Choosing a child care provider

Nearly 7 in 10 parents use some form of child care to look after their son or daughter. Choosing someone to care for a child can leave many parents feeling anxious.

Figure out the amount of hours needed to care for your child. You may need someone to look after him a few hours a day, or a couple of times a week or full time. 

There are different kinds of child care options parents can choose from. Learn about each choice to find out what is best for your family.

What is in-home care?

In home care is when you hire either an au pair or a nanny to look after your child in your home.

Au pair
A young adult takes part in a foreign-exchange program to care for children. In return, he or she receives free housing and food and the opportunity to learn a new culture.

Advantages of hiring an au pair include:

  • Having someone in the home is convenient and flexible.
  • The au pair provides one-on-one attention to the child.
  • Agencies identify the best match and take on paperwork.
  • The child learns a new culture or language from the au pair.
  • The child remains in a family setting.

Disadvantages of hiring an au pair include:

  • Au pair agencies can be expensive.
  • The au pair stays for a specified amount of time (1-2 years).
  • Experience and training in child care vary widely among au pairs.

Nanny
A nanny provides regular care for a child and can either live with the family or come to the home only when looking after him.

Advantages of hiring a nanny include:

  • Parents have greater control over their child's care.
  • Having someone available in the home is convenient and flexible.
  • Some may provide light housework (laundry, cleaning up, etc.).
  • The child remains in a familiar setting.

Disadvantages of hiring a nanny include:

  • A nanny is often the most expensive option.
  • There is no backup for child care if the nanny is sick or unavailable.
  • It’s hard to find highly qualified nannies.
  • Background checks are often limited to references from past employers.
  • Parents must meet federal and state wage and tax-reporting requirements.

What is family child care?

Family child care is informal care that is provided in someone else's home. A small family child care home usually has fewer than 6 children and one adult. 

Advantages of family child care include: 

  • The child can play and socialize with other children.
  • Family child care is usually the most affordable option.
  • Often the caregiver is flexible and will make special arrangements for the family's needs.

Disadvantages of family child care include:

  • Few providers are formally licensed. Regulations vary from state to state.
  • Many homes aren't regularly inspected.
  • It’s hard to monitor the quality of care the child receives.
  • There is often no substitute if the provider is sick.

What are child care centers?

A child care center is a facility, often with many staff, that provides out-of-home care for several groups of children.

Advantages of child care centers include:

  • The state licenses these facilities.
  • Staff are trained and supervised.
  • There is more than one caregiver.
  • It’s fairly easy to obtain background information.
  • Centers have structured programs or curricula to help children learn and grow.

Disadvantages of child care centers include:

  • Centers may not be able to meet family needs outside of normal business hours.
  • Larger groups of children mean less personalized attention.
  • Although centers are licensed, regulations vary, depending on whether they are publicly or privately funded, of if they are religion-based.
  • Good centers often have waiting lists and may be expensive.

What questions should you ask the child care provider?

To help you make a decision, here are a few questions you may consider asking your child care provider.

Does the caregiver have formal training or education?
Prior experience in caring for children is essential. But formal education or training, such as a degree or certification in early childhood development, is a bonus. Find out what kind of training or educational background the provider has.

How many children does the provider care for?
While some children do well with less direct supervision, others, especially younger children, need a watchful eye. The table below, from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, outlines what is most appropriate for your child's age.

Ask the child care provider about their child to adult ratio. This means the number of children cared for by each adult. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following child to adult ratio, depending on the child’s age.  

  • Up to 12 months old: 3 children per adult
  • 1 and 2 years old: 4 children per adult
  • 3 years old: 7 children per adult
  • 4 and 5 years old: 8 children per adult

Does the caregiver have any health certification?
Ideally, the person watching your baby should be trained in first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

How safe is the environment?
Safety comes first when caring for children. Be sure the location and all items in it (including toys, dishware, cots, etc.) are clean and in good repair. Ask the provider if there is a fire extinguisher, an emergency exit plan, and a handy contact list for emergency services.

What kind of activities, materials and equipment are provided to children to help them grow and learn?
The early years of a child's life are very important for brain development. Regular activities that stimulate thinking and problem solving (such as reading or playing games) can prepare your child for school and a love of learning.

More information


Last reviewed: December, 2013

Nearly 7 in 10 parents use some form of child care to look after their son or daughter. Choosing someone to care for a child can leave many parents feeling anxious.

Figure out the amount of hours needed to care for your child. You may need someone to look after him a few hours a day, or a couple of times a week or full time. 

There are different kinds of child care options parents can choose from. Learn about each choice to find out what is best for your family.

What is in-home care?

In home care is when you hire either an au pair or a nanny to look after your child in your home.

Au pair
A young adult takes part in a foreign-exchange program to care for children. In return, he or she receives free housing and food and the opportunity to learn a new culture.

Advantages of hiring an au pair include:

  • Having someone in the home is convenient and flexible.
  • The au pair provides one-on-one attention to the child.
  • Agencies identify the best match and take on paperwork.
  • The child learns a new culture or language from the au pair.
  • The child remains in a family setting.

Disadvantages of hiring an au pair include:

  • Au pair agencies can be expensive.
  • The au pair stays for a specified amount of time (1-2 years).
  • Experience and training in child care vary widely among au pairs.

Nanny
A nanny provides regular care for a child and can either live with the family or come to the home only when looking after him.

Advantages of hiring a nanny include:

  • Parents have greater control over their child's care.
  • Having someone available in the home is convenient and flexible.
  • Some may provide light housework (laundry, cleaning up, etc.).
  • The child remains in a familiar setting.

Disadvantages of hiring a nanny include:

  • A nanny is often the most expensive option.
  • There is no backup for child care if the nanny is sick or unavailable.
  • It’s hard to find highly qualified nannies.
  • Background checks are often limited to references from past employers.
  • Parents must meet federal and state wage and tax-reporting requirements.

What is family child care?

Family child care is informal care that is provided in someone else's home. A small family child care home usually has fewer than 6 children and one adult. 

Advantages of family child care include: 

  • The child can play and socialize with other children.
  • Family child care is usually the most affordable option.
  • Often the caregiver is flexible and will make special arrangements for the family's needs.

Disadvantages of family child care include:

  • Few providers are formally licensed. Regulations vary from state to state.
  • Many homes aren't regularly inspected.
  • It’s hard to monitor the quality of care the child receives.
  • There is often no substitute if the provider is sick.

What are child care centers?

A child care center is a facility, often with many staff, that provides out-of-home care for several groups of children.

Advantages of child care centers include:

  • The state licenses these facilities.
  • Staff are trained and supervised.
  • There is more than one caregiver.
  • It’s fairly easy to obtain background information.
  • Centers have structured programs or curricula to help children learn and grow.

Disadvantages of child care centers include:

  • Centers may not be able to meet family needs outside of normal business hours.
  • Larger groups of children mean less personalized attention.
  • Although centers are licensed, regulations vary, depending on whether they are publicly or privately funded, of if they are religion-based.
  • Good centers often have waiting lists and may be expensive.

What questions should you ask the child care provider?

To help you make a decision, here are a few questions you may consider asking your child care provider.

Does the caregiver have formal training or education?
Prior experience in caring for children is essential. But formal education or training, such as a degree or certification in early childhood development, is a bonus. Find out what kind of training or educational background the provider has.

How many children does the provider care for?
While some children do well with less direct supervision, others, especially younger children, need a watchful eye. The table below, from the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, outlines what is most appropriate for your child's age.

Ask the child care provider about their child to adult ratio. This means the number of children cared for by each adult. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following child to adult ratio, depending on the child’s age.  

  • Up to 12 months old: 3 children per adult
  • 1 and 2 years old: 4 children per adult
  • 3 years old: 7 children per adult
  • 4 and 5 years old: 8 children per adult

Does the caregiver have any health certification?
Ideally, the person watching your baby should be trained in first aid and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

How safe is the environment?
Safety comes first when caring for children. Be sure the location and all items in it (including toys, dishware, cots, etc.) are clean and in good repair. Ask the provider if there is a fire extinguisher, an emergency exit plan, and a handy contact list for emergency services.

What kind of activities, materials and equipment are provided to children to help them grow and learn?
The early years of a child's life are very important for brain development. Regular activities that stimulate thinking and problem solving (such as reading or playing games) can prepare your child for school and a love of learning.

More information


Last reviewed: December, 2013