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Redleaf Press: Creating Partnerships With Parents by Patricia Dischler, author of From Babysitter to Business Owner

Creating Partnerships, Not Problems:
Using a Parent Handbook to Create Parent-Provider Relationships

by Patricia Dischler, author of From Babysitter to Business Owner

Patricia Dischler Providing child care for parents who share your values and beliefs regarding early childhood, who respect your business policies, and who appreciate all your efforts can make family child care the most rewarding career you ever choose. Providing child care for parents who disagree with your values and beliefs, who show complete disregard for your business policies, and who show no appreciation for your hard work can become the reason you end a career you otherwise loved. Recognizing the difference during the initial interview process can sometimes prove difficult. Using a comprehensive parent handbook can become the tool that saves your career—and your sanity!


Nothing can be as frustrating for providers than to feel they are in a position where they need to control parents or "train" them. Often providers are looking for a magic policy that will get these parents back under control. Many times, even when policies are formed to curb this "bad behavior," the behavior continues. This is especially confusing and frustrating for providers and can lead to a feeling of being used.


The problem isn't really that there are a lot of "bad" parents out there. The problem is that these parents are matched up with the wrong providers! A parent who continues to be late for a provider who closes at 5:30 p.m. might not be an issue for a provider who closes at 6:00. Likewise, a parent who doesn't appreciate the hard work one provider puts into art projects may be very appreciative of a provider who spends extra time teaching sports. There are thousands of different providers in this field, each with a unique focus and plan for their business and the children in their care. The trick is to match the right parents with the right provider.


So, how can you find the "right" parents for your business? By being completely honest and straightforward about every aspect of your business during the interview. Creating a parent handbook is a great way to do this. If you create a parent handbook and include sections on your business practices and beliefs, your policies, and the terms of your contract, you will have a tool to answer questions parents may have and it will be clear where you stand on important issues.

Creating a long-term relationship with parents begins by setting a firm foundation in respect and understanding. Matching the right parents with the right providers is a two-way street. Many providers who take pride in their high quality of care make the mistake of thinking they offer the perfect care for ANY family, and they therefore accept any family that is interested. But the truth is that family child care is about more than just offering high-quality care.


Family child care is very personal; each provider has a different motivation, different goals, and a different personality. In order to establish a successful partnership with parents, providers need to identify the personal qualities that they bring to their business that make it unique. This makes it easier for providers and parents to determine if the motivations, goals, and personalities of the parents will add to those of the provider and create a solid partnership or clash with those of the provider and become a source of stress and failure in the partnership.


Differences between parents and providers are not bad. They are something to be celebrated. How wonderful for children that there are choices for their care! How wonderful for providers and parents that there are child care situations that match their needs and can become successful partnerships! It's time to stop filling openings and to start finding partners.


So let's look at the elements of a parent handbook. A parent handbook consists of three sections: information, policies and procedures, and contract agreements.


The first section, information, includes a mission statement, school history and description, teacher credentials, daily routine description, curriculum, communication, and problem resolution procedures. This information gives parents a clear view of your motivations and goals and explains how you plan to implement your high-quality program. This section will also reveal your personality, the things that get you excited about your job, and what things look like when they are going well.


The second section, policies and procedures, outlines the boundaries of your business. Think of it as the fencing around your terrific outdoor space! Policies state where you stand on issues that affect your business, while procedures explain what happens when the boundaries are crossed. Describing up-front what you will and will not accept sets the stage for fewer problems.


Topics for policies can come from your licensing rule-book, past and/or potential problems you may have with parents, and your personal preferences. The more areas for which you have a plan, the fewer areas that will create problems for you in the long run.


Policies should be clearly stated in a single sentence, followed by either the consequence for when the policy is broken and/or the goal behind the policy. Stating the goals for your policies helps create a sense of mutual understanding with the parents. Topics to consider in the policy and procedure section are your admission policy, nutrition policy, school rules, child release policy, confidentiality policy, health policy, discipline policy, transportation policy, child abuse and neglect policy, antidiscrimination statement, emergency procedures, problem resolution policy, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) prevention policy, policies for celebrating cultural holidays and religious events, pet policy, substitute-teacher and volunteer policies, late pick-up policy, and late payment policy.


The final section, contract agreements, details exactly what you and the parents are contracting to do. These issues often require thinking about cost versus benefit. For example, the benefit of taking three weeks vacation versus the cost of lost income for this time. All businesses take on a certain amount of risk. It will be up to you to decide where your limit will be. It is also important to remember that once you have made these decisions, they are not negotiable. This is the contract you are putting on the table and the parents can choose to take it or leave it.


Issues to consider in a contract agreement are insurance, provider job description, tuition and other fees, provider benefits, trial period, and termination. Finally, the parent handbook should include a one-page contract with an expiration date stating that the parents and provider agree to the content of the parent handbook.


Note that when you change anything in your handbook, especially something in the contract section, you are essentially asking the parents to accept its contents all over again. This means that both the parents and the provider have the choice NOT to sign the new agreement. When you make the choice to change a contract issue, you cannot simply expect parents to comply. But if the parents do not agree to the new terms, it is best to know this and have the opportunity to decide that it is no longer beneficial to continue providing care for that family.


By using a parent handbook as your guide to establishing successful partnerships, parents will see that you have the professionalism to consider every aspect of your business, and they will get a clear picture of who you are and what makes your family child care business unique. Listening to the parents' comments while going through the handbook during an interview will help you decide if they are the family you have been looking for. Make it a priority for your business to create lasting and successful partnerships, rather than simply filling an opening. You will be rewarded with fewer problems with parents and a satisfying career that focuses on the part of your business you really love: the children.


From Babysitter to Business OwnerPatricia has been a family child care provider for over fifteen years and is the author of From Babysitter to Business Owner, published by Redleaf Press. She presents numerous workshops to other providers on professionalism issues.


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