When should I start looking for child care

When you are looking for child care, timing can be important. If you start too early, your arrangements may fall through or no longer fit your needs when you're ready to start care. If you start too late, you may not find the openings you need. The "right time" to start looking generally depends on several different things, including your child's age, the care that is available in your area, and how much time you can devote to your search.

Of course, everyone's circumstances are different. Your search may take a little less time, or a little more. Please note that these times are approximate.

• Family child care providers, who offer care in their own homes, may not know very far in advance if they will have an opening. In most areas, six to eight weeks before you need the care is enough time to find a provider. Some providers will not even meet with parents who are looking for care more than two months ahead of time.

• Child care centers generally have contracts with families and know how many openings they will have about a year in advance. Fulltime openings for infants and toddlers are generally limited, and part-time openings are even harder to find in most areas, so looking for child care centers a year in advance is a good idea. But don't panic if you have less time to look. Many child care centers keep waiting lists to fill unexpected openings.

• In-home care, which is provided in your home by someone you hire, generally takes about eight weeks to set up, whether you are recruiting on your own or working with an agency. You may need an additional four to eight weeks if you are looking for a nanny to move in with you.

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