Work Conditions: Childcare Workers

Preschool or childcare facilities include private homes, schools, religious institutions, workplaces in which employers provide care for employees’ children, and private buildings. Individuals who provide care in their own homes generally are called family childcare providers.

Nannies and babysitters 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. 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 them.

Watching children grow, learn, and gain new skills can be very rewarding. While working with children, childcare workers often improve the child’s communication, learning, and other personal skills. The work is sometimes routine; however, new activities and challenges mark each day. Childcare can be physically and emotionally taxing, as workers constantly stand, walk, bend, stoop, and lift to attend to each child’s interests and problems.

To ensure that children 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-age children (between 2 and 5 years old). In before- and afterschool programs, workers may be responsible for many school-age children at one time.

The work hours of childcare workers vary widely. Childcare 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 childcare providers have flexible hours and daily routines, but 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, if they work evenings or weekends, they may get other time off.

Replacement needs in this occupation are high. Many childcare workers leave the occupation temporarily to fulfill family responsibilities, to study, or for other reasons. Some workers leave permanently because they are interested in pursuing other occupations or because of dissatisfaction with hours, low pay and benefits, and stressful conditions.