Make an Informed Decision

Finding high-quality child care in your child’s most impressionable early years is critical to your child’s brain development and future success. What makes a quality program?

Child care can range from a relative caring for just one child to a large daycare center with college-educated early childhood specialists on staff.

To make the best decisions, here’s what families should know about types of providers, licensing, ABC Quality and evaluating anyone who provides child care.

Types of Child Care Providers

While the state defines four types of child care providers, parents think about child care based on the size of the program, the ages of children and the people providing the care.

You may feel a certain type of care will best suit your family’s needs. You will also have practical things to think about, including:

  • The hours care is available
  • If care is located close to you
  • The age of your child
  • How quickly do you need care for your child

Child Care Centers:

These are typically larger programs where children are in groups based on age and where there may be more adults present because of the number of children at the center. Activities are usually structured. Child care centers include:

  • Daycare centers
  • Employee daycare
  • Church-based child care
  • School-operated programs
  • Summer programs
  • After-school programs
  • Nursery schools
  • Pre-kindergarten
  • Drop-in child care

Home-Based Care:

This is child care provided in a private home. The number of children will be smaller and different ages are cared for together—which may be good if you are looking for care for siblings. Activities may be less structured and hours may be more flexible. Home-based care includes:

  • Licensed child care homes
  • Group homes with 7 to 12 children
  • Family homes with 6 or fewer children
  • Family, friend or neighbor care for just your children
  • Someone who cares for children in your home

Preschool Programs:

Preschool is an organized, educational program for children ages 3 to 5. Often, programs run on school hours though full-day care may be available. Examples include:

  • Church-based preschool
  • Community-based preschool
  • Private preschool
  • Head Start

School-age Programs:

This is care for children who are in school. It’s provided before and after school hours, on holidays and during summer break. Some examples include:

  • Afterschool programs
  • Community-based (such as Boys and Girls Club)
  • Church-based care

Licensing: What parents need to know

To operate legally in South Carolina, child care providers must be licensed, registered or legally exempt—to make sure programs can protect the health and safety of children in their care.

Parents should always ask if the child care they’re considering is licensed, registered or exempt.

Here are the types of licensing and registration parents may hear about:

  • Licensed—This means the provider meets health and safety requirements; is regularly inspected.
  • Faith-based—This registration is for care sponsored by a church or religious organization; it also meets health and safety requirements and is regularly inspected.
  • Family home—When care is in the provider’s home, only one inspection per year is required.
  • Exempt—No licensing or inspection is required; this includes someone providing home care for children who are all from the same family and programs that operate for less than 4 hours a day.

ABC Quality: Helping parents make the best choice

While licensing looks out for safety and health, ABC Quality , South Carolina's Quality Rating and Improvement System for child care, rates participating child care providers on how well they help your children grow and become ready for school and for life.

ABC Quality makes it easier for parents do their homework when they’re trying to choose a child care provider. Families can search by entering their zip code to see a list of providers nearby, see how well they rate and compare what they do.

For parents, an ABC Quality rating can help you know:

  • How children will spend the day at child care
  • What kind of education and training the child care staff has had
  • What activities are planned to help children learn and grow
  • How well teachers and staff will respond to children’s needs
  • If healthy meals and physical activity are part of the daily routine

Centers are graded from A+ to C
ABC Quality classifies how providers are doing in the important areas for child development:

  • A+ and A mean the center meets the highest standards.
  • B+ and B mean a center meets quality standards beyond licensing.
  • C means a center meets teacher-to-child ratios and other licensing requirements.
  • P (for pending) means the center has enrolled in ABC Quality and is waiting for their rating to be assigned.

Find out what the top questions are to ask when choosing a child care provider.

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