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Ethical Practices

In this lesson, you will learn about the importance of acting responsibly and ethically in your daily work with children and families.

  • Reflect on what it means to be an ethical family child care professional.
  • Identify ethical practices when it comes to interacting with children and families.
  • Identify examples of what it means to act responsibly and ethically in your community.



“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” — Unknown

As a family child care provider, you may be faced with challenging ethical issues. Being reflective as a child care provider and living your core values are critical traits, because you work with our country’s most precious resource: young children. Protecting the privacy of children and their families should always be foremost in your mind. You should have well-planned procedures for addressing complex situations, as ethical dilemmas can occur in your home and out in the community. So where do you find informed solutions about the challenging situations that you face and how do you reflect on ethical behavior?

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the largest professional organization in the field of early care and education, has developed the Code of Ethical Conduct to guide professional behavior and to support child care providers in moral and ethical implications. The code of ethics describes what the child care profession should be, how providers should behave, and the values and moral obligations that professionals are expected to honor. While the Code of Ethical Conduct will help you navigate ethical issues that you face in your daily work, it really is the foundation for all your work with children and families.

One of the authors of the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct, Stephanie Feeney, describes terms that are often used in discussions of personal and professional ethics in a 2010 article in Young Children (p. 73):

Ethics is the study of right and wrong, duties and obligations. It involves critical reflection on morality and the ability to make choices between values and to examine the moral dimensions of relationships.

Professional Ethics involves reflection on professional responsibility that is carried out collectively and systematically by the membership of a profession. Professional ethical judgments are a guide to what we ought to do and not do as professionals.

Code of Ethics is a document that maps the profession’s responsibility to society. It conveys a sense of the mission of a field and acknowledges the obligations its members share in meeting their responsibilities. It supports practitioners in their work, so they base their decisions not on their individual values and morality, but on the core values of the profession.

Ethical Responsibilities are behaviors that one must or must not engage in. Ethical responsibilities are clearly defined and spelled out in the Code of Ethical Conduct.

A professional code of ethics can be of assistance when making professional decisions. It provides those who work with vulnerable populations (including children, youth, and individuals with disabilities) with a framework for addressing problems that may arise in daily interactions  

The Importance of Being an Ethical Child Care Provider

Responsible and Ethical Practices

Participation in professional development opportunities can help ensure that you are aware of responsible and ethical practices in your work with families and children. Belonging to a supportive group with other family child care providers where you can process ethical issues and confidentially share experiences can help you as you make decisions for your program. Some family child care providers are able to do this locally in face-to-face meetings, and others may join online groups.

In your work with families, you will encounter different parenting practices and cultural beliefs. Situations may arise where you will need the guidance of other providers to learn how to work in collaboration with families who may have different beliefs and child-rearing practices from your own.

Professional Ethics Lived Day by Day

Professional ethics are not something to review and then place in a drawer; they are lived every day in discussions with children, in supporting families from diverse cultures, and in participating in community partnerships. Adhering to high-quality professional standards is critical for children and families in your care.

Your ethical responsibilities include a commitment to children, families, and the community. As a family child care provider you are responsible for providing safe, healthy, and responsive care to all children. You are also responsible for collaborating with families to support children’s optimal learning and development. Lastly, you have a responsibility to the community to provide high quality care that meets the diverse needs of families.

You have an obligation to act responsibly and ethically at all times. You are accountable for your actions and maintaining high professional standards should always be your priority.

In the Acting Responsibly and Ethically resource located in the Learn section of this lesson, you can find examples of codes of ethical conduct. The following code of ethical conduct can be a valuable resource for you:

Your core values and philosophy will guide professional behavior. Knowing this information should be of particular importance to you and your work.

Maintaining Confidentiality: Children and Families

Lani, a friend of yours, dropped by your home and saw one of the children you provide care for, Millie, age 6, engaging in some challenging behavior. Lani is curious about the way you are coping with 6-year old Millie’s behaviors. On Sunday, during lunch at a local restaurant Lani asks you what is going on with little Millie that is causing her to “act up” and what you are doing about it. Lani is also a friend of Millie’s aunt and she wants to reassure her that you are addressing Millie’s challenging behavior.

You respond to Lani, “I am working with Millie and her parents to address her behavior.” You are careful not to discuss confidential information about any individual child or family with Lani or any other adult other than Millie’s parents. You are a professional with a strong understanding of the importance of maintaining confidentiality about the children you care for each day.

Maintaining confidentiality is a crucial part of professionalism. State and federal laws (e.g., the Privacy Act of 1974) protect individuals’ right to privacy. As a family child care provider, you should respect and protect the privacy of all children and families. When you work so closely together on behalf of children and families, you may become friends with some families. You may also encounter friends and relatives of children you care for when you are out in the community.

When you attend events in your community, you may be asked confidential information about a child by someone who is not the child’s parent. You may only share confidential information about a child with the child’s parents and those professionals for whom the parents have signed a release of information form, such as a school district special educator, a social worker, etc. Always talk with the child’s parents about who is allowed to have confidential information about their child. In the example above, it would be a breach of confidentiality for you to discuss Millie’s behavior with anyone except her parents.

Confidentiality and maintaining a professional image on social media and networking sites is also important.  Information you may choose to share on your personal page could have a long-term professional effect on you and your family child care business. Photographs or information about children and families should never be shared on social media without permission from parents. You should always consider how new technologies can affect children and families and respect confidentiality at all times. 

It is your responsibility to familiarize yourself with your local licensing requirements for confidentiality as they pertain to children and families. You can address confidentiality in your parent handbook that you will provide to each family. Parents need to know you will always maintain their trust and confidence. If you employ an assistant or volunteer in your child care home, you must be sure that he or she is made aware of the importance of maintaining confidentiality. Your family members who are regularly in your home must also maintain confidentiality about the children you serve and their families.

Mandated Reporters

Another aspect of professionalism is always being aware of child abuse and neglect policies. It is important that you understand your role in making sure that children in your care are safe and secure. If you are a licensed family child care provider, you may be required to complete training on the role of a mandated reporter. Refer back to the Family Child Care Child Abuse courses if you need a refresher on your role as a mandated reporter. 


As a family child care provider, you are the person families and children will look to for guidance on difficult decisions. In working with children birth to age eight, you can always refer to the NAEYC Professional Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment to guide you in decision-making. Your core values and philosophy will guide professional behavior. Watch the video below to learn more about how ethics impacts your role as a provider.

Ethical Practices

Hear providers as they reflect on the importance of being ethical.


Acting responsibly and ethically should be at the core of your practice as a family child care professional. In your daily interactions with children, families, and community members, engage in the following:

  • Keep information about children and their families confidential. This refers to reviewing child and family records or having conversations with other people you know in the community.  
  • When you know confidential information about a child or family member, use that information to support and provide resources for them, not to place your own personal judgement. If individuals ask you for confidential information about children that you care for in your home (or their families), explain to them that you are unable to share confidential information.
  • Treat each child and family member with respect and acknowledge and honor individual differences in terms of gender, cultural background, abilities, or family composition. Get to know the children in your care (and their families) and incorporate those interests or practices in your daily work.
  • Provide bias-free experiences and materials.
  • Recognize and celebrate the contributions of each child and family in your care.
  • Act in a responsible, reliable, and dependable manner.
  • Support practices that are ethical, responsible, and developmentally appropriate. Familiarize yourself with your licensing authority’s regulations, standards, and expectations for professional behavior.

The contents of this Do list are also available in the Learn section attachments section. You may want to refer to it in your daily work.


Ethical dilemmas occur from time to time when working with children and families, and you need to be prepared to address them. Read the activity below and take a few minutes to respond to the questions. Share and discuss your responses with a trusted colleague, mentor, or family child care administrator.


Review the resources in the Professionalism and Ethics Resources activity to learn more about professionalism and ethical responsibilities to children, youth, and families.


Code of Ethics:
A document that lists the obligations of professionals in a field, including their responsibility to society and to those they interact with; it allows practitioners to base their decisions on the core values of the profession rather than their individual values (Feeney, 2010)
The study of right and wrong, duties, and obligations; it involves critical reflection on morality and the ability to make choices between values and to examine the moral dimensions of relationships (NAEYC, 2011)
Professional Ethics:
Professional responsibility that is carried out collectively and systematically by the membership of a profession; a guide to what we ought to do and not do as professionals (Feeney, 2010)


True or false? You may share confidential information about a child or youth with anyone who asks.
Which of the following can help the most when you need assistance making professional decisions?
Finish this statement: Sharing on social media should be…
References & Resources

Bruno, H. E. & Copeland, T. (2012). Managing legal risks in early childhood programs. New York: Teachers College Press.

Feeney, S. (2010). Ethics today in early care and education: Review, reflection, and the future. Young Children, 65(2), 72-77.

Feeney, S., Freeman, N. K., & Pizzolongo, P. (2012). Ethics and the early childhood educator: Using the NAEYC code (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National After School Association. (2009). National After School Association Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2011). Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2019). NAEYC professional standards and competencies for early childhood educators: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National Association for Family Child Care. (2017). Quality standards for NAFCC accreditation.