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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 parents or legal guardians, typically someone outside the child's immediate family. The service is known as child care in the United Kingdom and Australia and day care in North America. Child care or day care is provided in nurseries or creches or by childminders caring for children in their own homes.
Babysitting is the occasional temporary care of a child during the absence of his or her parents. Child care or day care is ongoing care during specific periods, such as the parents' time at work. Child care can also take on a more formal structure, with education, child development, discipline and even preschool 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.
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 Canada, 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.
Where the market is sufficiently large or there are government subsidies for daycare, for-profit corporate day care exists. In North America, Bright Horizons Family Solutions is one of the largest such companies. It is a publicly traded company operating over 600 daycare centers. 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 1000 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.
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"[How to reference and link to summary or text].
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. 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.
Home day cares are operated by a single individual out of their home. This is often a stay-at-home parent who seeks supplemental income while caring for their own child. Local legislation may regulate the number and ages of children allowed before the home is considered an official day care centre and subject to more stringent safety regulations. 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. As home day cares do not pay rent, they are typically less expensive than day care centres. Home day care providers may still be certified like more organized daycares.
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.
For all providers, the largest expense is labour. In a 1999 Canadian survey of formal child care centres, labour accounts 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. The legislation will define what constitutes a day care (so as to not regulate individual baby sitters). It may specify 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.
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 non-profits, the title of the most senior supervisor is typically "executive director", following the convention of most non-profit organizations.
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.
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.
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.
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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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, 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 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.
- Main article: 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.
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 then 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.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
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.
- Nursery school
- Child care workers
- Child self care
- Child welfare
- Day care centres
- Day care sexual abuse hysteria
- Looked after children
- Preschool and daycare in Japan
- Quality of care
- See ABC Learning Centres Annual Report
- Evidence From Census 2000 About Earnings by Detailed Occupation for Men and Women. Census 2000 Special Reports, May 2004.. URL accessed on 2006-09-02.
- How the Media Perpetuate Women's Fears of Being a Bad Mother in AlterNet May 12, 2007.
- A profile of the childcare services industry (in Canada)
- Childcare at the Open Directory Project
- CBC Digital Archives - Who Cares For Our Kids?: The Changing Face of Day Care in Canada
- Quality Child Care From University of Florida/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Factors in choosing quality child care.
- Issue Guide on Child Care Examines policy alternatives and public opinion on child care in the U.S., from Public Agenda Online
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