Child Care

Your child deserves quality education from the start! The quality of child care has a direct impact on a child's ability to learn, to build healthy relationships, and to become the best they can be.

Your child's earliest experiences affect her brain development and lay the foundation for her future success. The most important of these experiences are provided by your parenting and the nurturing home environment you create, but other kinds of experiences, such as child care, can also influence her development. The use of child care (care outside a child's home by a non-relative) has become increasingly common in the past twenty-five years. Such care is often essential for families where both parents work outside the home, and many other families choose to place their children in child care in an effort to better prepare them for school.

The decision to place your child in someone else's care can be a cause for anxiety. As a parent, you may wonder about the effects that being cared for outside the family environment may have on your child. Additionally, the wide range of choices in type and quality of care can be confusing. There is good news for concerned parents: Careful research shows that parents have little reason to worry that child care will have negative effects. Even for very young children and children who spend relatively long hours in child care, the home environment continues to be the most important influence on development.

Types of Child Care

Child care can be divided into center-based care and home-based care. Child care homes generally care for a smaller number of children in the provider's home, while centers serve a larger group in a non-home setting. When parents choose home-based care, it is usually for children under three. Because center-based care typically includes a greater emphasis on education, parents tend to prefer this type for older children.

The Tennessee Department of Human Services divides child care providers into three types:

  • Family child care homes care for five to seven children
  • Group homes care for eight to 12 children
  • Child care centers care for 13 or more

Is My Child Too Young for Child Care?

Children are entering child care at earlier ages, and infant care is becoming increasingly common. The most important influence on a baby's development is her relationship with her family. Warm, sensitive and responsive parenting not only gives her a sense of security but also stimulates brain development and leads to better cognitive, behavioral and social skills. Research shows that child care, even during infancy, does not interfere with this bond. When infants receive positive parenting at home, child care will not affect their level of attachment to parents or the influence that parents have on their development.

Child Care Quality

The importance of child care quality is the most consistent finding among the many studies linking child care to children's development. Your child's needs depend upon her age, of course, but all high-quality care will include certain key ingredients. Among these are sensitive and responsive caregiving, cognitive and language stimulation, and a safe and healthy environment. Research shows that high-quality child care can have long-term benefits for children, including:

  • increased cognitive abilities
  • improved language development
  • better relationships with peers
  • less conflict with caregivers

However, these benefits may not be realized if the quality of care is low. Researchers find that the majority of child care across the U.S. is of mediocre quality.

How Can I Be Sure That My Child is in High-Quality Care?

There is no guaranteed method for identifying high-quality child care. The creation and enforcement of child care standards are left up to each state, and states vary widely in what they require of providers. Tennessee's Star Quality System is one way of determining quality. After an annual on-site evaluation, child care providers receive a report card. Those who go beyond the minimum standards for licensing can earn one to three stars on their report card; the number of stars indicates how far the provider has exceeded the minimum state standards.

Because of the wide variation in state standards, national accreditation may be a better indicator of quality child care. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers a voluntary accreditation program for providers who care for 13 or more children; NAEYC certification is widely recognized as the gold standard in child care quality. Family child care homes may be certified by the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC).

How Should I Choose a Child Care Provider?

  • To find a provider's Star Quality rating, visit the Tennessee Department of Human Services' Resources for Parents Site. Here you can also search for providers by zip code and find detailed regulations for each type of provider.
  • Visit the National Association for Family Child Care site to learn more about NAFCC accreditation or search for a NAFCC-certified provider in your area.

Above all, remember that ratings and accreditation provide only an incomplete measure of the quality of the care your child receives. Warm and responsive caregiving is the key to quality child care, just as it is the key to effective parenting. When a caregiver has a positive attitude, gives praise and encouragement, and promotes language and social development, the children she cares for will thrive. After you have familiarized yourself with a prospective child care provider's star rating and accreditation status, visit the center or home and observe how caregivers interact with children. The Tennessee Department of Human Services provides a booklet on choosing quality child care which can help you evaluate a provider thoroughly. View or download the booklet here.