About 1 out of 3 child care workers are self-employed; most
of these are family child care providers.
Training requirements vary from a high school diploma to a
college degree, although a high school diploma and little or
no experience are adequate for many jobs.
Many workers leave these jobs every year, creating good job
Nature of the Work
Child care workers nurture and care for children who have not
yet entered formal schooling and also work with older children
in before- and after-school situations. These workers play an
important role in a child’s development by caring for the child
when parents are at work or away for other reasons. In addition
to attending to children’s basic needs, child care workers organize
activities that stimulate children’s physical, emotional, intellectual,
and social growth. They help children explore individual interests,
develop talents and independence, build self-esteem, and learn
how to get along with others.
Child care workers generally are classified in three different
groups, depending on the setting in which they work: Workers who
care for children at the children’s home, called private household
workers; those who care for children in their own home, called
family child care providers; and those that work at separate child
care centers and centers that provide preschool services to 3-
and 4-year-old children.
Private household workers who are employed on an hourly basis
usually are called babysitters. These child care workers
bathe, dress, and feed children; supervise their play; wash their
clothes; and clean their rooms. Babysitters also may put children
to bed and wake them, read to them, involve them in educational
games, take them for doctors’ visits, and discipline them. Those
who are in charge of infants, sometimes called infant nurses,
also prepare bottles and change diapers. Nannies work full
or part time for a single family. They generally take care of
children from birth to age 10 or 12, tending to the child’s early
education, nutrition, health, and other needs, and also may perform
the duties of a housekeeper, including cleaning and laundry.
Family child care providers often work alone with a small group
of children, though some work in larger settings with multiple
adults. Child care centers generally have more than one adult
per group of children; in groups of older children, a child care
worker may assist a more experienced preschool teacher.
Most child care workers perform a combination of basic care and
teaching duties, but the majority of their time is spent on caregiving
activities. Workers whose primary responsibility is teaching are
classified as preschool teachers, covered in the separate Handbook
statement on teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle,
and secondary. However, many basic care activities also are opportunities
for children to learn. For example, a worker who shows a child
how to tie a shoelace teaches the child while also providing for
that child’s basic care needs. Child care programs help children
learn about trust and gain a sense of security.
Child care workers spend most of their day working with children.
However, they do maintain contact with parents or guardians through
informal meetings or scheduled conferences to discuss each child’s
progress and needs. Many child care workers keep records of each
child’s progress and suggest ways in which parents can stimulate
their child’s learning and development at home. Some child care
centers and before- and after-school programs actively recruit
parent volunteers to work with the children and participate in
administrative decisions and program planning.
Young children learn mainly through play. Child care workers
recognize this and capitalize on children’s play to further language
development (storytelling and acting games), improve social skills
(working together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox), and introduce
scientific and mathematical concepts (balancing and counting blocks
when building a bridge or mixing colors when painting). Often
a less structured approach is used to teach young children, including
small-group lessons; one-on-one instruction; and creative activities
such as art, dance, and music. Child care workers play a vital
role in preparing children to build the skills they will need
Child care workers in child care centers or family child care
homes greet young children as they arrive, help them to remove
outer garments, and select an activity of interest. When caring
for infants, they feed and change them. To ensure a well-balanced
program, child care workers prepare daily and long-term schedules
of activities. Each day’s activities balance individual and group
play, as well as quiet and active time. Children are given some
freedom to participate in activities in which they are interested.
Concern over school-aged children being home alone before and
after school has spurred many parents to seek alternative ways
for their children to constructively spend their time. The purpose
of before- and afterschool programs is to watch over school-aged
children during the gap between school hours and their parents’
work hours. These programs also may operate during the summer
and on weekends. Workers in before- and after-school programs
may help students with their homework or engage them in other
extracurricular activities. These activities may include field
trips, learning about computers, painting, photography, and participating
in sports. Some child care workers may be responsible for taking
children to school in the morning and picking them up from school
in the afternoon. Before- and afterschool programs may be operated
by public school systems, local community centers, or other private
Helping keep young children healthy is an important part of the
job. Child care workers serve nutritious meals and snacks and
teach good eating habits and personal hygiene. They ensure that
children have proper rest periods. They identify children who
may not feel well and, in some cases, may help parents locate
programs that will provide basic health services. Child care workers
also watch for children who show signs of emotional or developmental
problems and discuss these matters with their supervisor and the
child’s parents. Early identification of children with special
needs—such as those with behavioral, emotional, physical, or learning
disabilities—is important to improve their future learning ability.
Special education teachers often work with these preschool children
to provide the individual attention they need.
Helping children grow, learn, and gain new skills can be very
rewarding. Child care workers help to improve children’s communication,
learning, and other personal skills. The work is sometimes routine;
however, new activities and challenges mark each day. Child care
can be physically and emotionally taxing, as workers constantly
stand, walk, bend, stoop, and lift to attend to each child’s interests
To ensure that children in child care centers receive proper
supervision, State or local regulations may require a certain
ratio of workers to children. The ratio varies with the age of
the children. Child development experts generally recommend that
a single caregiver be responsible for no more than 3 or 4 infants
(less than 1 year old), 5 or 6 toddlers (1 to 2 years old), or
10 preschool-aged children (between 2 and 5 years old). In before-
and afterschool programs, workers may be responsible for many
school-aged children at a time.
Family child care providers work out of their own homes. While
this arrangement provides convenience, it also requires that their
homes be accommodating to young children. Private household workers
usually work in the pleasant and comfortable homes or apartments
of their employers. Most are day workers who live in their own
homes and travel to work, though some live in the home of their
employer, generally with their own room and bath. They often become
part of their employer’s family and may derive satisfaction from
caring for the family.
The work hours of child care workers vary widely. Child care
centers usually are open year round, with long hours so that parents
can drop off and pick up their children before and after work.
Some centers employ full-time and part-time staff with staggered
shifts to cover the entire day. Some workers are unable to take
regular breaks during the day due to limited staffing. Public
and many private preschool programs operate during the typical
9- or 10-month school year, employing both full-time and part-time
workers. Family child care providers have flexible hours and daily
routines, but they may work long or unusual hours to fit parents’
work schedules. Live-in nannies usually work longer hours than
do those who have their own homes. However, although nannies may
work evenings or weekends, they usually get other time off.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
The training and qualifications required of child care workers
vary widely. Each State has its own licensing requirements that
regulate caregiver training; these range from a high school diploma
to community college courses to a college degree in child development
or early childhood education. State requirements are generally
higher for workers at child care centers than for family child
care providers; child care workers in private settings who care
for only a few children often are not regulated by States at all.
Child care workers generally can obtain some form of employment
with a high school diploma and little or no experience, but certain
private firms and publicly funded programs have more demanding
training and education requirements.
Some employers prefer to hire child care workers who have earned
a nationally recognized Child Development Associate (CDA) credential
or the Certified Childcare Professional designation, have taken
secondary or postsecondary courses in child development and early
childhood education, or have work experience in a child care setting.
Other employers require their own specialized training. An increasing
number of employers require an associate degree in early childhood
Child care workers must anticipate and prevent problems, deal
with disruptive children, provide fair but firm discipline, and
be enthusiastic and constantly alert. They must communicate effectively
with the children and their parents, as well as with other teachers
and child care workers. Workers should be mature, patient, understanding,
and articulate and have energy and physical stamina. Skills in
music, art, drama, and storytelling also are important. Self-employed
child care workers must have business sense and management abilities.
Opportunities for advancement are limited. However, as child
care workers gain experience, some may advance to supervisory
or administrative positions in large child care centers or preschools.
Often, these positions require additional training, such as a
bachelor’s or master’s degree. Other workers move on to work in
resource and referral agencies, consulting with parents on available
child services. A few workers become involved in policy or advocacy
work related to child care and early childhood education. With
a bachelor’s degree, workers may become preschool teachers or
become certified to teach in public or private schools. Some workers
set up their own child care businesses.
Child care workers held about 1.3 million jobs in 2004. Many
worked part time. About 1 out of 3 child care workers were self-employed;
most of these were family child care providers.
Seventeen percent of all child care workers are found in child
day care services, and about 21 percent work for private households.
The remainder worked primarily in local government educational
services; nursing and residential care facilities; religious organizations;
amusement and recreation industries; private educational services;
civic and social organizations; individual and family services;
and local government, excluding education and hospitals. Some
child care programs are for-profit centers; some of these are
affiliated with a local or national chain. Religious institutions,
community agencies, school systems, and State and local governments
operate nonprofit programs. A very small percentage of private
industry establishments operate onsite child care centers for
the children of their employees.
High replacement needs should create good job opportunities for
child care workers. Qualified persons who are interested in this
work should have little trouble finding and keeping a job. Many
child care workers must be replaced each year as they leave the
occupation temporarily to fulfill family responsibilities, to
study, or for other reasons. Others leave permanently because
they are interested in pursuing other occupations or because of
dissatisfaction with hours, low pay and benefits, and stressful
Employment of child care workers is projected to increase about
as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014.
The number of women in the labor force of childbearing age (widely
considered to be ages 15 to 44) and the number of children under
5 years of age are both expected to rise over the next 10 years.
Also, the proportion of children being cared for exclusively by
parents or other relatives is likely to continue to decline, spurring
demand for additional child care workers. Concern about the behavior
of school-aged children during nonschool hours also should increase
demand for before- and afterschool programs and child care workers
to staff them.
The growth in demand for child care workers will be moderated,
however, by an increasing emphasis on early childhood education
programs. While only a few States currently provide targeted or
universal preschool programs, many more are considering or currently
implementing such programs. There also is likely to be a rise
in enrollment in private preschools as the value of formal education
before kindergarten becomes more widely accepted. Since the majority
of workers in these programs are classified as preschool teachers,
this growth in preschool enrollment will mean that relatively
fewer child care workers will be needed for children old enough
to participate in preschool.
Pay depends on the educational attainment of the worker and the
type of establishment. Although the pay generally is very low,
more education usually means higher earnings. Median hourly earnings
of wage and salary child care workers were $8.06 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $6.75 and $10.01. The lowest
10 percent earned less than $5.90, and the highest 10 percent
earned more than $12.34. Median hourly earnings in the industries
employing the largest numbers of child care workers in 2004 were
Other residential care facilities
Elementary and secondary schools
Civic and social organizations
Other amusement and recreation industries
Child day care services
Earnings of self-employed child care workers vary depending on
the hours worked, the number and ages of the children, and the
Benefits vary, but are minimal for most child care workers. Many
employers offer free or discounted child care to employees. Some
offer a full benefits package, including health insurance and
paid vacations, but others offer no benefits at all. Some employers
offer seminars and workshops to help workers learn new skills.
A few are willing to cover the cost of courses taken at community
colleges or technical schools. Live-in nannies receive free room
Child care work requires patience; creativity; an ability to
nurture, motivate, teach, and influence children; and leadership,
organizational, and administrative skills. Others who work with
children and need these qualities and skills include teacher assistants;
teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary;
and teachers—special education.
Sources of Additional Information
For an electronic question-and-answer service on child care,
information on becoming a child care provider, and other resources,
National Child Care Information Center, 243 Church St. NW.,
2nd floor, Vienna, VA 22180. Internet: http://www.nccic.org/
For information on becoming a family child care provider, send
a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:
Care.com also provides access to articles and advice for parents.
Recent additions to Care.com resources include a Day
Care Directory : a comprehensive nationwide listing of daycare
providers, and our Senior
Care & Home Care Directory ; and a a state-by-state listing
of housing, transportation, legal, and financial resources for
State departments of human services or social services can supply
State regulations and training requirements for child care workers.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2006-07 Edition