My wife and I are parents with tweens. As our kids straddle the line between independence and dependence, our child care needs have changed. Now, it is about efficiently maximizing our baby-sitter usage, which includes driving assistance, house management and Saturday night parental respites. When our boys were babies, however, our child care concerns were focused on social interactions, developmentally appropriate challenges and safety. Different life stages require different levels of care.

I remember many serious conversations both prior to and after our children were born about what type of daycare best met our needs. There truly is a plethora of opportunities, including day-care centers, licensed family-care facilities, in-home daytime assistance and nannies who never leave. At some point, most every child is taken care of by someone other than a parent. Knowing your options is the first step to making the best decision for your family.

For out-of-home assistance, there are a variety of choices. Child-care centers offer the biggest range of services, including longer hours, developmental programming, and government regulations that ensure a certain level of competency and cleanliness. When both parents work, these centers provide reliable supervision, and they also are a hub of social activity as both kids and parents interact with each other.

Another ‘drop-off’ option is a licensed family day-care center. These are smaller, lower-priced alternatives typically found within one’s own neighborhood. Located in a personal home, these caregivers offer consistent staffing and individualized attention to a small number of children. Family day cares are less expensive than their larger child-center counterparts, but they also don’t offer as many services.

Some families prefer to keep their children at home and hire independent individuals. These helpers can be scheduled to meet the hours and needs of a busy family, including around-the-clock, 24/7 assistance. It can, however, be difficult to find a good employee, so check with friends or contract with an agency. While there are fees associated with the latter option, the benefit of finding prescreened, prequalified workers can be worth the cost. No matter who you hire, a proper background check is a must!!

As kids enter the elementary school years, childcare needs significantly shift. Parents no longer need full-time assistance, and a school’s after-care program may be the perfect fit. Some schools offer a variety of opportunities, including homework clubs, specific activities and organized sports. Before committing to a program, however, make sure it is a good fit. A child who needs to burn off late-day energy may not like doing an after-school art project.

And just like daycare, many families prefer children to be at home when the day is done. If that is your situation, consider employing a high school or college student. This can actually be a better alternative than an available relative because you are the boss. Hired help are more likely to execute your directions and follow family rules because it is their job to do so. Furthermore, these young adults often have the energy needed to keep up with tireless children, as well as the academic knowledge to assist with fifth-grade math, which can be really, really difficult.

Before making the final decision, do your due diligence. Unless your child is an infant, introduce him to the facility and to the provider before making a commitment. Look for signs that your child is able to easily relate to the caregiver and that you feel comfortable. Also, consider if your parenting style meshes with the philosophy of the individual in charge. Lastly, check your gut. If something does not feel right—move on!

Child care should be comfortable for the parent, as well as beneficial for the child. However, if you look for that perfect program or sitter, you may never be fully satisfied. Focus on safety, cleanliness, and the possibility that your child will really enjoy his time, no matter what setting you choose. Trust that you have made a good decision, but also make the occasional unannounced visit to ensure things are satisfactory.

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