What Are the Categories of Child Care?

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    Several child care settings are available to you. You'll be better prepared to observe and select the child care provider and learning environment that best meet the needs of your child and family if you are familiar with the care settings available. With the many different types of child care, how do parents know which ones are the best fit for their families? The type of child care you need is dependent on so many factors, including your child's age, your budget, hours required and more. For example, a family with preschool-aged children would need different care than one with elementary-aged children, who may only need care during the summer months. 

    There is a wide range of early childhood education and care services available to Australian families, and for first-time parents, the choice can be confusing. To assist you in understanding the types of child care available, we have listed below some of the more commonly used child care options, along with a brief description.

    A network of experienced carers and educators provide care and developmental activities in their own homes for other children. Family daycare is primarily for children who have not yet started school. However, they also provide care for school children up to 12 years old. Care is flexible and can be tailored to suit each family's needs, including care outside normal working hours and, if needed, overnight care.

    Mother's Help

    A mother's help has little or no previous experience of caring for children. However, they generally have career aspirations in child care, and this is one way of gaining experience while they undertake the formal study. A mother's help will assist the parent(s) with child care and housekeeping duties. These duties should be carried out under the supervision of the parent.

    Traditional daycare centre

    Most daycare centres provide child care during standard work hours. Many provide half-day or full daycare for children and sometimes provide meals and field trips. Daycare centres often charge families monthly instead of hourly, and they provide a structured routine with large groups of kids. Daycare centres are businesses typically located in stand-alone buildings but sometimes in religious institutions, schools, or community centres.

    Care for children under school age, on-premises especially built or adapted for early childhood education and care services. In addition, private operators, local councils, community organisations, employers and non-profit organisations may run long daycare centres.

    Long daycare centres provide all-day or part-time care for working families and offer developmental programs within their care programs. Meals are usually provided, and some long daycare centres offer care for limited numbers of primary school children before and after school and during school holidays.

    Group Family Day Care (GFDC)

    At least 2 adults provide care for 3 to 16 children in an occupied residence. A group provider must have an assistant present when there are more than 8 children present. There must be one adult for every 2 children under 2 years old. Children range in age from 6 weeks to 12 years. The maximum number of children in care is dependent on the provider's children and the ages of children in care. Group family child care is similar to family child care; more children may be enrolled when an additional caregiver is present. 

    Because of the larger group size, providers usually have made special accommodations in their homes to create a safe and healthy educational environment. In addition, family Group Homes are licensed by the Bureau of Child Development, Child Care Licensing and are required to meet health and safety standards.

    In-Home Care or Nanny


    A child care provider comes to your home regularly to care for your children. A live-in or live-out provider resides in your home full or part-time with set hours available to you for child care. Parents can recruit providers on their own or go through a nanny agency that offers a finding service. Nannies are not state-licensed or regulated but can provide a unique advantage. Nannies may provide more individualised attention to your children and may become part of the family.

    Typically, nannies charge per hour, with an agreed-upon schedule of hours determined in advance. Nannies allow for flexible and individualised care but sometimes cost more than other child care options. A nanny care provider may live with a family or travel to the family's home each day, often known as a nanny. Nanny is what you need to make the best choice for your family. In 1998, Kierans's Law took effect, allowing parents to access New York State criminal history information about potential in-home caregivers. 

    This type of government-subsidised child care is for families that can't access other mainstream child care options (centre-based daycare, family day care or outside school hours care) because they:

    • Work non-standard or variable hours, or
    • Are you geographically isolated, or
    • Have a challenging and complex family needs.

    Families must demonstrate that other approved child care services aren't available or appropriate and be eligible for the Child Care Subsidy.

    In-Home Care Support Agencies assess families' eligibility for an In-Home Care place and help them find care that meets their needs.

    Residential Certificate Homes

    Child care is provided in a private home for up to eight children. This can include up to (but not more than) two children under the age of two. Providers must meet many of the same requirements as providers licensed by the Bureau of Child Development and Child Care Licensing but do not receive as much early childhood training like other programs.

    centre-based Care

    Child Care Centers are larger settings where children are cared for in a group away from their homes for all or part of the day. The many different kinds of Center-based care include; preschools, parent cooperatives, profit, non-profit and church-based. Some centres care for infants and toddlers, while some do not. Many Child Care Centers have an organised program of activities to help children grow in each developmental area; others are organised more informally.

    Head Start

    Head Start programs offer developmental enrichment preschool classes for children ages 2 through 5. It is funded through state and federal monies and is free to income-eligible families. Head Start programs must meet New York State licensing regulations, and federal Head Start standards. In addition, a home-based educational option is provided. For information on Head Start programs, eligibility requirements and the enrollment process.

    Shared nanny

    A shared nanny is similar to a traditional nanny, but instead of providing child care services to one family, a shared nanny will provide child care services to two families at one time. To alleviate costs, families can choose to hire one nanny to care for all of their children simultaneously. This is often done in one of the families' homes and provides children with social interaction and lower costs than a dedicated nanny. A nanny employed by two families to undertake tasks related to the care of children. If you are interested in having a nanny care for your child but are reluctant due to the expense, sharing a nanny with another family may be the solution.

    Au pair

    Au pairs are foreign caregivers who live with the families for whom they provide child care. Parents provide au pairs with room and board and a stipend, and, in return, au pairs provide families with child care. Au pairs allow families to have the flexibility of live-in child care and give the children consistent caretakers who often become like members of the families they serve. A foreign national in Australia for up to a year for cultural exchange purposes and experience Australian life. Lives as part of the host family and receives a small allowance/salary in exchange for child care and household duties. Mayor may not have previous child care experience.

    Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care Services

    Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care Services provide short periods of care for children under school age. Families can access Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care on either a regular or casual basis for various reasons, including shift or part-time work, respite care, crisis and emergency care, shopping, or attending appointments.

    Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care allows people to leave their children in an early childhood learning environment to socialise and interact with other children while undertaking other tasks. Community organisations, non-profit organisations and local councils may run Occasional, Flexible or Casual Care centres.


    A babysitter provides hourly care for children. They often are part-time caregivers and provide care on an as-needed basis. Provides supervisory, custodial care of children on an irregular full time or part-time basis.

    Other Early Childhood Programs

    Universal Pre-K 

    Universal PreK (UPK) programs are operated by school districts but may be located in various settings, including schools, Head Starts and community child care centres. Please contact the school district for enrollment information. In addition, universal Pre-Kindergarten programs may be offered by local school districts to eligible four-year-old children and are regulated by the New York State Department of Education.

    Nursery Schools 

    Nursery Schools generally serve children ages 2 to 5 years in a variety of facilities. They typically operate for 3 hours or less per session. These programs are not regulated; however, some have elected to register with New York State Education or are accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Nursery schools provide care where children are in attendance for no more than 3 hours per day in a nonresidential setting.

    Camp Programs

    Recreational programs that operate during the summer months and sometimes school holidays may be regulated by the NYS Department of Health or after-school programs regulated by the NYS Office of Children and Family Services.

    Preschool Programs

    Pre-school is a planned educational program for children in the years before a child commences school. Children are usually between 3 and 5 years of age. Pre-school may occur in a range of settings, including a purpose-built building, in a community setting, a school, as part of a long daycare centre or a mobile or visiting service.

    Preschool is a part of all child care, but not all preschools offer childcare. Preschool only programs may be found in residential and non-residential settings. They typically operate for 2 to 4 hours per day, often offering morning and afternoon sessions. They provide early learning experiences and opportunities to socialise with peers. Any state agency does not monitor them. Pre-school generally runs between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, similar to school hours, although this may vary by state and service, so check with the provider.

    Day Care Center 

    Care is provided for 6 or more children regularly for more than 3 hours a day in a facility. There are specific building, staffing and program requirements. Children are grouped by age and cannot be mixed. Daycare centres in Tompkins County range from 12 to 170 children.

    Informal Care

    Informal care is not required to be licensed or registered with New York State. Informal care can be offered in the caregiver's home for no more than 2 children (not related to the caregiver) or in the child's home, such as by a nanny or au pair, or they may operate for 3 hours per day or less.

    Legally Exempt 

    Also known as "informal providers" or "kith and kin" care, these providers are often friends, relatives or neighbours who watch one or two children in addition to their own. Legally Exempt child care providers provide informal care for children subsidised through the Department of Social Services. Legally Exempt child care providers are required to complete an enrollment process that involves basic safety requirements and background checks. The Child Development Council enrols Legally Exempt providers and provides Health and Safety Inspections and technical assistance. Contact us for more information. 

    Legally exempt child care is care that is exempt from licensing rules and regulations by the state because:

    • They care for fewer children than set forth by state child care standards.
    • They operate for less than four hours a day.
    • A religious or educationally exempt entity operates them.

    Parents have many choices when it comes to types of child care. However, cost, location, and flexibility tend to be the biggest factors for parents deciding which child care options are best for their families.

    • Child Care Centre or Long Day Care. ...
    • Family Day Care. ...
    • Pre-school / Kindergarten / Prep. ...
    • Before / After School Care or Outside School Hours Care. ...
    • In Home Care. ...
    • Nanny. ...
    • Nanny Sharing. ...
    • Au Pair.
    Types of Child Care
    • Family Child Care Homes. In family child care homes, providers care for small groups of children in a residential building. ...
    • Child Care Centers. ...
    • Preschool Programs. ...
    • School-Age Programs. ...
    • Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care.
    In this section you will find the following pages:
    • Care in Your Own Home.
    • Family, Friend, and Neighbor Care.
    • Family Child Care Homes.
    • Child Care Centers.
    • Head Start and Early Head Start.
    • Preschool Programs.
    • School-Age Child Care.
    • Vacation and Summer Child Care Programs.
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