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Home daycare, also known as family daycare, is exactly what it sounds like – daycare in a home instead of a center. This arrangement has been around as long as parents have had neighbors and friends nearby to help care for their kids.
Today it's a way for many parents who prefer to stay at home and who truly enjoy taking care of children to do work they love and contribute to the family finances at the same time. "Most home providers have made a conscious decision to do this as a career," says Anne Mead, treasurer of the National Association for Family Child Care.
The United States has more than 280,000 regulated home daycares – almost three times the number of licensed childcare centers. According to a 1996 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, home daycares (and probably many more that aren't regulated) provide care for 14 percent of the more than 21 million U.S. children under six, making home daycare the third most popular option after center care and relative care.
Home daycare often appeals to parents who want to keep their child in a warm, friendly, homelike environment but can't afford a nanny and can't or don't want to use a relative. But home care has its drawbacks, too.
Grandma? Daycare? Real parents discuss finding childcare that works.
Licensing requirements in some states are less rigid for home daycares than they are for childcare centers, and home daycare providers may have little or no background in early childhood education and development, something most centers can boast. Home daycare usually provides no backup if your provider gets sick. And, unless she has an assistant, no one supervises her activities.
But if you find a good home daycare – one you feel comfortable leaving your child in every day – it can be a wonderful alternative to in-home care or center care. Your child has all the comforts and security of a home setting as well as other children to play and socialize with.
According to government figures, there are around 200,000 family daycare centers across the country. The providers vary widely in race, age, education, family income, and marital status, so chances are good that you can find a home daycare center that's similar to your home environment.
What do the experts think?
Studies show that home daycare is a good option because groups are often smaller than they are in centers, the homelike environment is comforting and reassuring, kids have a single, consistent caregiver (sometimes two, if the provider has an assistant), and children may be exposed to fewer illnesses.
Of course, that's all assuming you've found a great provider. An ongoing study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development confirms the importance of quality in childcare, no matter what kind you use.
Top questions about home daycare
- Are home daycare centers licensed?
- What are the advantages?
- What are the disadvantages?
- How do I find one?
- What are signs of a good home daycare?
- What are signs of a bad one?
- How do I make it work for me
The bottom line
If you find a good home daycare – one you feel comfortable leaving your child in every day – you may have found what's right for you. Your child will be in a homey setting with other children to play and socialize with, and you won't have to pay quite as much.
Keep in mind, though, that home daycares aren't regulated as closely as centers, so be sure you feel comfortable with your choice and check up on things regularly, dropping in unannounced or asking to spend some time in the room with the children.