Day care is a service in which children or dependent adults are cared for while the person who normally cares for them cannot do so. In the United States and Canada, women have traditionally cared for their children and for other dependent relatives. But in recent years, more and more women have begun working outside the home. The number of families with only one parent has also increased. Because of these changes, many families no longer have an adult at home during the day, and the demand for day care has risen.

Types of day care for children. Many working parents enroll their children in a day-care center. This is a nonhome site where a group of children receive adult care and supervision. Day-care centers are sometimes called child-care centers. Parents may also place their children in a family day-care home. In family day care, an adult cares for a small group of children in his or her own home. Usually, this adult is a mother with her own children. Some parents obtain day care by hiring a sitter or nanny. This is a person who comes to, or lives in, the family home. Other parents rely on relatives to care for their children during the day.

Day care for school-age children. Some working parents who have school-age children can be home when the children go to school and when they come home. But many parents are unable to do so, and their children may need day care before and after school.

Before- and after-school day-care programs may be located in the school the child attends. Such day care may also occur in a day-care center, a family day-care home, or the home of a relative or neighbor. In many areas, day care for school-age children is hard to find or expensive. For this reason, numerous children care for themselves before or after school.

Government support of day care. Most day-care programs in the United States and Canada are run by individuals or nongovernment organizations. In the United States, only a few programs are fully funded by state governments or federal agencies. In Canada, many programs are partly or fully funded by the provinces.

Employer-supported day care. In both countries, many employers offer benefits to help working parents care for their children and other dependents. The most common benefits include part-time working hours, flexible schedules, and unpaid leave. Some employers have day-care centers at the workplace. Others help working parents find and pay for day care outside the workplace.

In the United States, companies with 50 or more employees are required by law to offer at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees with a sick family member, a newborn infant, or a recently adopted child. In Canada, federal law allows mothers a 15-week, partially paid maternity leave and a 2-week unpaid leave. In addition, either the mother or the father may take an additional 10 weeks of partially paid leave.

Choosing a day-care provider for children. Experts recommend that parents select a day-care provider that is licensed or regulated by the state or province–if the state or province requires licensing or regulation. Many states and provinces do not regulate or license all types of day-care providers. Experts also recommend that the caregivers have special training in childcare and that there be enough of them to provide each child with individual attention.