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Child Care Basics for Parents

Although all children require physical and emotional nourishment, as well as cognitive stimulation and healthy social interaction, not all child care providers have adequate resources to offer an environment that combines these attributes of quality care. Following is a brief introduction to the fundamentals of child care quality and variety.

Quality Assessment

There are two basic levels of quality assessment of child care services--licensing and accreditation. A state licensing division assesses whether a child care facility is safe enough to operate legally. Although state child care licensing regulations guarantee physical safety of child care facilities, they do not set standards for high-quality care. Accreditation, however, is meant to be an indication of quality. Accreditation requires the voluntary compliance of a child care provider with high standards of care set by a special accrediting organization.

Care Options

  • Child care centers. This type of care is housed in a facility used especially for child care. Child care centers are the most large-scale care facilities available to preschool children, usually housing several age groups. Center-based programs tend to be more structured than other care settings, preparing children for school environments. Centers can belong to national, regional, or local chains, or run locally with the support of various nonprofit organizations.

  • Faith-based care. Some faith communities provide child care services within their congregations or in congregation members' homes. Usually these are locally run programs supported by nonprofit organizations. Aside from nourishing the general development of children, these services are likely to help children explore the faith and culture of the community and prepare them for membership in it.

  • Family child care providers. Child care is sometimes offered in a caregiver's home. Often, the caregiver is a mother who takes care of her own children as well as others' children in the comfort of the home. Family care programs tend to be less structured than center-based programs.

  • Kith and kin care. This type of care usually takes place under unofficial arrangements in which a relative, family friend, or neighbor looks after your child or children at agreed-upon hours. This arrangement offers parents the flexibility and familiarity that may be unavailable under more formal care options.

  • In-home care. When parents decide to provide care for their child at home, they have the option of hiring a babysitter, nanny, or housekeeper as a caregiver. This option provides parents with the convenience and assurance of having their child cared for in the security of their home.

  • Part-time care options. Various caregivers, whether centers or family care providers, run on part-time schedules. For example, some may only operate during morning hours. Others may only provide care on select days. Still others may run during select times of the year. Some providers offer services for families with nontraditional working hours, such as weekends and evenings.

  • In-school care. Many schools offer early morning and afterschool care on the premises. In public schools, these programs are usually government sponsored.

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