The Washington, D.C., metropolitan area has the highest percentage of working mothers in the country, so it’s no surprise that we have a substantial need for child care, particularly for families with children under age 6 and those with school-age children needing care before and after school. Naturally, parents here face the task of finding child care armed with many questions:
- What are the different options for child care?
- What is the best choice for my child?
- How will I know that my child will be well-cared for and safe?
- How much will child care cost?
- What child care option will be most convenient for us?
There are many types of child care, but they can be grouped in two major categories: child care in your home and child care out of your home.
The flexibility of having live-in child care is nice, but you also take on the responsibility and demands of having another person living in your home. In many ways, with a live-in caregiver you are adding a member to your family.
CHILD CARE IN YOUR HOME
Although the main role for in-home caregivers is to care for children, some parents arrange with them to provide additional services, such as housekeeping, running errands, and preparing meals.
Babysitters: You can find babysitters informally or through an agency. Informal arrangements with family members or friends may be free; the cost of hiring a babysitter usually ranges from $10 to $20 an hour. If you use an agency, you’ll probably be charged a fee, but an agency usually screens the applicants for you, performs criminal background checks and has a job bank of possible employees.
Nannies: If you are interested in a more formal arrangement, you might consider hiring either a part-time or a full-time nanny. Again, you can find nannies informally, but they are most often found through agencies. Nannies are residents of the United States.
Part-time nannies usually work up to 32 hours a week, earning wages comparable to babysitters. However, full-time nannies live in your home and work 40 to 50 hours a week. Their weekly pay is $600 to $1000. Full-time nannies also earn benefits including sick leave and paid vacation.
Babysitters and nannies are considered domestic employees; as the employer, you are responsible for paying federal and state taxes on their salary.
Au Pairs: Hiring an au pair is another option, one most often done through an agency. Usually au pairs are older teenagers or young adults who come to the United States to work. The au pair program is considered a cultural exchange program,and placement agencies are approved by the U.S. State Department. Au pairs usually provide child care for 40-55 hours a week. They may or may not have child care experience, and they may or may not be fluent in English. In exchange for their work, they receive a stipend and room and board. Parents usually pay agency and other fees.
If a caregiver lives in your home, child care may be flexible, but anything beyond the normal work hours and responsibilities must be negotiated ahead of time. With a child care provider living in your home, if you’re late coming home, have to be out of town for business or if you and your spouse want to go out in the evening or away for the weekend, you can. The flexibility of having live-in child care is nice, but you also take on the responsibility and demands of having another person living in your home. In many ways, with a live-in caregiver you are adding a member to your family.
CHILD CARE OUT OF YOUR HOME
Relatives, Friends or Neighbors: Often, parents take their children to the home of a relative, friend or neighbor for child care. Parents and children may feel comfortable with these arrangements since they know and trust the caregivers and are familiar with their homes. The cost of this type of care is variable and worked out on an individual basis. This type of child care is usually informal and often not licensed by the state.
Family Day Care Homes and Child Care Centers: With some exemptions, family day care homes and child care centers are required to be licensed by the state, and in D.C., by the District.
Licensing regulations are related to the ages of children in care and include provisions that establish acceptable group sizes, adult-child ratios, staff qualifications and general program requirements. Regulations also define standards for health and safety, which include criminal background checks on all adults on the premises.
Family-based and center-based child care costs vary by setting and age of child. Family day care homes are usually less expensive than centers, and care for youngest children is more expensive than for older children.
Family Day Care Homes
Family day care homes offer care for small groups of children in the caregiver’s home. Parents prefer family day care for many reasons. Because there are fewer children, they bond easily with their caregivers. Often, parents of very young children are interested in family day care because of its small size, and the caregiver's ability to meet a child’s individual needs. Parents also like family day care because siblings can be cared for together. Parents frequently develop close relationships with the caregivers and feel like partners in their children’s care. If parents and caregivers agree, family day care can offer flexibility for parents, allowing for early arrival and late pick-up.
On the other hand, sometimes parents wonder if children can learn enough in family day care homes to be ready for kindergarten. They may also be concerned that family day care might not be dependable, since they will need alternative care if the caregiver is sick or otherwise unavailable. Some parents also worry that in small family day care homes, there is only one adult to deal with all the children in an emergency.
Child Care Centers
A child care center is a setting other than a home that provides care for groups of children. Many offer full-day care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Some also offer pre-K programs and before- and after-school care.
Children are grouped by age, with programs designed to meet the needs of single age-groups in each classroom. Many parents prefer child care centers because they expect centers to follow formal educational curriculum. They also believe that center-based care is a good way for children to learn to get along with other children and adults. Child care centers provide substitutes if caregivers are ill or otherwise unavailable. Therefore, centers provide parents a sense of security that they will not have to unexpectedly find alternative care arrangements.
Some parents dislike the formality of child care centers, particularly for infants and toddlers. They are uncomfortable with the school-like atmosphere and may feel unwelcome and that their role in their child’s life is diminished.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT CHILD CARE OPTION
After deciding what type of child care you want for your child and exploring your options, you should be able to find the most appropriate care for your child—care where your child will flourish and care that meets your family needs.
M. Therese Gnezda is an early childhood consultant and conducts parenting education workshops in the Washington, D.C., area.