Millions of parents across the country face the tough decision of whether or not to place their children in daycare each year. As the number of families with both parents working outside the home has risen, the need for daycare services has increased dramatically. These families may not have relatives that live close by or are able to care for their children. Others families may have a parent that works from home but needs uninterrupted time to complete work. Many daycare centers offer full day versus half day or full week versus partial week options, priced accordingly. This allows each family to match the daycare's services with their needs.

Daycare, however, is debated among parents, health care providers, and educational professionals. Some support daycare, saying it offers socialization and educational opportunities a child would not have staying at home with a parent or a relative. Others claim those who use daycare services are allowing others to raise their children and have abandoned their responsibilities as a parent. Like any controversial issue, there are arguments for both sides. Here's a look at the pros and cons of sending your child to daycare.

Pros: Independence- Children who separate from their parents early and have a positive experience at daycare learn to trust that Mom and Dad will leave but they always come back. In addition, these children become confident in their own skills and thus, more self-reliant.

Socialization- Even with siblings, you can't match the opportunities for social interaction that a child has at daycare in the home. Your child will be placed in a class with children close in age and have opportunities to play and negotiate with peers each day. Nicole, of Northvale, New Jersey, says she toyed with the idea of keeping her one and 2-year-old home with an in-home caretaker because they had each other to play with. "Even though they are young, I see them argue. I made the right decision-it's good for them to have time apart and play with other children at day care."

Academic Advantage- Many daycares provide some form of instruction or exposure to academic concepts. Calendar concepts, time concepts, letters, and numbers are all explored during circle time each morning. Many daycares offer music classes and art projects, exposing your child to a variety of experiences. Your child will learn to follow a schedule and the structure will prepare her for school.

Cons Increased Exposure to Illness- One parent, Lynn of Harrison, New Jersey, reports her children have come down with more illnesses since they started daycare this past September. Lynn works to provide health benefits for her family of five as well as to supply a second income and time off from her job does not bode well for her paycheck. "My job allots a certain number of sick days for staff and I've used all those days and more. Now my pay is being docked every time I call out because one of my kids is sick. I feel like I have to choose between my kids and my job; of course I'm going to choose my kids." She still worries about her job security because of her absences from work. Lynn also cites seeing other children come in to daycare despite being sick. "Not all parents call out from work and stay home with their kids like I do." This leads to the spread and recurrence of illnesses in young children and staff.

Less Quality Time with Parents- Naturally, if you are working during the day, you are going to miss quality time with your child. All parents know, time away from your children cannot be regained. Danielle of Park Ridge, New Jersey, says "There are days my daughter comes home with beautiful art projects and I wish I had been the one to sit and paint it with her."

Exposure to Poor Behavior- We cannot shield our children forever, but it is certainly discouraging to see children pick up poor habits from peers at daycare. From as early as 18 months, your child may mimic others' words and actions. If a child at daycare is not speaking nicely to peers and staff, or worse, exhibiting aggressive behaviors such as biting or hitting, your child may see this as a way to gain staff's attention. Communicate with the staff immediately if you see behaviors in your child that you did not see before daycare. Remember to approach staff as a concerned parent without accusing other children, families, or staff.

Whether you are comfortable with your decision to utilize daycare services or you are still apprehensive, there are a few ways to ensure you choose the right daycare. The best way to choose a daycare is to ask friends for references. Happy children often equal happy parents. If many parents in your community are sending their children to the same daycare facility, put it at the top of your list. Visit each prospective daycare and ask about safety protocol. Ask if there is a nurse on staff and if staff are CPR-certified. Also, ask how children with behavioral difficulties are handled. Whether your child is having a hard time adjusting to the new routine or is witnessing other challenging behaviors, you want to make sure staff approaches these situations with care and concern.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.