Visiting and Interviewing Family Child Care Providers
Family child care is care provided in someone else’s home for a small number of children, usually of various ages. This type of care offers several possible benefits to children and their parents. Children are usually cared for in small groups, making it easier to meet their individual needs. The setting can be warm, intimate, and informal, like part of the extended family. This makes it particularly attractive for infants and toddlers, who need to be held and helped on their own personal schedules. Because the groups are small, children who are very susceptible to colds and other illness may stay healthier in a family setting than in a center. Often child care homes serve children of various ages, including school-aged kids before and after school, which adds to the family-like experience. Family-based providers may have more flexible schedules than child care centers, making it easier to arrange care outside the typical 7:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M. time frame. Finally, family child care is less expensive than center care in many parts of the country, although you may want to pay extra so as to help your caregiver provide the highest level of care possible.
Family child care also has disadvantages. Most important, states and localities have only very basic rules governing who can look after children at home and how that care is provided. (Several states have no regulations at all.) What rules exist are not enforced well and are ignored by many home care providers. Often you may be the only judge of the health and safety of a provider’s home and how much she knows about looking after children. In most cases the family child care provider works alone. If she gets sick, you’ll need a backup arrangement. If she goes out of business, you have to scramble to find someone else. And many of the people who look after children in their own homes have no education or training in child development or child care. This isn’t necessarily bad, but in general, trained providers are better at what they do than caregivers without those educational experiences.
Group Family Child Care
Group family child care is provided in someone else’s home by two or more adults, one of whom lives in the home. Some states have a special licensing category for group family child care arrangements, while others simply consider them a type of family child care.
The number of children in a group family child care setting is larger than in regular family child care—often including as many as twelve children. But because there are at least two caregivers, the ratio of children to adults should be about the same, one adult for every six children.
Group family child care homes often function as mini-child care centers, with one or more rooms set aside for child care and environments designed specifically to meet the needs of preschool children (individual storage cubbies, child-sized tables and chairs, designated activity areas). They are usually run by adults who have specialized training in early childhood education and a strong professional orientation. Frequently these providers will have a well-thought-out educational philosophy, which is clearly expressed in writing and reflected in the way they work with children. Often the owner of the home functions as the head teacher of the child care program, with a second adult hired as an assistant.
The licensed group family child care home is a rather new addition to the American child care scene. This alternative has many good things to offer families. If well organized, it has many of the advantages of regular family child care without the disadvantages. The group is a manageable size, and the adult-to-child ratio is good. The family-like environment is easy to maintain, and mixed age groupings (infancy to school age) are possible. Overhead costs are likely to be lower than those of a center, so fees will be a bit lower. But children are not cared for by a lone provider so there is less need to make backup arrangements when a caregiver is sick. The program is almost certain to be licensed and the caregivers to have received some training.
Reprinted with the permission of Cornell University. © 2008 Cornell University
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