Many families must rely on nonrelative childcare to go to work or school. Parents may have many or few childcare 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 questions about childcare options available to families in Illinois.
Childcare centers provide care for groups of children in a range of settings including Head Start/Early Head Start, state-funded prekindergarten (Preschool for All), independent preschool programs, and park and recreational programs. Childcare centers can be a reliable form of care, providing substitutes for staff illnesses and vacations. Many childcare centers operate all year, while some, such as Preschool for All programs linked to schools, operate on an academic calendar. Center program staff and directors are required to have education and annual training in child development. Center programs also may have opportunities for parents to get involved in curriculum planning and policy making. For example, Head Start has a policy council made up of parents and community members. Childcare centers may offer additional opportunities, such as field trips; music, dance, or gymnastic instruction; or services such as health and dental screenings.
One disadvantage of the center option is the inflexibility of hours. Center programs typically offer care early morning through late afternoon, Monday through Friday. Center programs often 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 childcare programs. Licensing Standards for Day Care Centers ensure that health, safety, space, and staffing requirements are met. Some childcare centers are not required to be licensed by DCFS, including those affiliated with churches, public schools, hospitals, and universities.
Family childcare is provided in a home other than the child’s own home. Advantages of family childcare include its smaller, homelike setting with one or a few consistent adults and fewer children. There also may be greater flexibility in hours; it is more common to find family childcare provided during early or late hours, evenings, or on the weekend. Because most family childcare 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 childcare may include its lack of reliability; often no substitute is available when the caregiver is ill or on vacation. Family childcare providers’ education and experience in child development can vary because the requirements for a licensed family childcare provider are minimal. There are no education or training qualifications required to run a license-exempt family childcare home.
Three types of family childcare programs are common in Illinois: licensed childcare homes, licensed group childcare homes, and license-exempt homes.
In-home care takes place in the child’s own home by a provider referred to as a nanny or babysitter. 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.
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. Learn more about in-home childcare from the Child Care Resource Service.
Finding Childcare That Meets My Family’s Needs
Child Care Resource & Referral agencies (CCR&Rs) can provide detailed information about childcare programs in particular Illinois communities. CCR&Rs can notify parents of their eligibility for free or subsidized childcare programs. CCR&Rs also can help parents understand relevant licensing regulations and can assist parents in assessing the quality of a childcare environment. Parents can find more information about quality ratings for childcare and early learning programs near their home at ExceleRate Illinois, through Child Care Aware of America, or by visiting the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Children with and without disabilities deserve welcoming, inclusive, and high-quality childcare. Parents of young children with disabilities and developmental delays can learn more about choosing programs that provide necessary supports. Check out these resources: