Types of Child Care in Virginia

Child care in Virginia consists of two distinct categories: Center-Based and Home-Based.

Center-Based Care is offered in a child care center or setting outside of a private home. These providers typically group children into classrooms according to age or grade level, following state ratio guidelines. This type of care includes specialized care, such as:

Preschool Programs

Preschool programs are typically offered for children ages 3—5 years old. These types of settings are designed to prepare children for kindergarten. They are often part-time and may be provided through a school, faith-based organization, or child care center.

Head Start or Early Head Start Programs

Head Start and Early Head Start programs promote the growth and development of children from low-income families. Parent involvement, health programs, and family support are included. Early Head Start serves families with children from birth to 3 years old, while Head Start Programs serve children ages 3—5. Most Head Start programs are run by non-profit organizations, schools, and community action agencies.

School-Aged Programs

School-aged programs provide care for before– and after–school hours. They may also offer care during holidays and breaks. These programs may be offered by the school, through a community or non-profit organization, or in a family day home or child care center.

Home-Based Care refers to a provider who cares for children in his or her own home. Family Day Homes are the most common form of child care in the country, especially for younger children. Parents may choose this type of care for its intimate, home-like setting, flexible hours, and small group sizes. Family Day Homes typically care for a mixed-age group of children, so they follow a point system, rather than a ratio system.

An alternate option for care, though not regulated by the state, is Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) Care. This type of child care setting is often provided in the child’s or the caregiver’s home. The caregiver is often a relative, friend or neighbor, or babysitter. Depending on your family’s needs and the availability of care in your area, this may be an option for you. This type of care is not regulated or monitored by the state unless they care for children who receive government child care subsidies. Child Care Aware of Virginia does not provide referrals to this type of care. If you do choose FFN care, make sure you perform a background check (on the provider and any adults living in the home if in-home) and ensure the provider is First Aid/CPR certified.

Click here to learn more about child care licensing in Virginia!

Child Care Centers


  • May offer financial assistance
  • Substitutes are used when staff are sick
  • Ample supervision
  • Opportunities to socialize with more children and teachers
  • Structured environment and curriculum
  • Variety of age-specific activities and experiences
  • Dedicated equipment and space


  • Larger number of children—your child’s personality may not be a match for large group care
  • Less 1-to-1 time
  • Centers that care for infants can be hard to find—or full with long waiting lists
  • Less flexibility—more rigid pick-up and drop-off times
  • Kids get sick more often in group care
  • Closed during most holidays
  • Staff turnover

Family Day Homes


  • Can be more flexible with hours to accommodate your family’s needs
  • Home-like atmosphere can make transition from child’s own home easier
  • One caregiver with your child all day creates a closer teacher/child bond
  • Depending on license, they can meet the needs of families who have 2+ kids of different ages
  • Mixed-age groups allow for sibling interactions


  • May be no substitute if home provider is sick or unavailable
  • The provider receives little or no supervision
  • Equipment, toys, materials, and space may or may not be used solely for child care