As a parent, you may have already noticed that there are many different kinds of child care available. All types can provide quality care for your child. It's important to choose the type of care that best fits your child and your family's needs

Child care can be divided into four basic categories: 

  1. Child care centers
  2. Group child care
  3. Family child care
  4. Informal care

Here are some things to consider when choosing a type of child care.

Why do we call it "child care"?

You may have noticed that we use the term child care to refer to all types of non-parental care for children. Many people still use the term "day care", but it’s not a very accurate description. Child care is not limited to daytime hours. Children of parents who work evening or night shifts need care during the evening and night. Also, some adults require supervision during the day when a relative is not available to care for them. Child care is a better word to describe care for children when their parents are not present.

In-Home vs. Out-of-Home

The first choice to make is whether you want your child to be cared for in your home or in an out-of-home environment. There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices.

If you choose in-home care, you are likely to be hiring a professional nanny, a friend, a neighbor, or a family member to care for your child at home. Choosing in-home care may make the adjustment to child care easier because your child will be in a familiar environment. Having someone come to your home to provide care is convenient, and you may feel more comfortable knowing your child is being cared for by someone whose sole focus is on your child. Professional in-home caregivers do tend to be more expensive than out-of-home care, and your child will have fewer opportunities to interact with other children with in-home care. Professional caregivers are not regulated by the state of Georgia, so be cautious in screening potential caregivers.

Out-of-home care includes many different types of individual and group care, from taking your child to a friend or relative's home to enrolling him in a large child care center. Out-of-home care tends to be less expensive than hiring an in-home caregiver, and most out-of-home programs must meet strict state licensing regulations. Your child will also get the chance to interact with other children regularly while in most out-of-home settings. Out-of-home programs do tend to vary in quality, so be sure you're choosing a high-quality program. Good quality out-of-home care may have a waiting list, and you may have to pay more for higher quality programs than for low quality programs. (Remember that your child's well-being is worth the extra cost!)

Child Care Centers

In Georgia , child care centers are out-of-home programs that care for 18 or more children. Centers can be operated by for-profit groups, non-profit groups, faith-based organizations, universities, social service agencies, independent owners or chains, or possibly your employer. Center-based care is structured and staffed to accommodate larger groups of children. Most child care centers have a defined curriculum and carefully-planned schedules of activities for children of different ages. Children in child care centers are likely to be in a group with children of similar ages, and to "move up" to new groups as they get older.

Child care centers in Georgia are licensed by Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. In order to be licensed, centers must meet a set of minimal requirements in order to stay in business. To find a high-quality care setting for your child, be sure to look for centers that go well beyond the basic licensing requirements to provide exceptional care for your child. The Child Care Checklist gives you a beginning list of things to look for when deciding whether a child care center provides quality care.

Group Child Care Homes

Group child care homes in Georgia are a separate category that includes out-of-home programs caring for between 7 and 18 children. Group child care homes are often organized like small child care centers, with fewer staff. Children in group child care homes are more likely to be in mixed-age groupings, but state licensing regulations require that infants and toddlers be separated from children ages 3 and older. Group child care homes are also licensed by Bright from the Start. For parents who do not want their child in a large center, a small child care center or a group child care home may be an option.

Family Child Care Homes

Family child care is provided in a caregiver's home, usually by one adult who can care for no more than six children. Family child care providers do not have to meet licensing regulations, but they do have to go through a strict state registration process and receive 10 hours of ongoing training every year. In a family child care home, your child will be cared for in a smaller group, which can mean more individualized attention. Many family child care providers use a structured curriculum; others follow a more relaxed schedule. Children in family child care are likely to be in a mixed-age group that may include infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and even elementary-age children. Keep in mind that family child care providers usually work alone, and may have other family members in and out of the house.

Informal Child Care

The term informal child care refers to caregivers who are not required to be licensed or registered with the state in order to provide child care. Informal caregivers include anyone providing in-home care, or anyone caring for no more than two unrelated children in his or her own home. (Caregivers who care for three or more children are required to register as family child care providers.) Informal care includes professional nannies, neighbors, friends, and relatives who care for children. Informal child care may be the ideal choice if you are looking for lots of individual attention for your child. Informal caregivers may also be a good solution for evening or nighttime care, early-morning care, part-time care, substitute care when a full-time program is closed, or sick child care. Because the state does not regulate informal caregivers, you need to screen possible caregivers carefully to be sure they are providing quality care for your child.

Proceed to the next section: How do I choose a quality child care program?