Childcare in the USA

If you work and your children are too young to go to school, you may need to find someone to watch them while you are at work. Sometimes children in school need someone to watch them when school is over, if their parents cannot be at home. If you or other family members are not able to watch your children, you need to find someone to take care of them. Do not leave young children at home alone.

Finding Childcare

Choosing someone to care for your children is an important decision. As you make this decision, think about the quality and cost of care. Try to find a caregiver who is close to your home or job.

There are many resources you can use to find a good childcare provider. Ask other parents, friends, and co-workers who cares for their children. Some states have a childcare referral agency that can give you a list of state-licensed childcare programs. Licensed childcare programs meet specific requirements set by the state for the protection of your children. You can also call your local school district office to find places where other children in your neighborhood are cared for.

TIP: If you need help finding good childcare in your area, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a National Child Care Information Center. Call 1-800-616-2242 for information. You can also find information and answers to questions about how to choose a good program for your child at

Types of Childcare

You have a number of choices when choosing a childcare provider.

In-Home Care. A caregiver comes into your home to watch your children. This type of service can be expensive, because your child gets more individual attention. The quality of care depends on the person you hire.

Family Childcare. Your child is cared for in somebody else’s home with a small group of other children.

This can be less expensive than other types of childcare. The quality of care depends on the people who

watch your child and the number of children they are caring for in their home.

Daycare Centers. Daycare centers are programs located in schools, churches or other faith-based organizations, and other places. Centers usually have several caregivers who watch larger groups of children. Centers must meet state standards and their staff usually have special training and experience.

Head Start Programs. The federal government provides funding for "Early Head Start" and "Head Start" programs for low-income families. These programs provide care and educational services to young children to get them ready for school. To learn more about these programs, call the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at 1-866-763-6481 or visit the website

Some childcare providers will take care of children for a full day or only part of the day, depending on the parents’ needs. Cost is also a factor in choosing a caregiver. Check to see if you are eligible for federal or state childcare assistance. Many states offer financial assistance to low-income parents who are working or participating in job training or education programs.

TIP: Make sure the childcare provider or program you are using is licensed or accredited. "Licensed" means that the program meets minimum safety and care standards set by the state. “Accredited” programs meet higher standards than those required for a state license.

How do I know if a childcare provider is good?

Think about these basic questions when you visit a childcare program.

  • Are the children happy when around the staff?
  • Are toys available that are appropriate for the children’s ages?
  • Were children doing an appropriate activity?
  • Did the provider talk to your child while you were there?
  • Is the space clean and organized?
  • Is there a curriculum or routine for the children?

Be sure to ask for references so that you can talk to other parents about the program.