How to Open a Child Care Center Part 2: Parent & Staff Handbooks
May 10, 2019
If you have ever started your own business you know it’s a lot of work and a huge undertaking, not for the faint at heart. There are endless lists and tasks to be done. As we continue on the topic of “How to Open a Childcare Center”, today we will look at handbooks and the role that they play in your center. It’s my goal that by the end of this blog you will have a thorough grasp of what to include in your centers staff and parent handbook.
When thinking about writing a handbook, you might feel a little overwhelmed. My best advice is don’t do it alone. Find another center that is willing to help you or even share theirs with you to get you started. You’d be surprised at how many Owners and Directors are happy to share resources. If you don’t know any other child care Directors, join a group! Groups are a great source of information. Also consider hiring a lawyer to review your policies as well. This may end up saving you a lot of time and money at the end of the day.
I’ll confess, I’ve never written a handbook from scratch because that would be very hard to do. I have however spent hours each year editing policies and updating procedures. After much review, I have learned that there are essential items that shouldn’t be missed. Today, I will cover the purpose of the handbook and also my top 5 items to include for both staff and parent handbooks.
The purpose of a staff or parent handbook is to communicate any expectations, policies or procedures that you have for the staff and/or families in your center. A handbook is often your first written communication for both staff and parents. It is essential that you take time and pay careful attention to both of these documents.
What to include:
In my past experience as a Director, I have learned what’s important to include in your handbook. Often times I would learn the hard way, having to add the policy after a larger issue arose. Don’t wait like I did! Take a look at the list below and make sure that you have policies and procedures for each topic.
Some of these items may seem small but when not written up with clear expectations, it can make for a mess in the future. Please note this isn’t an inclusive list, since there are MANY items to include in your handbook not listed below, this is just my top 5.
Top 5 Items to Include in the Parent Handbook:
Withdrawal Policy: Make sure that it is clear to families what you expect from them if they decide to take their business elsewhere. At my center we required 30 days notice when a child was leaving. After the 30 days they were free and clear, no extra fees were charged. At times we had families who would want to leave overnight, so having a policy written in the handbook saved me so many times.
Discipline: I can’t count how many times we had discipline issues in our school that ended up leading to expulsion, well maybe only three or four. But when the time came, it was very important that I had our policy in writing so that I could show the family that we followed proper procedures. At our center we had a strict 3-strike policy. If a child had three write-ups, we had the freedom to ask them to leave. Now we didn’t always do that, but we had a policy in place for times when we needed it.
Arrival and Departure Guidelines: Make sure to let the families in your center know your policies around drop-off and pick-up times. This would include school start times, late pick up fees and any other policies you have around pick-up or drop-off. At our center we would have parents allow their three year-olds to run into the classroom in the morning without the teacher even seeing the parents. We would let the parents know our policy is for each parent to hold on to their child’s hand and walk them into the classroom each day for safety purposes. This policy was one we created later in the game due to this issue.
Food Policies: In the day and age of nut allergies, it is important to let families know your policies around food, especially for birthdays. If you let parents bring in a special treat, make sure they know what’s approved and what is not. This can cause some big issues and also be dangerous for a child with allergies. Make sure you communicate this upfront, as it will relieve you of any issues.
Anything Pertaining to Licensing: Lastly, make sure you have any policies in place that are required by licensing. This would be child abuse reporting, discrimination and anything else your agency requires. It is important to bring them into the conversation from the beginning and to make sure that your policies meet their requirements.
Top 5 Items to Include in the Employee Handbook:
Expectation of Staff Behavior: It’s always a good idea to clearly communicate any expectations around staff behavior. This will help you if you end up having to write someone up. In my experience, I always based my write-ups off of items in the handbook. It’s clear and easy and they’ve already read it, hopefully several times. Include items like: staff values, child discipline and also cell phone use policies.
Mandatory Attendance Events: If you have any mandatory events throughout the year, make sure to include them in your handbook. This way staff know at the beginning of the year and the expectations are set right from the get go.
Child Behavioral Documentation Policies: It is very important to include a set of the child behavioral documentation policies in the staff handbook. This would explain the process of documenting any behavioral issues and what the expectations are of the staff. Do not miss this as you could have an issue with a child, however if your staff isn't documenting it, then it never happened.
PTO/Sick/Vacation Time Policy: Creating expectations regarding staff being absent from the center is essential. Make sure to clearly state when the time-off can be given and what is expected of them when they are gone. This will save the rest of your team!
Private Childcare: In the childcare world, it is a regular occurrence for families to request their child's teacher to babysit. My recommendation is to think about what you are okay with and communicate it to your team. At my center, we did allow teachers to babysit but they had to have the families and themselves sign a waiver in advance. If you do allow this, make sure you have a waiver. It will protect the rights of your center.
One thing I have seen over the years is that when a center has clear expectations for their families and staff, the center thrives. Make it a point as you plan for your center to define these expectations and what happens when they are not met. You will save yourself, staff and families so much time upfront!
Stay tuned, we will cover a few more topics on “How to Open a Childcare Center”.
Sandbox Tip: To share your handbook with the families in your center, simply go to the Families Tab > Parent Portal Newsfeed > select Post and Attachment. This is a great way to make sure that your families will have access to the parent handbook all year round.