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Day care or child care is care of a child during the day by a person other than the child's legal guardians, typically performed by someone outside the child's immediate family. Day care is typically an ongoing service during specific periods, such as the parents' time at work.

The service is known as child care in the United Kingdom and Australia and day care in North America (although childcare also has a broader meaning).

Day care is provided in nurseries or crèches or by a nanny caring for children in their own homes. It can also take on a more formal structure, with education, child development, discipline and even preschool education falling into the fold of services.

Some childminders care for children from several families at the same time, either in their own home or in a specialized child care facility. Some employers provide nursery provision for their employees at or near the place of employment.

Child care in the child's own home is traditionally provided by a nanny or au pair, or by extended family members including grandparents, aunts and uncles.


A worker drops off her child at day care.
Day care appeared in France about 1840, and the Société des Crèches was recognized by the French government in 1869. Originating in Europe in the late 18th and early 19th century, day cares were established in the United States by private charities in the 1850s, the first being the New York Day Nursery in 1854.


The day care industry is a continuum from personal parental care to large, regulated institutions.

The vast majority of childcare is still performed by the parents, in house nanny or through informal arrangements with relatives, neighbors or friends. For example, in Canadamarker, among two parent families with at least one working parent, 62% of parents handle the childcare themselves, 32% have other in-home care (nannies, relatives, neighbours or friends) and only 6.5% use a formal day care center.

However for-profit day care corporations often exist where the market is sufficiently large or there are government subsidies. For instance, in North America, Bright Horizons Family Solutions is one of the largest such companies, with over 600 daycare centers.. Similarly the Australian government's childcare subsidy has allowed the creation of a large private-sector industry in that country. ABC Learning Centres is a publicly traded company running about 1,000 daycare centres in Australia and New Zealand and another 500 in the USA.

Another factor favoring large corporate day cares is the existence of childcare facilities in the workplace. Large corporations will not handle this employee benefit directly themselves and will seek out large corporate providers to manage their corporate daycares. Most smaller, for-profit day cares operate out of a single location.

In general, the geographic limitations and the diversity in type of daycare providers make child daycare a highly fragmented industry. The largest providers own only a very small share of the market. This leads to frustration for parents who are attempting to find quality child daycare, with 87% of them describing the traditional search for child daycare as "difficult and frustrating" .

Non-profit daycare

"Considerable research has accumulated showing that not-for-profits are much more likely to produce the high quality environments in which children thrive."

  • Non-profit day cares have some structural advantages over for-profit operations:
    • They may receive preferential treatment in rents especially if they are affiliated with a church that is otherwise unoccupied during the week, or with a school that has surplus space.
    • Location within a school may further bring the advantage of coordinated programs with the school and the advantage of a single location for parents who have older school-age children as well.
    • Parents are typically the legal owners of the non-profit day care and will routinely provide consulting services (for example accounting, legal, human resource) for free. (There are some non-profits not operated by parents, but by a board of directors made up of community representatives who just want what is good for children.)
    • Non-profits have an advantage in fund-raising as most people will not donate to a for-profit organization.
    • Non-profits, however, are typically limited in size to a single location as the parent-owners have no motivation to manage other locations where their children are not present.
    • They may suffer from succession issues as children grow and parents leave the management of the day care to others.

Local governments, often municipalities, may operate non-profit day care centers. In non-profits, the title of the most senior supervisor is typically "executive director", following the convention of most non-profit organizations.

For-profit daycare

Family day cares can be operated by a single individual out of their home. There may be occasions when more than one individual cares for children in a family childcare home. This can be a stay-at-home parent who seeks supplemental income while caring for their own child. There are also many family childcare providers who have chosen this field as a profession. Local legislation will regulate the number and ages of children allowed per family child care home. Some localities have very stringent quality standards that require licensure for family child care homes while others require little or no regulations for childcare in individual's homes. Some home day cares operate illegally with respect to tax legislation where the care provider does not report fees as income and the parent does not receive a receipt to qualify for childcare tax deductions. Family childcare may be less expensive than center based care because of the lower overhead in family childcare. Many family childcare providers may be certified with the same credentials as center based staff.

Franchising of home day cares attempts to bring economies of scale to home day cares. A central operator handles marketing, administration and perhaps some central purchasing while the actual care occurs in individual homes. The central operator may provide training to the individual care providers. Some providers even offer enrichment programs to take the daycare experience to a more educational level.


For all providers, the largest expense is labour. In a 1999 Canadian survey of formal child care centres, labour accounted for 63% of costs and the industry had an average profit of 5.3%. Given the labour-intensive nature of the industry, it is not surprising that the same survey showed little economies of scale between larger and smaller operators.

Local legislation may regulate the operation of day care centres, affecting staffing requirements. Laws may mandate staffing ratios (for example 1:3 for under 18 months, 1:5 for 18-30 months, 1:8 for over 30 months, and even higher ratios for older children). Legislation may mandate qualifications of supervisors. Staff typically do not require any qualifications but staff under the age of eighteen may require supervision. Typically, once the child reaches the age of twelve, they are no longer covered by day care legislation and programs for older children may not be regulated.

In Canada, the workforce is predominantly female (95%) and low paid, averaging only 60% of average workforce wage. Many employees are at local minimum wage and are typically paid by the hour rather than salaried. In the United States, "child care worker" is the fifth most female-dominated occupation (95.5% female in 1999). In the US, staffing requirements vary from state to state.

Standards and Requirements

Some jurisdictions require licensing or certification. Parents may also turn to independent rating services, or rely on recommendations and referrals. Some places develop voluntary quality networks, for example in Australia most childcare services are part of a national Quality Assurance system.

Most countries have laws relating to childcare, which seek to prevent and punish child abuse. Such laws may add cost and complexity to childcare provision and may provide tools to help ensure quality childcare.

Additionally, legislation typically defines what constitutes daycare (e.g., so as to not regulate individual babysitters). It may specify details of the physical facilities (washroom, eating, sleeping, lighting levels, etc). The minimum window space may be such that it precludes day cares from being in a basement. It may specify the minimum floor space per child (for example 2.8 square metres) and the maximum number of children per room (for example 24). It may mandate minimum outdoor time (for example 2 hours for programs 6 hours or longer). It may mandate staffing ratios (for example 1:3 for under 18 months, 1:5 for 18-30 months, 1:8 for over 30 months, and even higher ratios for older children). Legislation may mandate qualifications of supervisors. Staff typically do not require any qualifications but staff under the age of eighteen may require supervision. Typically, once the child reaches the age of twelve, they are no longer covered by day care legislation and programs for older children may not be regulated.

Many organizations (in the developed world) campaign for free or subsidized childcare for all. Others campaign for tax breaks or allowances to allow parents a non-finance driven choice. Many of the free or subsidized childcare programs in the United States are also Child Development programs, or after school programs which hire certified teachers to teach the children while they are in their care. There are often local industry associations that lobby governments on childcare policy, promote the industry to the public or help parents choose the right daycare provider.

For instance, in the United States, childcare in regulated commercial or family childcare home setting is administered or lead by teachers who may have a Child Development Associate or higher credentials. These higher credentials include Associate, Bachelor, and even Master degrees in the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE). Although Childcare professionals may obtain a degree, many states require that they attend workshops yearly to better their knowledge and skill levels in the childcare field.

Worldwide details


Spain provides paid maternity leave of 16 weeks with 30-50% of mothers returning to work (most full-time) after this , thus babies of 4 months age tend to be placed in day care centers called "escoles bressols" in Catalonia ("cot schools") . Adult-infant ratios are about 1:7-8 first year and 1:16-18 second year. Public pre-school education is provided for most children aged 3-5 years in "Infantil" schools also providing primary school education.


Australia has a large child care industry, despite common opinion that child care is hard to find. The Australian government's childcare subsidy has allowed the creation of a large private-sector industry in that country.

Regulation is under the auspices of the NCAC.


Canada offers both private and subsidized daycares. According to provinces and cities some shortages of subsidized openings can lengthen the time needed to find a suitable childcare provider. To counter this governments or private enterprise sometimes enable parents to look for available spaces online.

United States

State legislation may regulate the number and ages of children allowed before the home is considered an official day care program and subject to more stringent safety regulations. Often the nationally recognized Child Development Associate credential is the minimum standard for the individual leading this home care program. Each state has different regulations for teacher requirements. In some states,for teaching in a Day Care center Teachers must have an Associates Degree in child Development. State with quality standards built into their licensing programs may have higher requirements for support staff such as teacher assistants. And for Head Start Teachers by 2012 all Lead teachers must have a Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education.

Family childcare can also be nationally accredited by the National Association of Family Childcare if the provider chooses to go through the process. National accreditation is only awarded to those programs who demonstrate the quality standards set forth by the NAFCC.

United Kingdom

The UK has a wide range of childcare offered, including childminders, day nurseries, playgroups and can also include pre-school education at school. It is regulated by OFSTED (CSSIW in Wales), which operates the application and inspection process for the sector. The sector is primarily funded by the parents, however the Nursery Education Grant (pre-school funding) can be used at some day nurseries, playgroups and schools. The government introduced a childcare allowance by which employers could make payments for childcare, prior to tax, on employees wages.


In Mexico, the President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa has created a Social Program named "Programa de Estancias Infantiles" that included more than 8,000 Day Care Spaces for children between 1 and 3.11 years old. This program subsides Mothers that Work and Study and also Singles Fathers in a vulnerable situation. It has a great success having more than 125,000 children over the country. This is regulated by the Social Development Minister (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social).[83685]


In Germany there is a variety of possibilities for young children. A famous example is the KITA (:de:Kindertagesstätte).

In 2009, under the leadership of family minister Ursula von der Leyen in the CDU government of Angela Merkel, a plan to triple to 750,000 the number of day-care places is proceeding. However, there are a number of conflicts between the goal of easing the challenges of raising a family and pursuing a career, on one hand, and the goal of easing child-generated noise pollution. A report highlights an appeal pending before the Constitutional Court against the Sternipark center, brought by its Hamburgmarker neighbors in an already rather noisy location on a thoroughfare between Othmarschenmarker and Blankenesemarker. The report also reviews the issue as it has arisen around the Federal Republicmarker, with its aging, non-self-regenerating population.

Child development

Independent studies suggest that good day care for non-infants is not harmful. Some advocate that day care is inherently inferior to parental care. In some cases, good daycare can provide different experiences than parental care does, especially when children reach two and are ready to interact with other children. Bad day care puts the child at physical, emotional and attachment risk. Higher quality care was associated with better outcomes. Children in higher quality child care had somewhat better language and cognitive development during the first 4½ years of life than those in lower quality care. They were also somewhat more cooperative than those who experienced lower quality care during the first 3 years of life.

The National Institute of Health released a study in March, 2007 after following a group of children through early childhood to the 6th grade. The study found that the children who received a higher quality of child care scored higher on 5th grade vocabulary tests than the children who had attended child care of a lower quality. The study also reported that teachers found children from child care to be "disobedient", fight more frequently, and more argumentative. The study reported the increases in aggression and vocabulary were small.

As a matter of social policy, consistent, good daycare, may ensure adequate early childhood education for children of less skilled parents. From a parental perspective, good daycare can complement good parenting.

A 2001 report showed that children in high-quality care scored higher on tests of language, memory and other skills than did children of stay-at-home mothers or children in lower-quality day care.

A study appearing in Child Development in July/August 2003 found that the amount of time spent in day care before four-and-a-half tended to correspond with the child's tendency to be less likely to get along with others, to be disobedient, and to be aggressive, although still within the normal range.

See also


  1. The Fraser Institute
  2. Bright Horizons for Bright Horizons
  4. | comment | Child care must serve kids not corporate shareholders
  5. No40-XIB-pages 1-4
  6. About ADCO - ADCO :: The Association of Day Care Operators of Ontario :: Childcare Today
  7. About This Site | The Australian Childcare Index
  8. Govt 'misleading parents on childcare' - Breaking News - National - Breaking News
  9. National Childcare Accreditation Council
  10. Childcare establishment locator > MFA
  11. Daycare and childcare in Canada - Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, etc
  12. City of Toronto: Child Care Finder
  13. "Sturm und Drang About Pint-Size Neighbors" by Carter Dougherty, The New York Times, 1-28-09, p. A6 NY edition. Retrieved 1-28-09.
  14. Sternipark Home page, translated. Retrieved 1-29-09.
  15. Daycare - Daycares Don't Care, How Can a Daycare Love?
  16. How the Media Perpetuate Women's Fears of Being a Bad Mother in AlterNet May 12, 2007.
  17. Child Care Linked To Assertive, Noncompliant, and Aggressive Behaviors Vast Majority of Children Within Normal Range
  18. Blackwell Synergy - Child Development, Volume 74 Issue 4 Page 976-1005, July 2003 (Article Abstract)

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