Types of Programs

There are many different types of child care programs, from small family-like settings to large centers. Child care settings offer care to children of various ages and needs. Caregivers’ experience, training, and skills, as well as their personalities, all have a huge effect on the kind of care your child will receive.


Child Care Specialties: 

  • infant and toddler
  • preschool
  • school-age
  • education & care for children with special needs 
  • use of a specialized curriculum, such as Montessori or faith-based instruction


South Carolina Licensed or Registered Programs: 

  • Center-Based: These serve fairly large groups of children who are separated by age group and led through highly structured activities. There can be a great disparity in price for a child care center; urban areas are more expensive, and care for infants generally costs more than for toddlers.   
  • Family-Based: These involve a mixed age group of infants, toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children in a home setting. This is generally a more personal atmosphere than a child care center, with a greater ratio of adults to children. In a family-structured environment, activities can include field trips, arts and crafts, music and hands-on learning. Meals and snacks are usually included. 


Federally-Funded Child Care Programs

Head Start/Early Head Start promotes the growth and development of children from low-income families. Components include parent involvement, family support, a health program, and developmental screening. Children 3 to 5 years old attend Head Start, and Early Head Start serves pregnant women and families with children from birth to 3 years old. A facility locator is availbale here.

First Steps 4K was established in 2014 as part of the SC Read to Succeed Act. The SC Child Early Reading Development and Education Program (CERDEP) stipulated the creation and maintenance of full-day four-year-old-kindergarten programs in 64 South Carolina school districts.  Enrollment is offered at no cost to eligible children. In addition to  the state's public school districts' 4K programs, SC First Steps offers eligible families the opportunity to enroll their children in more than 200 private, faith- or community-based preschool providers across South Carolina.


Exempt Programs

There are some types of care that do not require a child care license in South Carolina, which means a licensing monitor does not regularly inspect these child care settings. Programs that offer only four hours or less per day of educational curriculum are exempt from state licensing. 


Other Child Care Options

  • Preschools – The programs usually offer two or three-hour sessions per day, a few days per week. These programs are not used primarily for child care but instead offer children an opportunity on a part-time basis to interact with other children and prepare for school. Programs that offer only four hours or less per day of educational curriculum are exempt from state licensing. Enrollment is usually limited to children 3 to 5 years old. First Steps is an excellent enrollment tool and information resource for preschools in your area.
  • Family, Friends and Neighbor Care (FFN)– Children being cared for by family, friends, or neighbors in home settings is informal care, as opposed to the care provided in more formal and professional center-based and family child care markets. FFN care is also known as kith and kin care.
  • School-Age Care – These programs offer care for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. They usually operate in schools, community centers, YMCA/YWCAs or park and recreation programs. Care is typically available before and after school, on school holidays and specialized camps during the summer. 
  • Playgroups – This is a no-cost, informal arrangement organized by parents. Playgroups provide time for children to play while parents spend time together. In exchanges, parents take turns caring for each others' children. Because these are unregulated arrangements, there are no limits on group size or the number of young children in the playgroup. 
  • Nanny Care – Sometimes called in-home care, nanny care is provided by a friend, a relative, or a “nanny” who works in a family's home caring for the children. The work may be full-time or part-time, and the nanny may or may not live with the family. The caregiver is responsible for the complete care of the children of the employer. The family is the legal employer and must comply with all federal tax laws. 


Please review the quality child care checklists from SC Child Care Services (Family Child Care Home or Child Care Center) or the American Psychological Association's (APA) "High Five" Questions to determine the quality of any and all child care settings including family, friends and neighbor child care. No matter who the caregiver is, your child should have a safe, healthy, and developmentally appropriate learning environment.