Choosing The Right Child Care For Your Family

By Ruth Ferry


Choosing the right child care is one of the most difficult decisions a parent faces. For working parents, finding an option that is safe, reliable, affordable and fits their schedule are top priorities. And only after answering these type questions, should the parent start the difficult job of finding the right resource. The search can be chaotic. To help make the choice easier, here are some tips on what questions to ask yourself when choosing child care for your family:

How many children do I have?

It sounds like a silly thing to ask yourself, but the number of children you have will certainly affect the cost and viability of some child care options.

  • Au Pairs – Most legal au pair programs in the U.S. have one flat fee per family, not per child. Live-in child care traditionally offers a lower care-giver to child ratio, allowing for personal care specific to your child’s needs and development.
  • Nannies – Nannies frequently charge per child, varying their cost depending on the size of the family and often times, the ages of the children.
  • Day care centers charge per child – In general, day care center charges range from $100 to $400 per child, per week. Infant care, in part due to a lower staff-child ratio and more hands-on nurturing and care required, adds an additional $25 to $100 to that total.

How many hours a day will I need child care, and for which days? Is my work schedule flexible or fixed?

  • Au pairs work well with a fixed or flexible schedule provided they work a maximum of 45 hours a week and no more than 10 hours per day.
  • Nannies can provide care for a hectic or planned work schedule.
  • Day care centers work well for parents with fixed schedule “9-5” jobs, as many of these centers charge extra if you drop off early or pick up late.

What can I afford to spend on child care?

  • Au pairs are generally the most affordable form of child care as their weekly stipend is usually set by federal wage standards that include consideration for room and board.
  • Nannies tend to be the most expensive option because their weekly or hourly rates are generally market driven.
  • Day care centers charge differently for different age groups, number of children and depending on where they are located and tend to be “middle of the road” in terms of cost.

Is my child ready for social interaction?

All children develop at different stages.

  • Au Pairs – Au pairs are all between the ages of 18-26 and have the energy to engage in both active and passive age-appropriate activities on a schedule that suits each child. They can provide coverage for an ill child, snow days and school holidays.
  • Nannies are able to provide coverage for an ill child, snow days and school holidays.
  • Day care centers are good for socially active children, as day care provides an environment for them to interact with other kids their age.

Do you need help with laundry, meals and homework or just with child care?

  • Au pairs can assist with day-to-day child care chores and limited house cleaning.
  • Nannies are often expected to help in child care chores.
  • Day care centers do not help with household chores.

Regardless of what type of child care you ultimately decide to use, remember the importance of doing extensive research on your child care provider. Talk with other parents. Some of the best resources for advice are other parents who have hired or worked with au pairs, nannies and child care centers.

Screening is important when making a decision about your child care provider. Many child care organizations have built-in screening processes and background checks in place. Most day care centers, nanny agencies and au pair agencies handle this process as a service to the family and it is included in the fee. No matter which form of care you choose, it is important to get all of the information on your choice of provider before you decide. A background check, schooling verification (if applicable), personal and employer references, psychometric test, criminal record check, conducting a personal interview and a complete medical report are some of the larger elements of the screening process that a family should consider acquiring.

Still undecided on the type of child care that’s right for your family? Here’s a quick pro and con for au pairs vs. nannies vs. daycares.

Additional Reading

Au Pairs vs. Nannies vs. Day Cares

How to Choose Your Child’s Summer Camp

Child Safety Camp Check List

Stress-Free Visitation Guidelines


Ruth Ferry is a mother of two grown daughters with over 36years of child care industry experience. She is the responsible officer for the Visitor Exchange Program of the Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State. She currently serves as senior vice president and director of Au Pair in America, the nation’s largest and oldest provider of au pair child care. For more information on Ruth Ferry, visit her web site here.