A family day-care center, or home day care, is a facility that is run out of a residential home. Don't confuse family day cares with group babysitting, though. "In high-quality family child-care programs, the children aren't just 'being watched,'" says Barbara Sawyer, director of special projects at the National Association for Family Child Care. "Many state licensing regulations require that providers have a schedule of planned activities and that they provide activities appropriate to both the age and the developmental level of each child."
Family day cares fall into two categories: small and large. Small family day cares usually have six to eight children with one or two caregivers; large home day cares can have up to 14 children with multiple caregivers. Despite the difference in numbers, most family day cares still watch fewer children than a traditional day-care center. "Family child-care homes generally provide a more homelike environment where a child can relate to a single caregiver," says Lynette Fraga, executive director of Child Care Aware of America. "Sometimes parents choose family child care because they find it closer to home, less expensive, or more flexible." For some children, the residential environment of family day cares, with friendly and familiar sights such as couches, kitchen tables, and grassy lawns, may help them feel comfortable so they transition more easily.
Does family day care sound like a good child care match for your kids? Before you make a final decision, here are tips for finding a family day-care center near you.
Family day-care centers don't usually have an advertising budget (so don't expect to see a newspaper ad or find a website) and they receive most of their business through word of mouth. Start by asking parents in your playgroup, neighborhood, or faith community for their recommendations. Also keep your eyes peeled for advertisements on cars -- many family day cares advertise their name and number on the car they use to drive kids around town.
Check With National Child Care Organizations
National organizations such as Child Care Aware of America can help parents find local child care organizations that provide information about licensed family day-care centers in your area. The National Association for Family Child Care also provides accreditation for family day-care centers and offers a searchable list of local family day cares that are not only licensed by the state but have also met even higher standards to earn their accreditation. "Although requirements vary from state to state, most states require that family child-care providers be regulated if they care for more than four children," Fraga says. Many states also offer searchable facility lists of family day-care centers with current state licenses. Parents can use the license info as a starting point for finding legitimate child-care options nearby.
Type terms such as "family day care," "family child-care home," or "home day care" plus your city and state into your favorite search engine to find family day-care centers in your area. Or try sites such as Care.com or Angie's List for local family day-care center options.
Use Referral Agencies
"One of the best ways for parents to find family child-care providers is through a local child care resource and referral agency, also known as CCR&R," Sawyer says. CCR&Rs act as a bridge between parents, child-care providers, and child welfare advocates in the community. They monitor and assess a community's child-care needs, train new child-care providers, and help parents find, evaluate, and suggest resources that might help pay for child care. "CCR&Rs typically maintain information about child care available in local communities and are often able to include specifics such as days and hours a program operates, number of children in care, or additional data including credentials or accreditation a provider might have," Sawyer says. Type "CCR&Rs" plus your state into a search engine to find information about local offices.
Check Local Community Boards
Look for flyers on bulletin boards at places that host activities for kids, such as indoor play gyms, libraries, community centers, children's music centers, children's consignment shops, and faith communities.
Remember: Wherever you obtain your information on local child-care programs, do your homework. Sawyer recommends that parents check on the status of all family day-care licenses and ask for two to three references for current and past clients. Schedule a time to stop by the day care. "[Parents] should visit the program during the day to see how their child engages with the provider and the other children," Sawyer says. "They should meet anyone who will be interacting with their child, including members of the provider's family, as well as any pets that might be in the home."
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