A Matter of Money – Centre or Home

I think one of the greatest things about childcare is that no two programs/facilities are exactly the same – and that is perfect because no two children are the same either. Some children thrive in a centre environment while others need the smaller, more familiar setting that a family childcare home can offer. The same is true for Early Childhood Educators. It is the variety of childcare environments that gives ECE’s the opportunity to choose the one that is the best fit for them to work in.

In my last post I described family childcare as my ‘calling’ – there is no other job I would rather have regardless of the income and this includes centre based childcare. Just because I think family childcare is the best place for me does not mean I think it is the best form of childcare for every ECE.

My daughter was 12 years old when I first opened my childcare home. She was actively involved in all our activities and couldn’t wait to turn 18 and be able to sub for me. After graduating high school she went on to earn her ECE II diploma and went to work in a centre. She made many financial sacrifices to save enough money from her limited income to buy her own home. Most people assumed she was planning to switch to family childcare. However, when asked about it she was adamant – “NO! She would never, EVER work in family childcare.”

She is now an ECE III working full time in a centre specializing in infant care. I am an ECE II operating a licensed family childcare home We’ve shared many stories and had many conversations about the similarities and differences between our respective careers. Our annual incomes before taxes are almost identical – when mine is calculated at its maximum. There are numerous factors that cause family childcare income to fluctuate – some I will mention later in this post. Family childcare expenses will be covered in a separate post.

We also cannot compare our after tax income because there are so many variables such as number of dependents and total family income that affect the amount we pay for taxes. So, for the moment I’m just going to say that our incomes are both about the same at $32,000 annually before taxes.

So, let’s compare hours next. My childcare home is open Mon-Fri from 6:30 am until 5:30 pm so I spend 55 hours per week with the children without any breaks. Working in a centre I wouldn’t work that many hours so, at the same annual income if you were to count only the hours we spend with the children my hourly wage as a family childcare would be much lower than my daughter working in a centre.

However, working in a centre also requires traveling time and expenses to get to and from work. If you count the time from when my daughter leaves her house to go to work until she arrives back home after then her work day is equal to mine too. I consider the ‘no commute time/expense’ a perk of working in family childcare that is an acceptable trade-off for spending more time with the children.

I also spend about 14 additional hours per week cleaning, doing paperwork, planning activities, and meeting with parents etc when the children are not here. Technically these are all unpaid hours and some of these duties would not be required by an ECE in a centre. Some of them are required and the centre ECE has to get them done sometime during their regular workday. There are a lot of things I could probably do when the children are here but I choose to do after hours because it is easier. To a certain extent how much time I spend ‘working’ is my choice and breaking down family childcare income to an hourly wage is impossible.

I feel the additional hours of work a family childcare puts in is an acceptable trade-off for the amount of control we over our program and environment. I’ve toured many childcare centres where just walking through the rooms makes me shudder and I can’t imagine having to work there. There are centres that I think are fabulous and they have philosophies and programming that I believe in – but they also have other staff members. Many family childcare providers quite willingly label ourselves as ‘Does not work well with others’. It is not that we don’t get along with other people but rather that we have difficulty sharing responsibility. We would prefer to just do it all, our way, by ourselves – that’s why we chose family childcare.

However, there are some definite downsides for an ECE working in family childcare – fluctuating income has to top the list. Remember, my maximum annual income was about the same as that of an ECE working in a centre – but not all providers have eight filled spaces all the time so there are many factors that make my income drop below maximum. If you have difficulty setting and sticking to a budget or are relying solely on one income family childcare may not be a good career option.

Many family childcare providers cannot or will not fill their school-age spaces – there is little financial incentive to do this. The additional expenses, supplies and work required for school-age care are so high that many providers find it is not practical even if they live in an area where there is a demand for school-age care. Considering only the five preschool spaces a family childcare provider has – if all the children in care are over two years old then the provider’s income is more than $600 per month lower than maximum. That puts a family childcare provider’s income significantly lower than that of an ECE working in a centre.

Becoming a licensed family childcare provider is often touted as being a great way to work AND stay at home with your own children but I might really disagree with that view. If your family childcare income is your family’s main or only income it definitely does not make sense to choose FCC over working in a centre. Your own children use up childcare spaces lowering your income from both parent fees and operating grant – essentially costing you more than if you worked outside your home and paid to put your children in childcare. An ECE working in a centre would still receive their full salary and if that was their only income they would probably qualify for a subsidy significantly lowering their costs for childcare.

So yes, there are some big differences between working in family childcare vs. working in a childcare centre but it is all about choices. There are pros and cons to both – you just have to decide which trade-offs you are willing to make. My next post is going to deal more specifically with the financial side of family childcare so, stay tuned….

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