Although a few families can rely on help from grandparents, many families must rely on nonrelative child care in order to go to work or school. Parents may have many or few child care options available to them depending on the age of their child, programs available in their community, and the hours, location, or costs of care. This Q&A responds to the many questions IEL receives about what basic child care options are available to families in Illinois.
Child Care Centers
Child care centers provide care for groups of children in a range of settings including Head Start, state-funded prekindergarten, independent preschool programs, and park and recreational programs. Child care centers can be a reliable form of care, typically operating all year long and providing substitutes for staff illnesses and vacations. Center program staff and directors are required to have education and annual training in child development. Center programs may also have opportunities for parents to get involved in curriculum planning and policy making. Child care centers may offer additional services such as field trips, health screening, and music, dance, or gymnastic instruction.
The disadvantages of the center option include the inflexibility of hours. Center programs typically offer care between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Center programs provide care for larger groups of children and may be less able to accommodate individual needs, routines, and interests. Children in center programs may have limited opportunity to interact with children of varying ages and often must adapt to multiple adult caregivers.
The Illinois Department of Children and Families Services (DCFS) licenses child care programs to ensure that health, safety, space, and staffing requirements are met. Some child care centers are not required to be licensed by DCFS, including those affiliated with churches, public schools, hospitals, and universities.
Family Child Care
Family child care is provided in a home other than the child’s own home. Advantages of family child care include its smaller, homelike setting with one consistent adult, greater flexibility in hours (it is more common to find family child care provided during early or late hours, evenings, or on the weekend), fewer children, and less structure. Because most family child care providers care for a mixed-age group, siblings can be cared for together and children have opportunities to interact with children of other ages.
Disadvantages of family child care may include its lack of reliability (often no substitute is available when the caregiver is ill or on vacation). Family child care providers’ education and experience in child development can be variable because the requirements to be a licensed family child care provider are minimal and there are no qualifications required to run a license-exempt family child care home.
Three types of family child care programs are common in Illinois: licensed homes, group homes, and license-exempt homes.
In-home care takes place in the child’s own home. This type of care is not regulated by DCFS. The advantage to in-home care is the convenience to parents and the minimal disruption to the child. Parents have a high degree of control over what the child eats, which toys are provided, and the availability of media. Parents don’t need to find alternative care when their child is sick.
Disadvantages to in-home care include its cost (it is generally the most expense of all arrangements); the difficulty in finding a qualified caregiver; the loss of family privacy; the legal, financial, and other requirements of the parents as employers; and a possible lack of social interaction opportunities for the child and caregiver.
Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies
Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) can provide detailed information about child care programs in particular communities in Illinois. CCR&Rs can notify parents of their eligibility for free or subsidized child care programs. CCR&Rs also can help parents understand relevant licensing regulations and can assist parents in assessing the quality of a child care environment.
Parents can find more information about quality ratings for child care and early learning programs near their home at ExceleRate Illinois.