, the options vary greatly depending on the employer. For instance, some employers offer onsite childcare, while others will allow you to work from home all of the time or at least part of the time.

Some employers will even allow you to work an alternative schedule so that you and your partner (or another family member) can work different hours so that you each can be with the children at different times—sometimes even eliminating the need for childcare.

Finally, some employers offer childcare assistance or are willing to pay for summer camps for school-age kids. These types of programs help offset the cost of childcare for their employees. Some employers will even allow families to take their kids on business trips (and still reimburse you for your expenses).

Tax Credits

Many working parents qualify for the child and dependent care tax credit (CDCTC). This credit, which is based on your income, subsidizes a percentage of what you pay for childcare.

Normally, the dollar limit is $3,000 for a qualifying person. But you can get up to $6,000 if you have more than one child in an eligible childcare facility.

That said, in 2021 the American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the benefit from the CDCTC. Families can receive up to $4,000 for a qualifying person and up to $8,000 for two or more. The full benefit is available for families with incomes up to $125,000.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to choosing childcare for your family, it is important to realize that there is no one-size-fits-all. Choosing the best childcare option for your children is a very personal decision based on a variety of factors. The key is to find a childcare method—or a combination of methods—that make sense for your family and fit within your budget.

Ask lots of questions, look for appropriate licenses, and ensure the providers meet health and safety requirements when researching your options. But most importantly, trust your gut. You know your children better than anyone else, so you will know what's right for them.

And, don't be afraid to make a change if something isn't working out. Needs and expectations change, so do not feel bad if you are not happy with your current childcare option and want to make a change. In the end, ensuring your child receives the type of care you want and at a price point that makes sense for your family is the most important variable in the relationship.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. National database of child care licensing regulations.

  2. U.S. Administration for Children & Families, Office of Child Care. Child care licensing and regulations.

  3. U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care. Selecting a child care program: Visiting and asking questions.

  4. Center for American Progress. Working families are spending big money on childcare.

  5. Child Care Aware of America. State-by-state resources.

  6. U.S. Administration for Children and Families, Office of Child Care. Child care financial assistance for military families.

  7. Internal Revenue Service. Topic No. 602 Child and Dependent Care Credit.

  8. Democratic Policy & Communications Committee. American Rescue Plan Expanding Tax Relief for Working Families.

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

Updated by
Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon

Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert. She's also a contributor to SleepCare.com and the former editor of Columbia Parent, with countless years of experience writing and researching health and social issues.

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