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January 26, 2016

What is Family Choice?

The following article was written by guest blogger, Ariana Steck.

Finding child care is a task that can seem overwhelming at times. Centers vs. homes. Licensed vs. exempt. This is a lot to take in! Combine that with the preferences and opinions of friends, family, blogs, and parenting magazines (just to name a few!) and you’re faced with quite the dilemma. What type of care should you choose? The answer: The one that best meets your needs, regardless of type.

You may have friends or family who recommend a specific center. Perhaps you’ve read online that a family child care program is better for your infant. Or maybe your mother is available to care for your child. The truth is that one type of care isn’t necessarily better than another. The truth is that you have a choice.


Family Choice is an initiative that ensures Child Care Resource & Referral (R&R) agencies educate families about all of their child care options. R&Rs provide families with simple, yet detailed information on types of child care without giving preference to any particular one. By providing this information, R&Rs give parents the tools they need to make an informed decision. In addition, parents are empowered to choose child care based on their own unique needs and what they feel is the best fit for their child and family.

Let’s begin by breaking down your different child care options.


A Child Care Center takes place outside of one’s home in a commercial facility. Some centers are located on the campus of local schools or in churches while others are out in the community.

In most cases, Child Care Centers are licensed by the State of California through Community Care Licensing and are known as Title 22 programs. These sites have to follow guidelines and rules set forth by the state. As a child care consumer, you are able to review the background of any licensed program for complaints or violations against them. You can do this prior to your child’s enrollment, during their time in care, and even after stopping care with a provider. You are also able to submit complaints about a facility to the licensing agency. Centers would not be required to have a license if they meet certain criteria. For example, programs operating on federal land, a school age site operated on school grounds by the school district, or even those offering limited hours would be exempt from licensing.

One of the areas the state regulates Child Care Centers is in health and safety. There are strict guidelines about the type of equipment and materials allowed in the classroom and on the premises, location and availability of food and water, and accessibility of materials that could be considered harmful. In addition to the environment being safe, the staff who work there must also maintain health and safety certifications and minimum education requirements. Ratios of staff to children must be maintained but vary based on the child’s age group. Any staff who work there must pass a criminal background clearance that is done through the Department of Justice. To ensure they are meeting these requirements, Community Care Licensing does announced and unannounced visits and keeps detailed records of each visit.

Child Care Centers may offer full or part day programming. Programs that operate part day are exclusively preschool enrichment programs and may not be able to accommodate the hours needed for families who work full time. The preschool or school readiness component will likely vary between different Child Care Centers. The state licensing does not require that any particular type of curriculum is used or any learning standards are followed.

Child Care Centers can also be referred to as a preschool, child care, center, or even day care. Don’t get tripped up by the language. Be aware this is just one option that has many facets to it.


Title 5 or Federally Funded Child Care are programs that are funded by the state or federal government. Families who use these programs must meet income guidelines. They have stricter requirements on ratios, staff education, school readiness, and nutrition. In addition to being monitored by Community Care Licensing, federal or state auditors also check up on them. These are going to be programs you often hear called State Preschools, Head Starts, Early Head Starts, or Child Development Centers.

Just like Title 22 Child Care Centers, Title 5 or Federally Funded programs must maintain certain ratios based on age group. However, as a Title 5 or Federally Funded site they must have fewer children per adult. The staff who work there also must complete ongoing training in Early Childhood Education and obtain certifications known as Child Development Permits. These staff are responsible for implementing age and developmentally appropriate curriculum activities based on the needs of individual children. While a preschool curriculum is optional for Child Care Centers licensed under Title 22, Title 5 or Federally Funded programs must have a curriculum. These sites not only focus on academic and social skill development but also focus on healthy eating habits by providing meals and snacks that meet nutritional guidelines.


Individuals caring for more than one family must obtain a license through Community Care Licensing. These providers operate from their home and can have a small (up to 8 children) or large (up to 14 children) license. You’re typically going to find the most schedule flexibility in these programs.

General health and safety requirements are similar to Child Care Centers but some aspects are different due to the care taking place in a private residence. Ratios must be maintained based on child’s age and size of license. Family Child Care Home providers have no minimum education or training requirements and are not required to provide meals or snacks or structured school readiness activities. Although these things are not required, many programs still participate in professional development activities and offer these services. Just like Child Care Centers, Community Care Licensing checks up on these providers and keeps records of all of their visits.

These programs can sometimes be called family child cares, child care homes, or day care homes.


These programs can go by many names: family, friend, and neighbor care, informal care, unlicensed care, exempt provider, or nanny. Providers who only care for one family are not required to be licensed. Since there is no regulatory agency setting guidelines, the qualifications, experience, training, and offerings of these providers cannot be generalized. The care could take place in your home or in their home. It may be highly structured or highly unstructured. The provider could or could not have CPR and First Aid certifications. My point here is that the only person regulating that care is you. Does this mean it’s bad? No! It simply means that as the parent you should keep in mind what health and safety, educational, and nutritional standards you expect of your provider and communicate your expectations to them.


When it comes to choosing who will be caring for your child, it’s not only important to know what all the options are but to also know how each of them can be beneficial. You’re not limited to choosing just one type of care. You can mix and match the different options to help meet your family’s needs. Knowing what each type of care is and what they offer will ultimately help you make the best choice. Remember, it's important to continuously assess the quality of care for any program you use, even if they are licensed and regulated by the state.


For more information on the types of care available in your community and to obtain a list of child care referrals, contact YMCA Childcare Resource Service at 1-800-481-2151.


Ariana Steck joined the YMCA CRS team in 2006 as a Child Care Consultant educating families on child care options and how to make informed decisions regarding quality care. In addition to providing referrals, Ariana helped implement quality assurance standards to ensure consumer education information is shared with all families receiving referrals through YMCA CRS. Ariana worked as the Quality Assurance and Data Specialist overseeing data collection, analysis, and reporting according to National and State standards. Ariana transitioned to her current role of Executive Administration Specialist in 2015. She manages various projects for the agency and is the Supervisor of Early Learning Readiness (ELR), a Y of the USA Achievement Gap signature program. In addition, Ariana is an Adjunct Professor of Sociology at a local California State University.

Ariana has a B.A. in Social Science with an emphasis in Sociology, History, and Communication. She also has an M.A. in Sociological Practice and completed her thesis on how parents use and choose child care.


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