Choosing Child Care: Which Child Care Option Is Right for You and Your Child?

Learn about the different types of child care programs available to your family

Choosing the appropriate child care option for your family is an important decision that can cause anxiety for parents. After all, you’re confident about the care your child receives at home, but the thought of leaving your little one with a virtual stranger for a large percentage of their waking hours is understandably nerve-wracking. You need to be able to trust that your care provider will keep your child safe while nurturing and supporting their emotional, intellectual, and physical development.

There are many different options when it comes to choosing a child care environment. Consider the types of child care available to assess which one may be the most appropriate for your family.

Licensed family day homes

In the state of Virginia, a family day home must be licensed if there are between six and 12 children receiving care from the provider. A licensed provider assumes responsibility for the protection, supervision, and well-being of children under 13 years old and provides care in increments of less than 24 hours.

Licensing requires that all adult residents of the home, assistants, and substitutes complete a criminal history background check, central registry clearance, sworn disclosure statement, and tuberculosis screening. Licensed family day homes must also comply with the licensing standards set forth by the State Board of Social Services, which protects the welfare of children by setting guidelines for activities, services, and facilities.

Voluntary registered family day home

Homes with five or fewer children in their care are not required to obtain licensing in Virginia. However, voluntary registration is available in most areas, barring Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria, where local ordinances regulate unlicensed providers.

Voluntary registration requires that a family day home provider pay a $50 fee for a two-year certificate. Then the contracting agency completes a home inspection to ensure that the environment is adequate. The agency also ensures that all adult residents and assistants and substitutes complete a criminal background check, central registry clearance, sworn disclosure statement, and a tuberculosis screening during the initial application and all renewals, just like their licensed counterparts. The provider also completes a health and safety checklist to assess the home and to satisfy local fire and zoning ordinances.

Family child care programs approved by a local ordinance

Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax don’t participate in voluntary registration because their child care programs are approved by local ordinances set for providers. For more information, contact:

  • Arlington County Department of Human Services Child and Family Services Division: (703) 228-1685
  • City of Alexandria Department of Human Services: (703) 746-5700
  • Fairfax County Office for Children: (703) 324-8100

Unregulated care

Having a family member, friend, or neighbor care for your child is an appealing option for many parents. A provider can legally care for fewer than five children, in addition to their own children, or no more than four children if they’re under the age of two, including children who live in the home. Unregulated care is an attractive self-employment option for many.

Choosing a child care option that you’re comfortable with is a personal decision based on circumstances surrounding your family, child, and situation. Some parents are more comfortable with a formally licensed program and the structure that comes along with it, whereas others would prefer to drop their child off with a trusted family friend each morning.

Understanding your family’s needs and the options available is important; however, the most critical aspect of securing appropriate care involves finding the right fit. Helping your child develop a trusting, lasting connection with a caregiver who is invested in their care and well-being can bring you peace of mind while supporting their growth and development.

The Virginia Infant & Toddler Specialist Network helps improve the quality of care for infants and toddlers through extensive resources, services, and education for caregivers. Learn more about how we can help you improve the standard of care.

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