What is a Childcare exchange?

When you are searching for various childcare options online, it is quite possible that you might come across the phrase “childcare exchange.” You likely have heard of daycares, in-home childcare, and even babysitting, but a childcare exchange is something new altogether.

A childcare exchange is an arrangement between the parents or guardians of multiple children who each alternate watching all children. This allows each family to have time without any children in their home in exchange for time spent watching the children of all parties involved.

If this concept is new to you, fear not. Below we break down all of the details about what a child exchange could look like and why it may be beneficial to all involved.

What is a Childcare exchange?

Benefits of a Child Exchange

Parents and guardians are not the only ones to benefit from a child exchange. Even the children are bound to find great joy in being part of one.

Kid-Free Time

For non-working stay-at-home parents or work-from-home parents, having kid-free time each week is absolutely crucial to maintain sanity.

Children demand constant attention and entertainment. Dealing with any number of children on a constant basis can be exhausting. This fatigue is magnified when that parent is managing the stress of work requirements alongside their child’s need for the adult’s constant presence.

A childcare exchange where one family watches another family’s children one day and then the other family watches all children the next day offers both families a day without any children to watch.

This means that the parents or guardians who are “kid-free” are able to do errands, focus on their personal needs, or even accomplish more work than usual.

Free Childcare

Another huge benefit of a childcare swap is that they are often free for all parties.

Sure, there will be costs along the way. If one family is watching other peoples’ children, they will need to provide the kids with food or snacks as well as some of their household supplies.

However, this cost is highly likely to even out along the way since that same family will be saving money on the days that another family is feeding their child and using their supplies on them.

Childcare can be incredibly expensive for parents. For many, staying home and saving this high-cost is worth dealing with the daily headache of working while watching children. With a childcare exchange, no one has to choose between a high-cost childcare situation and their own sanity.

All Adults Know Each Other

In a childcare exchange, parents know exactly who their child is with each day.

This might not be the case at a daycare center or school. In these situations, they need to trust that the institution would not hire anyone who would be a detriment to their child.

While some parents might be okay trusting a daycare with this decision, others might not be. Instead, they would prefer to personally decide whom their child spends time with. With a childcare exchange, they can make that decision and change it anytime without much impact.

Smaller Group of Children

With a larger childcare center, there can be dozens or hundreds of students attending each day. This is a nice way to expose children to many personalities and perspectives, but it can also be very overwhelming for children.

On the other hand, a childcare exchange typically offers a smaller intimate group for the child to get to know more deeply. This can provide all children involved with closer friends that become like family over time.

Sometimes, these closer connections are relationships that they carry with them for the rest of their lives – they always remember the many days spent together as part of the childcare exchange. For some parents, this is reason enough to try out this method of childcare.


Finally, a childcare exchange offers flexibility that cannot be found in most daycare settings.

If one family needs to change the plan at the last minute, they can do so without penalty or charge. Additionally, if they are ever in a pinch on an atypical exchange day or at an earlier or later time, they know exactly who to call for childcare assistance.

What is a Childcare exchange?

How to Find Families for a Childcare Exchange

For some parents, this will sound like an intriguing idea, but they will not be sure where to start. Thankfully there are many ways to go about finding other families to be part of a childcare exchange.

People They Already Know

When parents really sit down and think about the people they are exposed to in life, there are likely many people that might be willing to be part of a childcare exchange:

  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Parents of a child’s friends
  • Parents of kids from school
  • Church members
  • Sports team members
  • Neighbors
  • Work colleagues

Facebook Groups

If someone interested in a childcare exchange is not able to think of anyone they know that might be willing to participate, they can always turn to Facebook groups.

It is important to be particularly cautious when meeting people online – especially if they are being trusted with a child. However, there are likely local parenting Facebook Groups where potential exchange participants can be scouted out.

The helpful thing about Facebook is that it allows you to peer into their lives and get a sense for whether or not they would be a quality fit.

As a reminder, even if they seem like the best possible option, be especially careful with trusting any child with them until they are more known and trusted. It might even be worth having some playdates or family time together before jumping into an exchange.

Ask Around

Finally, another way to find exchange partners is to ask friends and family if they have any ideas for anyone that would want to participate in a childcare swap.

While the parent asking might not know the exchange family specifically, if they are recommended by someone that parent trusts, it will likely feel much safer than if they did not know anything about them.

Best Swap Situations

Mutual Trust

The best indicator of a potentially positive childcare exchange (or swap!) situation is that both parents trust one another. If one parent is beside themselves throughout the entire day their child is gone because they are worried about the other parent’s ability to care for their child, the exchange loses its purpose.

The exchange is supposed to make everyone’s life more positive, not more stressful. If someone moves forward in an exchange with someone they do not trust, they will only become more stressed.

Age of Children

It can be helpful for the children being exchanged to be around the same age, although it is not necessary. Children of different ages can be grouped together and watched successfully, just as they often are in core family units.

However, if they are too far apart in age, they may not be able to entertain one another sufficiently. This may cause more work for the parent than would otherwise be necessary if the kids were able to interact more successfully.

Agree on a Schedule

Parents need to be able to agree on a schedule for swapping children, feeding them, and tending to any other daily routines. The children may differ in scheduling slightly and the parents may not require each other to follow their typical routine each day, but the point is that some sort of agreement must be reached.

Children Get Along

While not completely necessary, it will certainly help the swap itself if the children get along. When swap kids enjoy the other kids they spend time with, a childcare exchange can feel more like a recurring playdate than a necessary situation.

When parents are pondering exchange families, they can consider who their child already has a positive relationship with and see if their parents might be interested in a swap arrangement.

Both Families at Home           

Finally, an essential aspect of any childcare exchange is that both families have an adult at home and available to participate. If all of the adults in a child’s home are working out of the house, the family likely will need to make other arrangements through a more traditional daycare center.

What is a Childcare exchange?

Related Questions:

  • How Long Do Parents Swap Children with Another Family?

As long as they want!

Some people swap children for entire days and others do just a few hours.

It might make sense to start with shorter time increments so that everyone gets used to the new schedule. Once everyone is comfortable with each other, longer time periods can be agreed upon.

While longer stretches watching multiple children might be difficult for some parents to manage, this will come back to them when they are able to have an entire day to themselves to work.

  • How Many Parents Participate in Each Swap?

As many as they want!

Once again, this decision is entirely up to the parents involved. They might decide to keep their exchange to two families or they might decide to branch out to five.

The most important piece is that it remains manageable for each parent to tend to all of the children at once. It might be incredibly helpful to have four whole days of free childcare, but if the parents cannot safely manage watching all five kids once a week, it is not worth it.

Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.

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What is a Childcare exchange?