February 28, 2013

Home daycare vs. au pair childcare

4 minutes
Childcare options

When you start researching childcare, you might be surprised to learn there are so many different options to explore.  I was surprised to learn that there are several different types of daycare options in my area.  Besides the large corporate daycare chains, I discovered that there are many home daycares, where a small number of children are cared for in someone’s private home.  It was helpful for me to go through a list of pros and cons of putting my son in a home daycare versus with an au pair or other forms of childcare.

What is Home Daycare?

Home daycare, also known as “in home daycare” or “family day care” are childcare providers who operate out of their home and take care of a limited number of children.  Rules and regulations for home daycares vary by state, and some home daycares may not even be properly licensed.  Licensed home daycare providers must meet the standards for health, safety, supervision and staff training as defined by the state’s regulators.  The number of children allowed in a home daycare also varies by state, but generally one childcare provider can take care of up to 6 children, or up to 10 with the help of a qualified assistant.

Benefits of Home Daycare

Many families choose home daycare, especially for infants, due to the fact that the children are looked after in a home environment.  Some parents feel that being in a home daycare will make the child feel more comfortable and safe than being in a more institutional setting.  A study on Child Care and Child Development in 2001 showed that children who were in a home daycare were more compliant and less aggressive than those in a daycare center.  Another study showed that small groups and a safe and appropriate environment for children were the highest indicators of quality for home daycares.

Another major benefit is that the cost of home daycare is generally more affordable than larger daycare centers or nanny care.  However, hours of coverage may be more limited, and there may be additional costs to consider such as food, cost of transportation to and from the home daycare, etc.

Challenges with Home Daycare

One of the biggest challenges with home daycare is making sure that the home daycare providers maintain a safe and appropriate environment for the children.  Since home daycares generally don’t have separate areas for infants , toddlers and school age children, you should make sure that the environment is both safe for your child’s age, while also being stimulating. It is important to check that the home daycare provider is licensed and in compliance with all state regulations.  You should also ask for references from other families who currently use the home daycare and make sure they are happy with the conditions and care the family daycare provides.

Home daycare vs. Au Pair Childcare

Au pair childcare is an option that shares many of the benefits of an in home daycare.  The biggest advantage is that au pairs provide childcare within your own home, so you control the environment with regards to safety and age-appropriate stimulation.  Having your children cared for in your own home can also limit the number of illnesses they contract compared to children in a daycare environment.  You can also designate how much time your child spends doing activities like outdoor play or reading or even attending other educational activities.  With an au pair, your child or children are likely to get more 1-on-1 interaction with their caregiver, which has been shown to assist childhood development and foster healthy attachment.

In terms of cost, au pairs can be even more affordable than in home daycares in many communities.  Averaging just $1,579 per month, an au pair is especially affordable if you have more than one child since the cost of an au pair is per family, and does not scale up with additional children.  Sending two or more children to a home daycare can become quite expensive.

Hours of coverage are also more flexible with an au pair than with an in home daycare.  Home daycare hours and schedules are set by the provider and are limited, which makes it difficult for many working parents to get to both drop-off and pick-up on time.  With an au pair, you set the hours of childcare you need, up to 45 hours per week.  You might need coverage for evenings, early mornings or even on weekends, and an au pair offers that flexibility.  Not to mention, you can’t beat the fact that you don’t have to do drop-off or pick-up at all!  Your children can be in their pajamas when you leave the house or can be bathed and ready for bed when you come home.  Plus au pairs can help with some household tasks like preparing meals and doing laundry for the kids.

Another consideration is that many home day cares have long waiting lists due to the limited number of children they can care for.  If you find a home daycare that has the right hours and is in a convenient location, you may need to wait months before they can accept your child(ren).  When you host an au pair, you typically need to select an au pair 6 weeks prior to the date you need childcare to begin if they are coming from overseas.  Or, you have the option of selecting an au pair who is already in the country and can come to your home almost immediately.

Finally, with an au pair, you have the ability to introduce your kids to a new language and culture, or to help deepen roots to a culture that is already part of your heritage.  Cultural Care recruits au pairs from over 20 countries, and promotes a cultural exchange experience that benefits both the au pair and the host family.

The Verdict

So, which option is right for your family?  Only you can decide, and every child and family’s needs are different.  Do your research, trust your instincts and you will likely make the right decision for your family.