National Network for Child Care's Connections Newsletter
Nancy Morse, M.A.
Human Development and Family Studies
Parkland College, Champaign, Illinois
Contracts sound so formal. Some providers think that only big businesses need contracts. "Not for me," they say. "I only care for four children. Why bother?" You have a contract, though, if you have talked with a parent and she has agreed to pay you. It is a legal contract even though its not on paper.
Its a good idea to have a written contract. There is less chance for misunderstanding if information is clearly stated and agreed to by parents. Some providers also give parents brochures or a handbook outlining what is expected. This, too, helps to reduce misunderstandings with parents. Parents also can see that you are a professional. They gain respect for you because they see that you understand all that is involved in caring for their child.
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN A BROCHURE OR HANDBOOK? There are many things parents need to know about your day care business. Many providers prefer to put this information in a brochure or handbook, rather than in a contract. Parents do not always remember everything you told them during the initial interview. Giving parents a brochure or handbook with the main points will allow them to go over the information later.
Guidelines and procedures listed in the brochure or handbook should reflect your home and explain the way you deal with children and families. State the days and hours you are open, the rates you charge, and the meals you serve. Include special information about feeding infants. Tell parents your ideas about children and what they need. Explain what types of activities you will offer. Talk about how you will guide and discipline children. How do you handle toilet training? What do you do if one child hits another child? This information is helpful for parents. It also shows you care and know about children. Some of this information, such as hours and fees, may also be included in your contract. The advantage of also listing it in a handbook or brochure is that you can go into more detail. You can explain why a policy exists in addition to saying what the policy is. Often there is not enough room for this detail on the contract form.
Also spell out what you expect of parents. State that you expect to be paid on time and that children should be picked up on time. Tell parents if you want them to send extra clothes. Tell them if children are allowed to bring toys and food. If there are other ways you expect parents to support your program, let them know. Explain your policies about sick children and giving medicine. Tell parents if you expect to be paid when children are absent. You may be able to suggest substitutes for days when you are sick or on vacation. Talk about what you will do if the child care arrangement is not working.
WHAT SHOULD I INCLUDE IN THE CONTRACT? The contract should list the most important information you want parents to know. This will include things that you as a provider promise to provide (for example, care during certain hours and meals included) as well as what you expect from the parent (payment of a specified fee by a certain date).
The contract does not have to be written in legal language. Just write down what you need to say. Sample contracts can be obtained from many sources. Contact your local child care regulating agency, resource and referral agency, or family day care association for sample contracts. Standard contract forms can also be ordered from companies such as Toys 'N Things Press. Sign and date the contract, and have the parents do the same.
IS IT TOO LATE TO START USING CONTRACTS? Not at all! Contracts are a good idea for new parents and for parents who are already using your service. Tell the parents why you are doing this, and assure them that the contract will not change things. It will just make your arrangement more official. If you are changing your guidelines in any way, discuss these differences with the parents.
CAN I CHANGE MY CONTRACT? Contracts and handbooks can be changed as your needs change. Read your contract and handbook at least once a year to see that they are still accurate. Make any changes needed and distribute the information to parents. Ask parents to sign the new contract if you have made changes. This shows that they have been informed of and agree with these changes.