How to Find Quality In-Home Day Care for Your Children

Questions to Ask and What to Look for in a Provider

kids in daycare with provider
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In-home child care, also known as family or home day care, is a setting in which you pay a child care provider to take care of your child on a regular ongoing basis, in their home, sometimes with other children.

Some home day care providers have received training and some are state-licensed, but many are not. Generally, you can find in-home day care providers through word of mouth, by way of traditional marketing channels such as flyers passed around your neighborhood, or online.

Looking for the right child care provider to suit your child's and family's needs can be a laborious and daunting task. There are several options of providers available, many variables to mull over and some safety issues to consider.

How It Differs from Other Types of Child Care

The most common child care options for parents who want ongoing regular care are a nanny, an in-home day care, or a day care center. The right type of care differs from family to family and what is right for someone else may not be the right choice for you. Further explanation of the different types of childcare available is as follows:

Nanny

Nannies work in your home and typically only take care of one family's children. You may be able to find a nanny who works during the hours that you need, even if your hours are unusual or irregular.

Some nannies come to your house in the morning and leave in the evening, while others may occasionally stay overnight, and some may live-in. A nanny might also take on other duties, such as putting away the children's clothes, making their beds, or taking them to activities. If you hire a nanny, you can look for someone whose child-rearing value system is similar to your own. Nannies generally cost more than a day care.

Home Day Care

A home day care is usually offered in the provider's home. Home day care providers may take care of their own young children at the same time or may also take care of other children, in addition to yours. Generally, a home day care includes a small, mixed-age group of children.

You can expect your child to remain with the same caregiver throughout the day. Generally, in-home day care providers do not help you with errands, taking kids to activities or school, and do not usually offer overnight care. Some may offer extended hours or weekend babysitting.

Day Care Center

A day care center is generally a licensed facility with several trained teachers, classrooms and nurseries that are separated by age, a registration process, a calendar which includes hours of operation, and an educational curriculum.

Is It Right for You?

Parents choose home day care for a variety of reasons. There are some benefits and drawbacks to in-home care that may help you to come to a conclusion on whether it's the right decision for your family's needs.

Benefits

The home setting, rather than a facility setting, can feel more like a family than a classroom, which is a feature that is appealing for some parents. Other benefits to in-home day care include:

  • Cost: In-home child care is usually less expensive than formal day care or hiring a nanny. 
  • Low child-to-care provider ratio: There are fewer children at a home daycare than a traditional day care center, which can mean more personal attention and less exposure to illness.
  • Continuous care: Most home child care providers take care of babies at a very young age, and continue to care for them through toddler age, instead of the changing classrooms of a traditional day care center.
  • Socialization: Your baby can get lots of face time and socialization with other kids in an in-home day care, instead of the more private setting with a nanny at home.
  • Reliability: Some in-home child care providers may offer more extended or flexible hours than a traditional day care, which accommodates parents who have varying or nontraditional schedules.

Drawbacks

Some of the very benefits that some parents find appealing, such as a lack of a structured classroom environment, can be too informal for other parents. Other drawbacks may include:

  • Lack of licensing and training: Licensing criteria vary by state, and it is typically not required. Unlicensed home day cares don’t need providers to have child care training. They are not regularly inspected for quality, and may not follow guidelines regarding child-to-caregiver ratios, group size, activities, materials, and safety.
  • No backup care provided: An in-home day care canter usually only has one or two caregivers, so if your babysitter gets sick or has to take care of personal issues, there is usually no backup caregiver.

Questions to Ask

When choosing a day care, you should ask similar questions to those you'd ask when looking at a traditional day care on topics such as safety, cost, hours and sick child or sick caregiver policies.

Health and Safety Policies and Procedures

It's important to know that a study published in the American Sociological Review found that the fatality rate for kids who receive child care in a private home setting is 16 times higher than the fatality rate for children in day care centers. A lack of training, regulation and licensing is partly attributed to this number, and so it is imperative that you are vigilant about finding an in-home day care that is licensed, well trained, and comes with many references.

Be sure to ask all of the following questions:

  • Are they CPR and first aid certified?
  • Are there plans in place for a lost, sick or injured child? 
  • Any regularly practiced emergency plans? What happens in cases of fires, floods, or other natural disasters?
  • Who else will be in the house when my child is there? Ask about all adults, teens, and elders in the home. Find out what roles, if any, they will play in your child’s care and what their qualifications and experience with kids are.
  • Does your insurance cover my child? Find out if the childcare provider's homeowner’s insurance covers injuries to your child during childcare hours, even though you hope you will never need to use it.

Care

What is the policy for discipline? Be sure that you and the provider are on the same page when it comes to managing behavior issues, crying, rules, and any other concerns you may have.

Time Off

What about policies for personal emergencies and time off? Ask the babysitter about vacation time, a backup plan, and whether you are still expected to pay if either of you cancels without enough notice given?

What to Look for When You Visit

When you have narrowed down your search, schedule a visit. Do not be hesitant to visit a few more times at different times during the day, and to show up unannounced. Be mindful of nap times so as not to disrupt the other children, but the provider must provide you with access to as much information as you need to ensure your child's well being as you make this decision and after you have hired him or her.

Keep your eyes open for the following things:

  • Happy children
  • Compassionate caregivers
  • A stimulating environment
  • The interaction between age groups
  • A clean and healthy setting
  • Adequate space
  • Safety measures
  • Open communication
  • Licensing
  • Good reputation

Do not be afraid to ask for references and find other parents who are using or seeking in-home child care. Talk to those parents about their experience and ask for suggestions on places or providers. Do your due diligence in researching the provider and be sure to follow your instincts as you make your decision.

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