Michigan Versus Care Co-ops

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Sheila Lirio Marcelo Sheila Lirio Marcelo is the Founder and CEO of She writes regularly about child care, parenting, and work/life fit.

Lisa Snyder thought she was just doing a good deed. Every weekday morning since the start of the school year, Lisa has helped three nearby families by watching their children along with her own before the bus arrives to whisk the kids off to school.

According to this AP story, the Michigan Department of Human Service found out what Lisa was doing and mailed her a letter that stated she was violating state regulations. In Michigan, it's against the law for someone to care for unrelated children in their home for more than four weeks a year--a rule that's supposed to prevent unlicensed, in-home day cares from starting up.

There are certainly benefits to using family and friends. I know that my family couldn't get by without help when it comes to child care. Even though our boys are getting older, we still regularly take turns watching each other's kids with my brother's family whenever we get the chance. These once-a-month child care exchanges are such a lifesaver! It gives Ron and me the opportunity to have a night to ourselves and also makes sure our little guy, Adam, has regular, fun playdates with his cousins.

If your family relies on friends or relatives to pitch in with child care, you're not alone. It's no secret that it's a great way to save a little money. One recent study showed families who use friends or relatives as caregivers spend about half as much on child care as families who primarily use nannies or day cares do (State of Care Index)

But beyond the dollars and cents, exchanging care is just plain old helping each other out! Plenty of families in these difficult times take turns watching the kids or standing with them while they're waiting for the bus to arrive. And with the growing epidemic of cuts to after-school programs that's spread across the country, parents have to rely on each other for help more than ever.

However, even when we reach out to help family and friends, we still need to ensure that our children have quality care. The State of Michigan may have appeared harsh with Lisa, but it's just doing its part to safeguard children from unlicensed providers.

Not every state is as enthusiastic about these sort of safety regulations when it comes to child care. In fact, about 15 states don't inspect out-of-home child care centers prior to issuing them a license.

"Most states regulate nail salons more than they do out-of-home child care providers," according to Linda Smith, Executive Director from the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA)--an organization focused on improving public policy regarding safeguarding children.

According to Smith, "Licensing care providers, especially those who regularly provide child care in their homes, is a vitally important part of keeping our children safe. More oversight, licensing and regulations will help give child care providers access to more tools and resources, increase safety and improve early childhood education. Child care is in an education setting; the issue is the quality. Children are always learning."

On the other hand, there are some states that have taken steps to educate the next generation of child care providers. I read a recent article discussing schools that train potential (or current) nannies on childhood development, first aid, CPR, household management and more. Here in Massachusetts, child care centers are now required to file reports to the state on preschoolers' social development, health and education. There are still kinks to be worked out in these new systems, but the overall point of improving child care is an important goal to strive for, and it's great to see that happening.

I hope everything turns out well for the Snyder family. But if Lisa continues regularly caring for other families' children in her home, even for a few hours a week, I'd recommend she look into attending classes for in-home caregivers and getting licensed if required by her state. NACCRRA's base of local child care resource and referral agencies (CCR&Rs) can help educate Lisa or any relative or friend who's providing child care as a favor, teaching them the safety skills they need to protect our kids.

What Lisa's doing for her neighbors is a huge help! I know, as a working mom, how hard juggling the daily shuffle of child care arrangements can be. Having someone who's willing to help out--even for just an hour in the mornings--can be a godsend for most moms. Thank you, Lisa, for everything you're doing for your friends!