What is the Difference Between Placing Your Child In a Daycare Center vs Home Daycare?

Choosing who to entrust with your child’s care isn’t an easy decision. There are dozens of factors to consider, like the quality and number of caretakers, the cost, and of course, the type of facility itself. One ongoing debate that occurs between many parents is whether putting your children in home daycares or a daycare center is the better choice.

Many parents argue that a home setting is healthier for their child’s learning and growing. Other parents argue that an actual center will have wider and more varied resources for caring for your children. But the truth is, there may not be a single right answer here. It really boils down to what works best for your children and your family.

Whatever you decide, it’s important to first make sure you’re considering all the differences and what they can mean for your child and their care.

Differences in Setting

The terms “home daycare” and “daycare center” may sound largely self-explanatory, but it’s important to make sure you understand what the physical differences are between the two.

A home daycare is literally that: daycare services run out of the home someone lives in. This can include a variety of dwellings, from multi-family homes with large backyards to small apartments with a few rooms and a communal outdoor area. Whatever the case, the owner of the daycare business or service cares for your children inside their own home and has all the amenities (or possible limitation of amenities) that come with that setting.

A daycare center can vary even more than home daycare settings. Centers are brick-and-mortar businesses that are either owned or rented by the business owner that are completely separate from their personal dwellings. They can vary in size, layout, and amenities, but most often mimic school or preschool settings more so than they do more familiar and comfortable home settings.

Differences in Curriculum

Curriculum, or daily educational and recreational activities, may not actually look very different between homes and centers. Rather, the main differences lie between how each facility decides to set their programs up. For example, many home daycares will likely have smaller group sizes with a wider range of mixed age groups, meaning their offerings and schedules may be more flexible and fluid.

Daycare centers, on the other hand, tend to have a more structured curriculum because they have more resources and space to provide it. So they may have age-based activities reserved for groups that are separated based on developmental stage.

While each daycare is unique in the way it provides care and structure, it’s of the general finding that home daycares tend to have more bandwidth for one-on-one attention. Most in-home daycares operate in smaller settings, offering the increased capacity for individual support. Of course, this is also dependent on how many staff members there are in the facility and how many children they watch a time. And keep in mind, some daycare centers may also offer programs that prioritize one-on-one time for children.

Differences in Accreditation

Making sure your children are being watched and educated by high-quality caregivers and teachers is one of the most important details to consider when making your daycare decisions. An agenda filled with wholesome and helpful activities is great, but if the people providing them don’t have the knowledge or background to run them successfully, then it’s all for naught. Not to mention, if they aren’t following state laws and regulations, child health and safety could be at risk.

Accreditation refers to the recognition of exceptional early care and education programs. An accredited daycare, whether it’s a home or a center, will strive to exceed beyond more than just state licensing requirements. They meet consistent health and safety measures, ensure their professionals are fully licensed, and can prove their care environment meets designated standards.

In general, home daycares tend to have fewer accreditations associated with their staff than daycare centers do. Daycare centers may require their employees to carry certain training certifications or even educational degrees, whereas at-home facilities tend to lean in a more relaxed direction. But this certainly isn’t a blanket statement for all facilities, so it’s important to always ask what their accreditations are and if they can show proof of them where possible.

Childcare laws and licenses are more rigid. They also vary state to state, and Missouri has many that daycare providers must adhere to, which you can familiarize yourself with by visiting the Missouri Department of Elementary School and Secondary Education website. These laws include such things as directives for requiring immunizations, providing direct payment options, adhering to business reporting standards, following abuse and neglect laws, confidentiality rules, certain accreditation definitions, and much more.

Differences in Insurance Liability

The insurance standards of daycare facilities are elements often overlooked by parents. But they can make all the difference should something happen to your child while attending such a facility.

There are extensive differences between business facility insurance plans and home facility insurance plans. For example, in the state of Missouri, if a daycare business owner uses their home and its address as their registered facility location, they may assume the children under their care are covered by their home liability insurance should something happen. But it’s likely that their home insurance plan does not cover any of the children under their care, as they’re specifically associated with their business.

If such a facility does not have additional business liability insurance, their ability to provide you with any sort of legal monetary compensation could be severely stunted. Should something happen to your child while under their care, that could leave you struggling with how to compensate for it financially all on your own.

Daycare centers, on the other hand, often have more extensive liability insurance associated with their businesses, because they don’t have home liability insurance to fall back on. That means they may have more coverage and resources for support if something happens to your child under their watch. But having more coverage to offer doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll make the process of receiving it any easier for you after something happens.

Legal Tips for Parents Using Any Type of Daycare Setting

No matter which type of daycare facility you determine is the right choice for you and your family, it’s always possible that some type of misconduct could happen that you just couldn’t see coming. While one-time accidents do happen—kids can suffer injuries during play, after all—if you suspect ongoing injury, abuse, or neglect, it’s important to know your rights and how to take action on your child’s behalf.

First, if your daycare offers you reports or recordings of your child’s actions and their facility, make sure you hold onto them. Many facilities these days offer access to cameras through a website or app so parents can check in on their children. Make sure any recordings of this footage remain in your possession, and do not delete the app or your web account. These could become valuable evidence. The same goes for any written reports about your children—though these reports certainly won’t directly reveal any abuse, they may give summary of your child’s behavior, or could be used to show the facility attempted to hide or lie about something.

If your child is coming home with consistent injuries or has been showing a change in mood and behavior, it’s extremely important to keep a thorough record of these things. Take photos of injuries and their progression, and keep copies of any medical records associated with having the injuries treated. And record your child’s changes in mood and behavior in a dated journal or by video recording if appropriate. These too can be valuable evidence in a settlement case or court of law.

And finally, don’t be misguided by the waiver you sign when your child joins a daycare facility. Although the waiver may say the facility isn’t responsible for any sickness or injury your child suffers while under their care, it does not exempt them from negligent harm caused.

To research the legal histories of daycare businesses, as well as to report any suspected negligent behavior, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website  is once again a great tool. And if you do find yourself facing a legal issue with your child’s daycare facility, it’s wise to seek the help of an experienced Missouri childcare injury attorney.