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Child Care Center Versus In-Home Care: What is the right choice for my family?

One of the hardest parts of parenting through early childhood years is making decisions about your child’s care throughout the workday. The importance of early learning and early childhood development cannot be overstated, as it’s well known to form the foundation of a lifetime of healthy learning and development. There are many considerations when it comes to selecting a child care program or in-home caregiver that is right for your family, and it’s completely normal for big decisions like these to come with a lot of complex feelings and conflicting opinions. Here are a few guidelines to help parents and caregivers objectively weigh their child care options:

  • Understand the difference between a regulated and non-regulated child care setting. A full-time babysitter who is only watching children from one family is not required to be registered with DSS Child Care Licensing. Without that additional oversight and regulation, parents or caregivers must have complete trust in their chosen babysitter. If a potential caretaker is responsible for children from more than one family that isn’t related to them, they are required to be registered as a provider with DSS Child Care Licensing. A regulated child care setting can give parents some additional peace of mind because registration means several things, including that the provider meets basic requirements for health and safety, DSS has the right to visit and evaluate the setting once a year, and all household members have completed required background checks to be registered. 
  • Consider the pros and cons of each child care setting. For many parents and caregivers, convenience may be top of mind when a neighbor or friend offers to watch their child when they go back to work. Some pros for in-home care may be a more home-like environment, a closer teacher-to-child bond and potentially smaller caregiver-to-child ratio, less exposure to childhood colds and illnesses, and a more flexible caregiver. Some cons for in-home care could be potentially less qualified caregivers and less educational curriculum, less oversight and safety checks like video surveillance, possibly more screen/television time, and the lack of a substitute if the babysitter or caregiver is sick. On the flip side, some pros for regulated child care centers may include: a more structured and school-like environment, which may be especially beneficial for children approaching kindergarten; substitute teachers should teachers fall ill or be unavailable; potentially more educationally enriched curriculum; more opportunities to socialize with a wide variety of teachers and children; potentially more enrichment activities like music or dance; a better-secured entrance and possible in-class video cameras; first aid and CPR-trained staff are often on-site; and state registration with DSS Child Care Licensing. Some cons for child care centers could be less flexible policies when it comes to sick days, vacations, or late pick-ups; the chance of more exposure to childhood colds and illnesses; the possibility of different people caring for your child due to different shifts and work schedules; and occasionally higher tuition rates. 
  • Place health and safety above all else. The health and safety of a child will always be more important than cost or convenience. So, one main thing to look out for is an in-home babysitter or caregiver watching children from multiple families who are not registered with DSS Child Care Licensing. When the number of children increases in any home setting, additional safety precautions—and state regulation—should be in place. Providers who are registered must hit several key safety measures, including meeting DSS defined basic requirements for health and safety, allowing DSS to conduct a visit and check things out annually, and passing central registry/sex offender/fingerprint background checks to rule out any past charges of child abuse or neglect. 

Whether or not parents decide to go with an in-home daycare, babysitter, or a child care center, they should always look for a high-quality environment that is regulated (if required), has low caregiver-to-student/child ratios, offers a variety of indoor and outdoor activities to stimulate age-appropriate development, and one that places their child with a trained and experienced care provider (or providers). Parents and caregivers should always look for a situation in which they feel basic health and safety needs are met, but also somewhere they feel caregivers will be invested in their child’s overall education, development, and well-being. 

For more information on ABC Quality’s grading procedure of participating child care providers in South Carolina, visit www.abcquality.org/what-is-abc-quality/.


By ABC Quality Team on December 22, 2021