What is childcare?

Childcare is when children are supervised and cared for by a person other than a parent or caregiver. Obtaining affordable, quality child daycare, especially for children under age 5, is a major concern for many parents.

Childcare can range from single-night babysitting to daily childcare for working parents. Child daycare needs are met in many different ways. Care in a child’s home, care in an organized child daycare facility, or care in a provider’s home are all common arrangements for preschool-age children. Older children may receive child daycare services when they are not in school, generally through before-school and after-school programs or private summer school programs. With the increasing number of women in the workforce, child daycare services has been one of the most talked about and fastest growing industries in the economy.

Formal child daycare centers include nursery schools, preschool centers, Head Start centers, and group daycare centers. Self-employed workers often provide care in their home for a fee. Others provide care for children in the child's home.

Childcare can also be provided by occasional babysitters or people who provide unpaid care in their homes for the children of relatives or friends.

What does the childcare industry consist of?

The for-profit sector of this industry includes centers that operate independently or as part of a local or national chain.

Non-profit child daycare organizations may provide services in religious institutions, YMCAs and other social and recreation centers, colleges, public schools, social service agencies and worksites ranging from factories to office complexes.

How has the childcare industry changed in recent times?

The number of for-profit establishments has grown rapidly in response to demand for child daycare services. Within the nonprofit sector in the United States there has been strong growth in Head Start, the federally funded child daycare program designed to provide disadvantaged children with social, educational, and health services.

Child daycare has shifted from unpaid to paid caregivers, particularly child daycare centers. Center-based care has increased, substituting for unpaid care by relatives, as fewer families have access to relatives who are willing or able to keep their children.

What do some employees do to help working parents access daycare?

Some employers offer child daycare benefits to employees. They recognize that the lack of child daycare benefits is a barrier to the employment of many parents, especially qualified women, and that the cost of the benefits is offset by increased employee morale and reduced absenteeism.

Some employers sponsor child daycare centers in or near the workplace; others offer direct financial assistance, vouchers, or discounts for child daycare, after-school or sick-child daycare services, or a dependent care option in a flexible benefits plan.