Why Drop-In Care May Help When You Need a Last-Minute Babysitter

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If a babysitter called to cancel two hours before an important appointment or event, most parents would be hard-pressed to find another sitter on such short notice. Thankfully, drop-in child care is available for just this type of situation.

More facilities than ever are offering parents a safe and affordable place for their children to be watched on short notice. In addition, they provide plenty of kid-centered fun for all ages.

Overview

As more and more busy families and single parents crave adult time or face a lack of available babysitters, drop-in childcare is gaining in popularity.

What Is Drop-In Child Care?

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), drop-in or short-term child care is defined by law as "a child care arrangement where care is provided while parents participate in activities that are not employment related, and where the parents are on the premises or otherwise easily accessible."

Drop-in care centers provide convenience and fun, so much so that many children consider it a "kids night out." Participants get to party at sock hops, safaris, rockfests, talent shows, luaus, and even diva parties while their parents utilize adult time.

Some drop-in child care centers are independently run. Others are offered as an amenity for patrons of larger facilities. Health clubs, shopping malls, spas, and resort hotels are all common places to find drop-in care. This can be a fun option for both kids and their parents, whether on vacation or close to home.

What to Look For

Drop-in child care centers are typically run very similar to traditional daycare, with a few exceptions. In most facilities, staff members receive the same type of training as daycare employees. In fact, many workers at daycare centers work part-time at drop-in centers for extra cash.

Credentials

But not all drop-in center staff teams are created equal. Be sure to check the credentials of staff members. HHS notes that drop-in centers are not licensed by federal or state agencies. They also don't operate under the same regulations that apply to other daycare facilities, so asking questions is essential to ensure your child's safety and your peace of mind.

Questions to Ask

Consider these key questions before leaving your kids at a drop-in center:

  • Are your staff first-aid and CPR trained?
  • Do you conduct criminal background checks on employees?
  • Do your staff have early childhood training and/or experience working with kids?
  • Do you offer meals and/or snacks?
  • What is the child-staff ratio?

Hours of Operation

Typically, drop-in care facilities are open until 9 or 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. or midnight on weekends. Some are open on Sundays; others are not. Later hours are often available for special occasions, such as New Year's Eve.

It's important to note that some (but not all) drop-in facilities require parents to stay on-site or be within a certain distance should any emergencies arise. Be sure to check with each center before deciding which one is a good fit.

Reservations

While "drop-in" means just that, parents who really must have childcare at a given time should call ahead and make a reservation. Making a reservation will ensure that your child has a slot when you need it.

Because centers should maintain certain child-staff ratios, they can become full and unable to admit more children. Most drop-in facilities also require reservations for infants for staffing purposes, so check with the facility first to find out their process.

Affordability

Surprisingly, most drop-in care centers charge about the same rate as adult babysitters who care for more than one child during evening or weekend hours. While the rate may be slightly higher if parents only have one child, families with multiple kids say it is often cheaper in the long run, once meals and snacks are factored in.

Costs for childcare typically range from $7 to $10 an hour, depending on a child's age. However, this varies in different parts of the country depending on supply and demand and cost-of-living expenses. You may also encounter a one-time or annual registration fee at some drop-in centers, ranging from $10 to $50.

The hourly cost for Monday–Friday care during typical work hours is usually more than the weekly rate of a typical daycare center. Keep in mind, though, that you are paying for the added convenience of dropping your child off as needed rather than committing to an ongoing schedule.

Drop-in care centers market to parents who need occasional, part-time, or weekend childcare as opposed to the traditional full-time care options offered by in-home providers or daycare centers. Some facilities even tout themselves as an "alternative daycare."

Pros and Cons

Many parents are more comfortable with using drop-in care than they are with employing teenage babysitters or someone who is not a member of the family. Others like the interaction kids will get with other children of similar age, the structured activities, and the convenience of having a meal served.

Other parents prefer the notion of having their kids at home and asleep at their regular bedtime so their regular routine is not disrupted. (That is, if the sitter can keep that routine in place when the parents are gone!)

Many families like knowing that the kids won't be running wild at home, eating chips on the couch, and watching TV all night. At drop-in care, they will most likely be engaged in group activities or create an art project. The security of knowing the center is available can bring parents peace of mind.

Regarding convenience, parents who are used to driving a sitter home probably won't mind a stop to collect their kids from drop-in care after an evening out. However, if your sitter has a driver's license, it may be more convenient for them to drive to and from your house.

Drop-in Child Care
  • Structured activities

  • Must drop off and pick up children

  • Break from a child's routine

  • Playing with other children

Babysitter
  • Usual activities at home

  • May need to pick up and drop off sitter

  • Minimal break in routine

  • May not be available when needed

A Word From Verywell

If you are thinking about using a drop-in care center, child care experts recommend introducing your child to the facility with a brief initial visit if possible. It's best not to wait for a last-minute need to register, complete all forms, and leave your child at a new place.

With a little preparation, you can help your child look forward to having fun at drop-in child care. Chances are that after the first time, youngsters and parents alike will be eager for a return visit.

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3 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. US Department of Health and Human Services. Drop-in short-term child care frequently asked questions (FAQs). What is drop-in/short-term child care?.

  2. Child Care Aware of America. Parents and the high cost of child care.

  3. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Daycare: Making it a good experience.