Choosing a Day Care Provider: Licensed Center vs. Child Development Home

Who is going to take care of my baby?!?!

Many things kept me up at night during my pregnancy. Finding a daycare provider I would trust with my precious baby’s life was one of the top three. After coping with the fact that this needed to happen because I needed to work, we enrolled our baby in a child care center. After two weeks, or months, of crying after drop-off, I realized this time has been vital in the development of my now two-year-old. She gets to learn from other people, interact with other kids and have a broader set of experiences than I alone could have given her.

Choosing a Day Care Provider

My daughter was in a licensed center (LC) for 15 months, when we switched to an in-home daycare or child development home (CDH). I’ve had good experiences with both and would like to share some of the differences in hopes that it might help you in your search.  

Interaction with Other Kids

One of the things I love most about daycare is that my daughter gets to spend most of her day with other kids. The LC had about 30 children, so she saw lots of other kids during her day, even if they were not in the same classroom. The CDH is more intimate with only 6 children. Even if it was just in passing, she did get exposed to more hustle and bustle at the LC.

Unilateral Interaction vs Variety

The LC was divided by age group, so she spent most of her day with other kids within her age range, sharing similar abilities and needs. At the CDH, she interacts with other kids ranging in ages from babies to 3 years old, so she gets exposed to more developed skills (such as using the potty and talking) which definitely has sparked an interest and curiosity in learning these new skills. I do love the exposure to kids in different learning stages because she can mimic the older kids’ skills while learning how to properly interact with younger ones.

Time Off (Sick and Vacation)

Let’s face it, kids are notorious for spreading germs. Sick days become a factor no matter what provider you chose. If your child gets sick, then you’ll need to stay home for a day or two. At a LC, there’s more exposure to germs, so this might be more common. On the other hand, if it’s the provider who is sick or on vacation, the LC will have backup, the ratio will always be covered and they will stay open. For a CDH, you have to factor the need to provide an alternative child care option on their days off, so you might end up using up more of your own PTO if no alternative is available.


There is a minimum provider/child ratio dictated by law. How many providers your child has at a time will depend on the amount of children in the room. At a LC, it can range from 1-3, while a CDH is typically 1. This comes into play when it’s time to meet the kids’ needs. The key here is that at a LC there will be multiple people with different styles tending to your kid, but probably a quicker response time. While at a CDH it’s the same person every time and response time might depend on availability. Does your child like variety or consistency? How about you?

Formal vs Informal Interactions

The change in staff at the LC often meant that I did not interact with her main provider during pick-up. I learned about her day, what she ate, how she did, any problems, all through the end-of-day summary sheet. At the CDH, I talk to her provider about the day and she can answer any specific questions I might have. The LC seemed to be more formal with interactions, more of an “office” feel. On the other hand, the CDH is more personal and easier to access. This relationship makes it feel more intimate and as an extension of your own family.

Other Considerations:

  • Does the provider have a background in childhood education or development? Do they provide teaching opportunities?
  • Day-to-Day Activities: schedules, free play, structured learning, learn through play, etc.
  • Siblings: Would you want them to be together or in separate rooms?
  • Outings: Do they provide weekly/daily trips with the kids? Do kids stay in the same room all day or have a chance to play outside? What are their safety measures during trips?
  • Cost: It varies greatly by provider and there’s no general rule of who is more expensive or cheaper. Plus, you have to factor in drive time, vacation, paid time off, etc. It’s important to find an option at a price that you feel comfortable with.

Choosing a Day Care Provider

It’s a lot to consider, but you want to find a day care provider you can trust with your child. Each provider is different, even among the same type, finding the one that meets your family’s needs is important. Take your time to make decisions and ask questions in your search for the best provider for your children. Also, don’t forget other day care options: nanny who comes to your house, leaving your child in the care of a family member, preschools, and/or being a stay at home parent.

Note: This is solely based on the author’s and contributors’ experiences. Day care providers may vary from statements in this article.

Helpful resources:

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  1. There are a couple of other sides of the coin to consider… I have been an in-home childcare provider and worked at a large daycare for a year or so. I am also a mother of five children. I preferred to care for 2-3 children at a time in my daycare, so that I wasn’t overwhelmed when my children were home from school. I also enjoyed caring for a smaller group. Be mindful of how many children your in-home provider cares for-both part-time and full-time. The stress level and amount of attention your child receives can affect them greatly, for good or bad. In a center, the children with the most needs receive the 1-3 care givers’ attention, most of the time. Be aware that the more children in the room, the smaller the chances are that your child will enjoy one-on-one attention from an adult. This can happen in an in-home, too, if there are many children being cared for.

    There is one more point I would like to add about going to a center. Not only are there multiple people that care for your child, sometimes you won’t know the person caring for your child. You will not get to screen the people that help you raise your child. You will be depending on the care center to choose these people, and may not get to know each of them well. Also, some daycare centers deal with turnover and that means people may come and go, bringing change and frequent adjustments into your child’s life. Those experiences aren’t always bad! Change and adjustments can be good for children and can teach them important skills and bring growth. Be vigilant and aware as you watch this process and observe your child closely in case they don’t handle it well, they need extra help and attention from you, or they need a different situation altogether.

    The choice is an individual one, and familiies’ needs are so different across the board. What a privilege that Americans have so many options for childcare solutions!

    It is my opinion that the most important piece of the puzzle is how the parents feel about their provider. Parents should feel peace and a measure of excitement about the fit for their family. I know I don’t have to say “don’t give in or settle!” because this decision is a big deal for most people. But, remember to always trust your gut.

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