Childcare costs vary depending on the part of the country you live in, whether you live in a city or the suburbs, the type of care you select (a care center or private caregiver) and the age of your child (infant care is more expensive). You need to decide what's right for you, then comparison shop among the choices available.
Day Care Center
The most common form of day care rendered in the U.S. is the day care center. It can also be called a nursery, nursery school, or children's center. In general, these centers group the children by age, so that the children interact with peers. Day care centers can care for infants, toddlers, and older children in after-school programs. For the children ages three and above, kindergarten training usually begins here, with organized group activities, some educational instruction, and play time. The center remains open even if a teacher is absent.
This "pre-school" environment is likely to benefit three-year-olds and above the most. The atmosphere should create the necessary foundation for successful integration into school life later on. For nursery schools, generally the child must be potty-trained.
Day care centers won't allow your child to attend session when they are sick since the presence of a sick child among a large group of children is a problem. You'll need to have backup arrangements ready for these times.
Family Day Care
A family day care home or neighborhood home is run by a caregiver in their own home. This type of day care is often run by mothers or retirees. This is usually the form of care that will accept an infant and children under two years of age. Don't expect the same level of instruction or organized activity in a neighborhood home, but these homes can provide real quality care if the caregiver is truly dedicated and experienced. Some family day care homes may care for your child if you have to work late or if you have unusual hours. However, care may not be available when the caregiver is sick. Most states control the number of children that may be cared for. Almost all home day cares are required to meet state licensing health and safety regulations.
Unlicensed Family Care
Most neighborhood homes are licensed, but some homes operate "underground." You'll have to do a little homework on these, both to find them and to check their references. Sometimes local referral agencies can help, and of course, there's always word of mouth. Note that most states have strict licensing requirements for family day care providers. If you send your child to an unlicensed provider, you run the risk of substandard care or of having the service abruptly shut down by the state.