Choosing a Center or Home

Center- or home-based child care -- which is right for you? And how do you go about choosing a specific program? The following information can help you in your search. You may want to start by reviewing the PDF “A Parent's Guide to Early Learning and Care in Michigan.”

Child Care Licensing, Accreditation, and Quality Rating

Child care centers and family/group child care homes should be currently registered or licensed by the State of Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), Child Care Licensing Division. Ask for proof of current licensure from the State of Michigan.

In addition, as you search for child care centers and homes on the State of Michigan child care database, click on State Report and then Reports Available for each program, and carefully review the recent Inspection, Renewal, and any Special Investigation Reports. The fewer rules-violations, the better -- especially if they are recent violations, and ones that could affect the safety and well-being of children.

Every licensed program is required to have a Licensing Notebook of all state-inspection reports (since 2010) available for you -- ask to review it during your first visit. For a center or home program that you are seriously considering, older reports (dating back to the year 2000 or so) are available via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. You can submit an online FOIA request (must use Explorer) for "any and all existing reports for all licenses held by that licensee (i.e., the child care provider/owner/director by her first and last name), and any and all reports involving disciplinary action." Those reports will be emailed or mailed to you for your review. 

State licensing rules are only minimal standards. Accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children/NAEYC (center-based settings) or the National Association for Family Child Care/NAFCC (home-based programs) is an indication of meeting child care quality standards, as is the State of Michigan's quality rating and improvement system (see Child Care Aware's explanation of QRIS).

Center-based Child Care

Centers provide care for children in a group setting outside of a home. NAEYC for Families provides more information on center-based care and accreditation.

Potential Advantages:

  • Environment and staff responsibilities are focused on child care.
  • Teamwork can promote a positive atmosphere and spirit of cooperation.
  • Staff emergencies do not affect center's hours.
  • There are usually several adults to care for children.
  • A center may be more likely to provide a written account of an individual child's activities.
  • A center may be more likely to have connections with other community resources.

Potential Challenges:

  • Exposure to larger numbers of people increases the risk of illness.
  • A center may have a more institutional atmosphere.
  • A center may require more conformity and routine than home care, resulting in less flexibility.
  • Changing shifts and staff turnover may affect relationships between the child and primary caregiver.
  • There may be communication gaps due to multiple caregivers.

Home-based Child Care

There are two different types of home-based care. The first is family or group child care. In Michigan, a family provider cares for up to 6 unrelated children in her own home. A group provider cares for up to 12 children and must have an assistant if there are more than 6 children or more than 2 infants and/or 4 toddlers. See NAFCC for Families for more information about home-based child care and accreditation.

The second type is in-home care where a caregiver is hired to care for children in the family's own home. This option includes au pairs and nannies.

Potential Advantages:

  • The setting is more home-like than a center.
  • Individualized care is more likely.
  • Parents and children can benefit from a sense of an extended family.
  • There are more opportunities for multi-age interaction, and siblings can be together rather than in separate classrooms and playgrounds during the child care day.
  • More continuity and bonding with one primary caregiver is possible.
  • A home may be more flexible in caring for children with minor illnesses.
  • A home may accommodate a parent's need for longer or unusual hours, or care during emergencies.

Potential Challenges:

  • Caregiver may work alone, unobserved by others. Long hours may cause stress and fatigue.  
  • Handling emergencies could be more difficult if only one adult is available.  
  • Provider illness or emergencies can leave a parent without child care unless a backup is planned.  
  • Provider may not have the resources or expertise to provide an age appropriate environment for several different age groups.  
  • Inexperienced caregivers may go out of business or quit after a short time.

Portions reprinted with the permission of Child Care Network.

Child Care Aware also provides information on types of child care.

If you have questions about your child care search, please email us or call (734) 763-9379.