Childcare is the act of caring for and supervising minor children. (In Australia, daycare is referred to as "childcare"—cf.)
It is traditional in western society for children to be looked after by one or both of their parents, but the need for two-job households means that childcare is often delegated, at least part of the time, to child minders or crèches.
Most Western countries also have compulsory education, and during the time the children are at school, the school will act in loco parentis.
Where parents are missing or dead, or unable or unfit to care for children, state agencies such as social services may take on the childcare role.
Wealthy people who prefer the services of professionals may delegate the parental role almost completely to nannies.
However, for many the use of paid childcare is a matter of choice with arguments raging on both sides about whether children suffer or not. There is no doubt that for all children the first few years are vitally important to form a basis for good education, morality, self-discipline and social integration. Consistency of approach, skills and qualifications of careers and community ownership have been shown in many studies to improve the chances of a child reaching his or her full potential - for example a recent study in Australia showed that 20% of careers working in large commercial child care chains would not put their own children in the centre they work in, whereas only 2% of careers in community owned not-for-profit centers had similar concerns.
Many organizations (in the developed world) campaign for free or subsidized childcare for all, others campaign for tax breaks or allowances to allow parents a non-finance driven choice. Many of the free or subsidized childcare programs in the United States are also Child Development programs, or after school programs which hire certified teachers to teach the children while they are in their care. In Australia most child care services are part of the national Quality Assurance system which ensures they provide good developmental programs.
Most countries have laws relating to childcare, which seek to prevent and punish child abuse.
In many societies, the childcare role is taken on by the extended family.