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Learning About Child Care Options

Children of all ages need a clean, safe, nurturing environment; a balance between active and quiet activities; some outdoor time; and consistency and love. There are four types of child care arrangements from which to choose.

A child care center provides care in a group setting with planned activities. The children may be grouped according to age, or they may be placed in a mixed age grouping. The teachers are trained and supervised, and the center is open all weekdays, except in severe weather or pre-announced closings for holidays or vacation weeks. Most child care centers offer full and part-day enrollment, and a parent selects and pays for a specific time slot. When your child is sick, he or she usually cannot attend.

A child care center is licensed by the state EEC and conforms to the EEC regulations for staff to child ratio, group size, staff qualifications and the facilities. Centers will vary in philosophy, size, number of qualified staff in each classroom, the site and the facilities, whether they are for-profit or non-profit, and if there is parent participation.

Nursery schools, or preschools, offer group programs and are for children who are in most cases at least two years nine months old. They usually run for three hours, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, although some have shorter and some have longer days. Extended days are often available, some running until 3:00. As with child care centers, if your child is sick, he or she usually cannot attend. Nursery and preschools usually run on an academic or public school schedule, sometimes offering a separate summer program, and are typically closed when the community's public schools are closed.

Preschools and nursery schools are also licensed by the EEC. The schools vary greatly as to philosophy, emphasis, and degree of parental involvement. In order to be assured of a space, it is advisable to apply at the beginning of October of the year before your child will enter.

A family child care provider offers care for children in the provider's own home. Family providers run their own businesses and set their own policies and rates; they also generally offer flexibility in enrollment and fee structure. Licensed by the EEC, family providers may care for up to six children without an assistant, provided no more than three of the children are under two years of age and at least one of the three is at least fifteen months old and can walk unassisted.

Family providers vary in terms of experience with children, the nature of activities, physical environment, availability of materials/equipment, and number of children for whom they care. If the provider is ill, has a family emergency or is on vacation, you will need to find alternative care.

In-home care can be provided by a live-in nanny or au pair or by a caregiver who comes to your home on a daily basis. Generally this child care arrangement provides the parent with the most flexible hours and, if necessary, longer hours of care than group or family care. The care continues if your child is sick. However, if the in-home caregiver is sick, has a family emergency, or is on vacation, you will need to find alternative care. In-home providers may be willing to do household chores, pick up children at school, or do some cooking. An in-home caregiver is the least supervised of the child care options; it is also the most difficult to assess, requiring, as with all child care options, ongoing monitoring. 

Note: The Massachusetts Department for Early Education and Care (EEC) considers infants to be aged 0–14 months, toddlers to be 15 months to 2 years, 8 months, and preschoolers to be 2 years, 9 months to 6 years.

Partners EAP can speak with you and do an assessment to help you determine your childcare needs and the best resources to meet those needs. If you work for Partners HealthCare or an affiliated entity and are interested in a child care search only, please fill out the Child Care Request Form and email it to Note your child care search will take up to 5 business days. If your situation is urgent, please call us.

If you work for Partners HealthCare or an affiliated entity, and would like assistance with child care, please call Partners EAP 866-724-4EAP.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.





This content was last modified on: 07/24/2018

Partners EAP is not a service for the general public.

In case of emergency, please call 911 or your local hospital emergency service.

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