Childcare options for parents in the United States

There are different options for parents who need help taking care of their child. Childcare is common in the USA. Learn about the types of childcare. Find free and low-cost options.

What is childcare?

Childcare is when you rely on others to take care of your young children. In the United States, it is common for parents to use childcare while they work or study. 

Some refugee and immigrant parents have never had someone else care for their children. In the USA, you will probably have to work outside your home to have enough money. This is particularly common for households with one parent.

Fortunately, there are many childcare services for parents who can’t stay at home.

Sharing care

Not everyone needs to pay for professional childcare. If you have a friend or a family member who is willing to watch your child this can be helpful.

Sharing care with your partner

You and your spouse or partner may be able to work different hours so that you do not have to send your children to daycare. This can save you money, but it also means you might not see each other as much. This can also be hard for men from some cultural backgrounds, who are not used to taking care of their children.

Sharing care with other families

You may be able to find another parent who will “swap” childcare with you. This means you will watch their children one day, and they will watch your children the other day. This is a good idea if you have family, neighbors, or friends who have children close in age to your own children.


“Daycare” means the daily care of your children by someone other than you, typically outside of your own home. 

There are different types of daycares.

  • In-home day cares. This means you send your child to somebody else’s home who watches the kids. 
  • A daycare center. They are not in a private home, and they usually have more children at them.

Most daycares require you to register and pay monthly. Daycares are typically available from 7a to 6p but each can be different. Some cities have drop-in daycares where you can bring your children for just a few hours.

State governments license home based daycares and daycare centers. This means they check if the daycare is safe or not. The state also makes rules for daycares to follow. 

It is best to choose a daycare that is licensed. You can search for childcare by state and find a list of options.


A babysitter is a person you pay to watch your children. Most babysitters will come to your house. Sometimes teenagers will babysit. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a babysitter:

  • Recommendations. Only hire babysitters you know and trust or who have been recommended to you by people you know. Ask for references.
  • Training. It would be best if your babysitter is certified in CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and first aid classes so they can respond in an emergency.
  • Questions. Have a conversation with the babysitter. Ask for their qualifications and review how their skills match your family’s needs. 
  • Test. Make sure you watch how the babysitter behaves near your children. See if your child and the babysitter get along well.

Summer camps

During the summer, you may be able to find day camps to send your child to. In the USA, camps do not mean camping outdoors. Children go for the day and usually focus on a particular activity. For example, you can find camps for soccer, art, theater, church, etc. 

Often your city will have its own camp options that can be less expensive than others. Most day camps also offer reduced fees for families with low income. Ask at your school or community center about summer camps.

There are overnight camps too, where children typically go and stay for a week. These are likely to be for sports and other outside experiences. Some are for studying. For example, to learn computer skills. Many overnight camps also offer reduced fees for families with low incomes.

Before choosing a camp, decide how much time you’d like your child to attend camp. Review the costs and what is included in the price. Think about the skills, abilities, or talents your child will learn at camp.

Free and low-cost childcare

School-age children have the benefit of free public schools starting around age 5. Your child is taken care of for around 6 hours a day. Some job options might offer you part-time work during those hours. 


You can send your children to preschool when they are about two years old. Preschools help prepare kids for school. 

The U.S. has a national program called Head Start, which offers free preschool for families with low income. You can find a program near you by searching the Head Start locator.

After-school programs

You should look into after-school programs if you need childcare before and after school. These programs will help your children adjust to their new schools, make friends, and get help with homework. 

Many schools will offer low-cost or free after-school programs for kids. Sometimes there are specific programs just for refugee youth.

  • Ask your child’s school if there are any after-school programs that would be good for your child.
  • The Boys and Girls Club of America has clubs all over the USA. 
  • The YMCA has after-school programs and also offers childcare and Headstart programs. 
  • You can also search for a local organization in FindHello in the category “Children & Teens.”
  • Find a program searching the Afterschool Alliance.

Can I leave my child at home alone?

You should never leave a baby or toddler alone at home. To leave a child unsupervised may be considered child abuse and neglect. 3 states in the country have laws about the minimum age for leaving a child alone at home. In Illinois, they have to be 14 or older. In Maryland, they have to be 8 or older. In Oregon, they have to be 10 or older. In other states, each situation is handled individually and the definition of neglect varies. 

Leaving your child alone without an adult depends on their age and maturity. Before your child stays home alone make sure they learn about safety and what to do in an emergency. 

There are many laws to protect children in the USA, learn more about raising children and parenting laws
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