What is a Drop-In Child Care Center?

As a parent, you know very well just how unpredictable life can be -- your nanny quits unexpectedly, your babysitter cancels for the evening, or your child care center is closed for the day. For families that need flexibility in their schedules, drop-in daycare can be a reliable solution.

What is a drop-in child care center, though? And what is back-up child care — are they the same thing? While these centers share many similarities with each other (and with traditional daycares), they also have key differences. We’ve got it all covered!

Teacher reading a book to an infant

First: What is a Drop-In Child Care Center?

Drop-in child care is a back-up child care option you can count on whenever your initial plans fall through. Drop-in child care centers are used by parents and guardians who need last-minute, emergency, or simply occasional help.

Whether you have a temporary, short-term need like a parent date night, a school holiday, or an errand to run, a drop-in child care center can help. Many plan exciting events – you might find a safari-themed day, a talent show, dance party, special art projects, science days, and more. Resorts, shopping malls, health clubs and spas, bowling alleys, churches and religious organizations, and other similar locations may have this type of child care arrangement on-site. For drop-in child care, you’ll need to be easily reachable by phone and able to pick your child up early if necessary (just like regular child care centers).

What is Back-Up Care? How is It Different?

If you unexpectedly need child care in order to make it to work (i.e., school has a snow day or your sitter is sick), you might have access to back-up daycare through your employer’s benefits

What is back up daycare, you may be wondering? This child care solutions gives working parents on-site, center-based, or even at-home care whenever their regular work-day child care plans fall through. Back-up daycare can also help fill gaps in care during school breaks, and more.

What to Look for in a Drop-In Daycare Center

Drop-in child care centers are typically required to be regulated or licensed by the state in which they operate – be sure to check whether that’s the case in your state.

Additionally, ask questions that will give you peace of mind and make you feel comfortable leaving your child in their care. For example:

  • What are the staff’s training and educational qualifications?
  • Does each staff member undergo a criminal background check?
  • What type of activities will be made available for my child? 
  • How many children will be in the classroom/what’s the teacher-to-child ratio?
  • What are the health, safety, and security policies?

Affordability is key, too. Drop-in daycare centers may be more cost-effective for your family than local babysitters. Of course, it depends on the area you live in, and rates vary depending on how many children you have and the amount of time you need care.

What to Look for in a Drop-In Daycare Center

In this type of child care setting, children can interact with other children their age. They’ll likely be provided meals and snacks, and will get to participate in structured activities. Drop-in daycare can offer a break from your child’s typical routine – and  they’ll probably end up having a lot of fun.

If there are multiple drop-in daycare centers in your area, consider visiting to get a feel for each one. Take a tour and ask questions. This way, when it comes time to actually drop your child off , you’ll feel more comfortable, you’ll know where to go and what to bring for the day, and you’ll walk out the door with peace of mind.


How much does a daycare center cost per day?

Daycare center tuition is typically charged monthly. It varies depending on where you live, how many children you have (and their ages), when you need care, what’s provided throughout the day, additional premium offerings, and more. Contact us to inquire about tuition costs at Bright Horizons child care centers.

What is a drop-in child care center going to cost?


The cost for drop-in care varies across daycare facilities, and really depends on the area in which you live. Typically, you’ll pay a flat daily rate.

mother holding child

Get Started Today

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Bright Horizons is a United States–based child-care provider and is the largest provider of employer-sponsored child care. Employees looking to become a child care teacher are offered the opportunity to earn an early education degree for free as part of their corporate benefits. Search by zip to find a child care center near you. Bright Horizons Global Headquarters are in Newton, Massachusetts, USA.