The Difference Between In-Home Care and Daycare Centers
September 12, 2017
I’ve worked with young children for 15 years now. It’s one of my greatest joys in life! Most of that time has been spent running a full-time child care business from home, while I slowly but surely finished my degree in child development and education. But a couple of those years were spent first interning, and then working as a teacher in a couple o daycare centers here in town. After 15 years of experience, I can't say the two are equals.
I’ve learned a lot about the differences between them.
Some families will prefer the environment of a daycare center to an in-home child care program; maybe they like the feeling of an established business or school better than a new person's home. Maybe they feel like it's more easy to trust, or they appreciate the academic setting. Maybe they want their baby exposed to a fast paced environment with a lot of new people from the very beginning. Maybe they feel the employees will be held to a higher standard than you'd find in home child care. Centers are a good choice for some families.
However, new parents often don’t know where to even begin, especially if they have no inside experience as a teacher/provider themselves. And a lot of families don't know the difference between the two. While arguments can be made against bad child care, I'm specifically addressing high quality in-home child care programs, here, compared to daycare centers (and leaving out the stories I have of directors who wronged their employees, to prevent this piece from becoming a rant).
This post I'm writing is...
One part things that new parents should know.
One part critique on the things centers need to do to be better.
One part call to good people who want to become in-home child care providers and just don't know how yet.
One part thank you to those who give so much to help raise and teach all our young children. You are the BEST.
This account is, of course, just based on my own personal experience. That experience and perspective is a thorough one, though, as I have over a decade of time running a very successful home business, have a degree in early learning and child development, "interned" at our college's high quality center while in school, worked as a teacher for Head Start, and have worked in both the worst center and best center here in my town. I've also spoken with dozens of child care families AND center/preschool co-workers over the past 15 years.
The issues I have seen with each center/preschool -compared to quality in-home care- are these:
Daycare centers here charge $1200 - $1800 for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, yet staff members are often paid minimum wage or close to it, even though they typically give so much to their work. Employees might be required to have a degree in child development, and only be paid $14 an hour. Those are poverty wages! Especially if you have your own kids, student loans, medical expenses, and are paying for continuing education hours every year (done in your spare time) as required by law, etc. Meanwhile, the owner is making a KILLING in PROFITS.
As a child care provider, however, I can charge parents far less, have a small happy group of well-attended-to kiddos, and actually make a living wage. Having four children in my care equates to an income of $3000 - $4000 a month, minus about $100 a month in taxes. Registered with the state, I can provide meals on the USDA Food Program (which I do anyway) and be reimbursed for the cost of their organic meals. I can actually support my family, and continue to enjoy what I do! It’s a win for everyone here.
Daycare teachers are expected to work sick. If they go home throwing up, they’re expected back the next day –instead of 24 hours after vomiting has subsided, like the state licensing facility mandates. Children usually aren’t sent home sick, either, unless they’re throwing up with a very high fever. I’ve seen cases of pink eye, diarrhea, and flu get passed around a classroom for an entire month because sick children (and teachers) are kept in care! Some families will prefer not having to come pick up their sick child and miss work. But most of the people I know have told me directly that they want to know if their baby needs a doctor or needs to go home.
In a quality home-based child care program, contagious children go home/stay home, as mandated by state law. If the provider becomes too sick to work, they will often have a substitute that everyone knows, likes, and trusts who can come and cover them. And if no substitute is available, when s/he falls ill, families will be reimbursed for the sick day.
In my experience, providers typically get sick a LOT less often, or recover more quickly, when sick children are staying home until they’re over their illnesses.
It's smart for parents to always have their own, trusted back up care, or back up plan, for emergencies and sick days, just in case!
RATIOS: THE AMOUNT OF TEACHERS AND CHILDREN
Ratios are maxed out in classrooms. Meaning directors will usually structure their small classrooms to have as many children in them as possible, with as few teachers as possible. That makes the owner the biggest profit! With preschoolers, that might mean 18 four year old children in a small, very busy classroom with only two overworked and underpaid teachers. But for younger children, the infants and wobblers, that typically means eight babies, in a small room, with two teachers, where they spend a large part of their day crying, and fighting for a caregiver’s attention. These babies are typically shuffled from one feeding, diaper-changing, and being rocked to sleep, to the next, until all eight babies have had their basic needs met. And then that cycle starts all over again. While other babies scream for them. If a child is crying during the routine, maybe because they are new to the classroom and experiencing attachment issues, because they’re used to being held all the time and don’t want to share their care provider, because the room has other new children who are also crying and screaming a lot, because they’re not used to seeing seven other sets of parents dropping a child off, because they’ve had six different staff members come into their room today to give the two teachers their breaks…. they are often left to “cry it out” because there is so much work to be done for eight babies and only two adults (even just reducing the ratio to 3:1 and introducing one new child at a time, reduces the stress levels of this kind of classroom drastically!).
On top of this, daycare workers don’t have a say over who is in their classroom. Preschoolers who have been telling their peers how they’re going to murder them (it happens), for example, toddlers who are punching and biting without improvement to their behavior, and babies who clearly need one-on-one care are often all allowed to stay, no matter the detriment caused to the rest of the children and environment.
(*To be fair, I have seen some classrooms that function better than others; the space is large with a smaller group of children, and is really well-designed to support the interests of the children, with a developmentally appropriate curriculum. They are not ALL chaotic for the children. Other classes, though, aren't as well-supported. And those are the ones in desperate need of care.)
As an in-home care provider, I’m very careful about who the innocent babies and children in my care are exposed to. I’m very careful about keeping our group a safe, kind, happy one.
Child care providers have an entirely different requirement for ratios than classrooms do, too. You should check with your local child care division for the specifics. In Oregon, a registered in-home provider can have up to 10 children (only three or fewer, if you’re not registered with the state), only two of those being younger than two years old, and only up to six of them in total being younger than kindergarteners. While some providers have older kids around after school –often their own- usually the child care group during the day consists of only six young children, or fewer. BONUS: child care providers decide for themselves if they only want four children, or two children, or six children, compared to being forced to take the maximum amount that the center wants you to have.
Can you imagine the difference between a room of six thriving preschoolers compared to 18 bored or aggravated ones?
CONSISTENCY, ROUTINE, AND SENSE OF SECURITY
Sadly, there’s a lot of inconsistency and flux, in centers. Children get moved, every few months, to a new classroom as they get older. Not only are young children exposed to multiple teachers, and the adults giving those teachers breaks, or covering them if they’re out one day, but they’re regularly exposed to children leaving and new, scared children starting. I worked in one place where we had FIVE new babies start within two weeks –SOME OF THOSE PARENTS AND CHILDREN NEVER EVEN MET US, THE TEACHERS, FIRST- and they and the other children were pretty terrified and miserable for quite a while. Then children get moved to the next class and go through the process all over again.
In addition, with the level of overworked and underpaid burn out that happens to teachers of young children, there’s a really high turnover rate. Babies and children in daycare centers, have to emotionally grapple with having attachments (or lack of attachments) to their caregivers who don’t stay in their lives for very long.
For these reasons, I've come to believe that daycare centers are usually a very unsettling environment for most young children.
In a quality home program, however, the child care provider is typically the child's main caregiver and teacher, for years! And the children get to know us very well. We probably also have an assistant or substitute. New children are usually only introduced one at a time, to allow them time to adjust, and keep everyone there thriving comfortably. The program should be structured around the children, rather than the adults and the profit potential, meaning we get to know each child and their needs, and adjust the curriculum as necessary. With younger children, there is a much greater sense of safety and care found in having a regular routine, with other peers who are well-adjusted to being there, not a lot of new faces coming and going, nothing unexpected from the environment, and FAR more time for us to engage with the children, soothe them, guide them, and create awesome opportunities for positive socio-emotional experiences, exploring creativity and imagination, developing quality relationships with each other, fostering trust and capability, and so much more!
How do you want your child socialized?
The greatest strength, in my opinion, of a daycare center over an in-home program is the visibility. Having a lot of co-workers and constant in-and-out of families can help some employees remain accountable for their behavior. Technically, there are more eyes on your child. And this kind of social environment also creates a sense of moral support for teachers, in better centers. Employees can learn from each other, rely on each other, etc.
However, visibility isn't always assured, and is sometimes sold as something it's not. It's not uncommon for some lower quality child care centers to be found employing teachers who aren't teacher qualified by the state's mandates, or that have gotten in trouble for having employees that were aggressive with the children, or to have teachers who cover up their co-workers' or boss' mistakes. This isn't always the case, of course, but these things do happen. Even in better quality centers, because the ratio is maxed out, teachers often work alone.
In other words, visibility is crucial, but it also shouldn't be the only reason we choose a place.
In my child care, parents are ALWAYS welcome, and they can just show up, unannounced. My home is easily accessible, as well, and both the state child care division and the USDA Food Program make surprise visits to check on things. Furthermore, I have part time employees and substitutes, who the children know, and who constantly see how I care for the kids.
In contrast, the state and USDA typically make one scheduled visit to centers annually. In other words, the center knows they're coming and has the classrooms prep for the event; teachers put their sanitizers (chemical sprays for cleaning) away in a locked cupboard, they finally send any sick kids home as required by law, the room is cleaned beforehand, and the teachers follow the food program more honestly, etc.
A quality home program is typically already always on top of all of those things and more.
THE NEED FOR CARE
Sometimes, completely understandably, parents take their child to a center simply because it can be so hard to find good child care programs that actually have an opening for a new child. Especially for children under two years old. I’ve also heard from most parents I’ve worked with, upon meeting them, how hard it was for them to find someone like me. Yet, so many of the WONDERFUL center teachers I’ve spoken with would open their own child care business if they knew how! We need you. We need more good in-home child care providers. And you deserve to thrive better for the work you're doing with young children.
GO HERE if you'd like to read my book on how to start your own successful child care program, or if you'd like to read my book on parenting!
On a final and very important note, THANK YOU to all of you working with children of any age, in any setting! You are so needed, and so valuable, and you give so much. Where would we all be without our loving, devoted child care providers and teachers?! THANK YOU. ❤
© Lindsay Swanberg – 2017. All Rights Reserved.