What are the childcare options if you have or want to return to work after having your baby or you are moving to the US with young children? 


My profession can involve long hours and can be very demanding.  But I enjoy working as it keeps my brain sharp.  So when I had my daughter I knew I would want to go back to work.  But my husband and I don’t have family support since our parents and siblings live in Europe. My husband also works and travels a lot professionally. While I was very familiar with the French childcare system, I was clueless when it came to the American system.  So I had to figure out the various options.  After some research, I found out that the American childcare system is not much different than the French, at least structure wise.  The one main difference is the cost of childcare.  Childcare in the US is very expensive (especially for a baby and toddler) and rarely subsidized.  Here are the types of care available to working parents.


Daycare center

Daycare center is the closest to “crèches” as it provides child care in a small group.  They are usually for children aged three months to 2-3 years.   The costs vary according to region and city and what is required for baby and toddler care.  The average costs range from $1,000 to $2,000 per month.  Aside from the monthly costs, some childcare centers don’t provide for food and supplies.  Infant care is the most expensive.

Daycare centers vary in size.  California law requires a ratio of 1 to 4 for infant care (0 to 2 years old).   The activities vary from daycare to daycare.  Most of them offer all kinds of intellectually challenging activities, arts and crafts, educational games, music, indoor and many have outdoor play areas.  Each daycare sets up their hours. They are usually open from 6-7:00 a.m. to 5—6:00 p.m.  Although they observe national holidays, daycare centers are also open all year long even in the summer.  Daycare centers don’t strike! 

Although finding a daycare is not as hard as in France where you have to enroll your child before the baby is born, don’t wait until the last minute.  Most often there is a waiting list especially if you are trying to get a place in a popular and high-quality day care center.  Also finding the daycare center is a very personal process.


Family day care

Family daycare centers care for children in their own private home. They are generally more affordable than childcare centers and might have more flexible hours. They can range in size but usually are much smaller than daycare centers and are usually more affordable. Both childcare centers and family day care have to be licensed. 



A nanny is the equivalent of a “nourrice”. They will come to your home part time or full time and take care of your child.  Having a nanny might be more convenient and offers more flexibility. However, a nanny tends to be the most expensive.  



Why would you need a babysitter except to enjoy a night out?  Well, what do you do if your child gets sick and cannot go to day care?  Every daycare has different rules but most of them won’t take your child if he/she is sick or has fever.   So having a pool of babysitters you can rely on is a good idea.  Prices vary between $10 and $20 per hour. 


Au Pair

An au pair is a person from a different country who provides live-in child care for a family. Au pair duties can include anything related to caring for the children, but usually do not include house cleaning. You usually provide room and board as well as a stipend based on minimum wage in exchange for a set number of child-care hours. Au pairs are found through agencies which will take care of the administrative matters and visa issues. 


Ultimately, we decided to enroll our daughter in a daycare center near our home.  You have multiple childcare options and you should choose the one which suits you best.   But do your homework to ensure that you are making the most informed decision about childcare, taking your income and preferences into account. 


Author : Claire SCHMIDT
Consult her/his Services page and her/his French Cluster Member profile