PERSONNEL PRACTICES FOR SCHOOL-AGE CHILD CARE
Cooperative Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut
Maria Maiorana Russell
Extension Specialist, Retired
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut
The critical factor in the quality of any school-age child care program is the development of a competent and caring staff. Recruiting, hiring, orienting and providing continuing education is a major challenge for most school-age child care programs.
Several factors impact on these tasks. First, most school-age programs operate only a portion of each day when school is not in session. These are not the most desirable times to work. Second, most programs are supported by parent fees and, therefore, are striving to keep costs down, causing salaries to be lower than in some other professional jobs. Third, to be a competent school-age child care provider requires many talents. School-age children need adults who understand them, are fun to be with, can plan and organize activities, know how to communicate well with adults, know how to keep records and can treat minor injuries.
Finding capable staff requires knowing the skills you are looking for, following equal opportunity guidelines, advertising wisely and interviewing well. Keeping those capable staff requires developing clear, concise and fair personnel policies and applying those policies consistently among all employees, as well as training and cherishing all staff on an on-going basis.
Job descriptions should define the requirements of the job and the conditions under which they are performed.
Job descriptions should contain:
Both public and private organizations need to be aware of the laws which affect the rights of persons to equal employment opportunities and equal treatment as an employee in areas such as staff development, promotion and performance appraisal.
Organizational policies should describe how complaints should be filed when employees feel that they have suffered "unequal effect" from hiring or personnel policies, including how employees are informed of their rights, access to complaint files and the process for appealing decisions.
Affirmative action and equal employment practices are based on state and federal laws and must be followed in all decisions affecting personnel policy.
An organization cannot: refuse to hire individuals; discharge employees; discriminate with respect to compensation, terms, conditions and privileges of employment; or limit, segregate or classify employees because of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, sex or sexual preference, marital status, physical disability, mental retardation, past or present mental disorder, learning disability, pregnancy or conviction of crime unless there is a bonafide job requirement that cannot be modified to include the individual. For example, a physical or mental disorder might prohibit an otherwise qualified individual from providing adequate care to the children or a criminal conviction would be prohibited by the licensing requirements.
Also, sexual harassment, as a form of discrimination, is covered by state and federal laws.
If your program has a public sponsor, you need to be aware of affirmative action requirements to provide program access to the public at large, including the involvement of "relevant" clientele in needs assessment, program evaluation and committee efforts.
Advertising the position accurately and creatively increases the chances of recruiting the best candidate. Use both purchased advertising and networks for the broadest possible coverage.
Advertisements should contain:
Place the advertisement in local and regional newspapers and regional shoppers, and send copies to local college placement offices, community agencies and the Department of Labor. Other methods that work include posting the position announcement on community bulletin boards, and talking with school staff and other community leaders. The more people who know that the program is hiring, the more applicants it may attract.
The same forms and processes should be used for all candidates to allow for equal employment opportunity, while providing consistent information for employee selection. This includes applications, references and interviews.
Applications should contain:
A written reference form provides validation of information provided by the applicant. The same reference form should be used for everyone.
Reference forms should ask for information about:
The form should also include the name of the applicant, the name of the person filling out the form, telephone number, address, relationship to applicant, the length of time he/she has known the applicant and the capacity in which he/she knows the individual.
References should be thoroughly checked by telephone before final selection of an employee is made. Listen for positive and negative comments and record these for future consideration.
It should be noted that all child care personnel must pass a criminal check, be certified to be in good health and test negative for tuberculosis.
All employees must also be certified as eligible to work in the United States.
Sponsoring organizations may have additional legal requirements which must be met in hiring staff. Review existing policies and forms which may already be available.
During the course of the interview with a selected candidate, the interviewer(s) should:
* If possible, conduct the interview during a child care session so that candidates may view the program and you may observe their interactions with children.
Interview questions should be prepared in advance for consistent use with all applicants. Asking questions in the same order and recording responses as fully as possible will make selection easier and will also document your efforts as an equal opportunity employer.
One technique which can be very helpful is to create hypothetical situation and ask the applicant how he/she would handle each one. Subjects might include: handling a child with a behavior problem, encouraging a shy child to participate and dealing with a parent who demands your attention during program time.
All questions should be strictly job-related. It is illegal to ask questions about a person's age, ethnic background, marital status, physical disability, etc.
A rating sheet should be used for all applicants to facilitate and document your decisions on who will be employed.
All candidates should be notified of your hiring decisions. Successful candidates should be notified in writing and receive a contract offer. Letters to those not selected should be brief, but cordial, and explain that he/she did not meet the expectations of the position. It is not necessary to tell them who you did hire.
Good management practices require that formal written contracts with employees be signed at the beginning of the work period. Contracts specify the nature and the scope of the work, the conditions under which it is performed and the compensations to be received by the employee.
Model contracts usually include:
Check with your state government for requirements in your state.
A planned orientation for all new staff is imperative. The content may be structured in any useful way, but the content should be deliberately decided.
Orientation for staff is usually done by the program director, and orientation for a new director is done by a member of the sponsoring agency. Information should be written, but it should also be reviewed verbally to make sure the new employee understands the material. It is probably better to conduct the orientation for shorter periods of time over several days than to do it all at once.
The staff handbook should be given to the employee and the major policies reviewed. Every employee should be given a complete set of policies even if he/she is not entitled to every benefit. At the close of each orientation session, invite the employee to ask questions, and take time to answer them as fully as possible. If the material is covered in the handbook, refer to that section. When the orientation is complete, have the employee sign and date a form which lists all areas covered in the orientation, signifying that the employee was given the information.
After the initial orientation is completed, it is important to check with new employees at least twice each week to make sure they understand and are following all of the procedures and policies that have been outlined.
In larger programs with many staff, it may be helpful to assign an experienced staff person to serve as a mentor for the new employee. This will allow the mentor to reinforce the material covered in the orientation and provide on-going guidance and support.
It is important that all staff understand the goals and objectives of the program and what the program is trying to achieve. Staff also need to understand all of the program policies.
Orientation should review how the program is organized. An organizational chart is very helpful in showing the chain of command and who has the ultimate responsibility for the program. This includes staff and board functions and responsibilities.
The employee should be given job descriptions for all of the staff employed and have an explanation of how they work together to achieve program goals. This should include instructions on how to solve problems with children, other staff and parents.
Care should be taken to write each policy in a clear and concise manner. Personnel policies include descriptions of the benefits provided to employees as well as statements of the rights and responsibilities of the employee and employer in the workplace.
These statements must detail the following: benefits including health and life insurance, vacation time, holidays, sick and personal leave, and extended leaves for military commitment, maternity, family needs, jury duty or a prolonged illness; job-classifications including full- time, part-time, permanent and temporary; financial compensation including when and how often a salary is paid, overtime, worker's compensation, salary increases and separation pay for retirement or layoff; deductions including social security and taxes; promotions; time sheets; the probationary period; length of the work day; and that the program is an equal opportunity employer.
Program policies include hours of program operation, snow days, half days and vacation days, release of children, snacks, disciplining of children, parent conferences, planning program activities, program rules and restrictions, visitors, and client waiting list.
Policies and procedures related to health and safety issues should also be developed. These include policies on the administration of medications, reporting suspected child abuse, accidents, emergency procedures, a sick child, outdoor play and proper use of equipment.
Administrative policies should also be developed. These include collection of fees, children's attendance records, purchasing food and supplies, reimbursement for program travel and training, and use of the telephone.
Policies must also be developed regarding attendance including absenteeism and tardiness; behavior on the job including dress code, actions in front of children, smoking, use of controlled substances, eating, relating to parents; participation in staff meetings; and continuing education commitments. Again, these must be very specific and clear. For example, if an employee is going to be absent, who must be notified and by when? What are the acceptable reasons for being absent?
There should be very specific practices for handling infractions of the policies. For example, how often can an employee arrive late before corrective action will occur. How many corrective actions may occur before termination must occur? Many employers use the practice that for each infraction the employee is counseled, and it is documented in writing. Three infractions may be grounds for termination, with the employee being warned after the second violation that one more infraction may result in termination. Discretion is obviously needed, depending on the severity of the infractions and the time period over which they occurred.
Disciplinary action should be progressive, perhaps beginning with a verbal reprimand, followed by a written reprimand, followed by a counseling session. Each action should be documented with dates, times, description of behavior to be corrected and steps to be taken.
The most important principle is that personnel policies should be fair and applied consistently with every employee.
There must also be clear procedures for employees to follow when they think that they are being unfairly treated. This should include who they report to first and who makes the final judgment.
Occasionally it may become necessary to fire an employee. This experience is always difficult for everyone. It is made much easier if your written policies and procedures have been followed to the letter and disciplinary action documented. This documentation may be very valuable, especially if the employee accuses you of being unjustified in your decision to terminate employment.
When an employee leaves the program for any reason, an exit interview should be held. This interview will help the program director determine the positive aspects of working for the program and some drawbacks that may be corrected. In some cases it will be an opportunity to thank the employee for a job well done and present a letter of reference that may be used in seeking future employment.
Developing a handbook for staff allows the school-age child care program to communicate to its employees the policies and procedures which govern the operation of the program in concise written form.
Staff handbooks often contain materials such as those described in this paper. Staff handbooks should contain personnel, program, health, safety and administrative policies and procedures, children's needs, a chart of working relationships and how to solve problems.
These items should be dated, coded and placed in a looseleaf notebook to make revising and updating the handbook easy.
Competent, caring staff members can be hard to find. Blending individual strengths to achieve a well-run organization can be even more of a challenge. The board of directors and the program director must make this happen. A strong commitment to on-going staff development is crucial.
One way to encourage the development of a cohesive team is through weekly staff meetings. These meetings should take place when the program is not in operation, and staff should be paid for attending.
Staff meetings serve several functions. They allow staff to plan the schedule for the coming week, decide how the work will be shared, discuss children who may be having difficulty adjusting to the activities, and review the developmental needs of all children. These meetings are also an opportunity for staff to: discuss their needs, evaluate past programs, solve problems, share ideas, build enthusiasm, learn trust, develop respect, have fun and become colleagues.
Meetings should be scheduled for a specific time period, and staff should be asked for agenda items in advance. The program director should prepare and distribute the agenda before the meeting.
The program decisions and discussions that take place during staff meetings are a part of total staff development. In this setting, staff can learn from one another as well as from the program director.
In addition to structuring and conducting staff meetings, the program director should be available before and after the program to talk with the staff on a daily basis. During this time, it is important to provide supportive feedback to the staff and to listen to their concerns. An "open door" policy and a caring, supportive attitude on the part of the program director will help all members of the staff team develop to their fullest potential and will keep any problems that might surface from getting out of hand. The program director should be supportive rather than authoritarian in approaching staff on seeking to correct their performance. Remember to make it clear that it is the behavior that is unacceptable rather than the person.
Individual staff development will take several forms, including formal and informal training. Informal training will occur as staff work with the children. The director can support and enhance this training by carefully observing the interactions between the children and the staff member on a regular basis. When an area for improvement is noticed, suggestions to staff should be supportive and helpful. When discussions occur in front of the children, the director should be especially careful not to undermine the authority of the staff person. Sensitive issues should be dealt with in private, either by asking the employee to come into the office or after the children have gone home. In a case where the employee's actions may be injurious to a child's safety, health or emotional well-being, the employee should be counseled immediately, but still in private.
Formal training should complement on-the-job staff development and may be required under state licensing. There are several ways to accomplish this training. Consultants or other experts may be invited to present workshops for program staff around specific issues or topics. These could be selected by the staff or director after a group "brainstorming" session. Staff may also meet requirements by attending conferences, workshops or courses. Many such programs are designed for child care providers and some specifically for those who care for school-age children. Organizations providing training include universities and community colleges, the Cooperative Extension System in your state and the American Red Cross, as well as organizations local to your city and state.
It should be remembered that each program may need to have proof that staff have been trained in first aid and CPR. The regulations also may require that staff members must participate in continuing education each year.
As with any other profession, it is important that those providing school-age child care reach out and learn from others in the field. The National School-age Child Care Alliance provides a forum for this on a national basis. The affiliate of the national organization in your state may hold conferences each year, may work to support legislation relating to school-age child care and may serve as a voice for parents, children and staff concerned about quality school-age child care.
The most positive contribution to be made for improvement of job performance is supportive counseling. To provide this, supervisors and staff need a common understanding of what the performance standards are (at the beginning of the work period) and the indicators of best performance in all areas of the job's responsibilities. Performance criteria and standards should be in writing and discussed as part of job orientation. (See sample appraisal form at the end of this document.)
The chair of the board of directors or a board personnel committee will appraise and document the program director's performance. The program director is responsible for evaluating the staff's performance.
Before each staff member's performance appraisal interview, complete an appraisal form for that employee and ask the employee to do the same. This will serve as a basis for discussion during the interview. The interview should begin with a discussion of the employee's strengths and areas where positive development has occurred. Then agreement should be reached on a process to improve areas of performance which are not up to standard. A professional development plan should result from the process.
Following the performance interview, both the employee and the person conducting the appraisal should sign the appraisal form, which is then placed in the employee's personnel file.
A file folder should be established for the records of each employee. If an employee asks to see the contents, it must be made available to him/her. A procedure for viewing should be established which prevents the employee from removing records from the file.
The contents of the file should include the original application of the employee, annual contracts, health records of the employee, certification of inservice education, first aid certification, performance appraisal data, any incident reports, records of grievances and how they were resolved, letters complimenting the employee and any other information that might be helpful in evaluating performance. This file should be kept in a secure place. Check with your state government to find out what other documents must be kept on file and whether they are to be kept in the same file or filed separately.
Competent and caring staff are the key ingredient for providing quality, developmentally appropriate care for children. They need to be carefully selected, cherished and nurtured. Following the procedures outlined in this paper will help school-age child care programs to function in a professional manner that is fair to the employees and to the employer.
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