Here are six areas where problems commonly appear in day care management and how to fix them.
Rules and policy
Too often, someone opens a new business without setting rules and policy. A day care with loose rules causes problems for staff and parents.
Every day care needs clear policies, including:
- Hours of operation
- Emergency plans
- Sick child policy
- Rules for visitors
- Drop off and pickup procedures
All policies should be in writing and easily accessible to the staff and parents. One example is a sick child policy. You must set rules that say things like:
- If the child has a fever, he or she must stay home until fever-free for at least 24 hours without medication.
- Every child must be current on immunizations, and a vaccination record must be provided to the day care.
- A report of an annual check-up is required for enrollment.
Rules and policy apply to everyone working in your day care. If they are not followed, disciplinary action should be taken.
According to a study from the University of California, early achievement scores and socioemotional behavior were positively impacted when programs applied a curriculum that is supported by professional development, coaching, and sufficient resources. A day care without a regular daily program or that has a program that is static and does not challenge the child provides little educational support. Too much television or other electronic media has been shown to be of little value. Babies who spend all their time in swings or infant seats are not stimulated to learn about the world around them.
Kids need variety and a chance to grow. Offer a wide range of group and individual activities that vary from day to day. Provide a well-stocked arts and crafts area and age-appropriate toys as well as chances to go outdoors.
Safety is often taken for granted, but anyone who has been around kids knows that nothing can be assumed. The employees, in turn, are entitled to a safe workplace.
Start with a building that is in good repair that has been outfitted for small children and infants. Find out the appropriate ratio of staff to children before you open and do not accept more children than your facility can handle.
Make sure there are no small toys or other choking hazards down where little hands can find them. Provide only toys and equipment that can be easily cleaned and sanitized, and enforce hand-washing rules to limit the spread of infection. Follow hygienic practices for diaper changes.
Be very careful to learn about food allergies for each of your charges. If a child has a peanut allergy and yet receives a snack with peanuts in it, you could be held liable for negligence.
Day cares are required to be licensed by the state, so before you open your doors, find out how to become licensed in your state and expect to be inspected periodically. You will also need to present evidence that your staff is licensed if required and that they follow specific health, safety, and nutritional routines mandated by the state.
Operating an unlicensed facility is grounds for a fine.
Follow applicable payroll laws. Pay at least the minimum wage, and you must pay employees for every hour worked, including overtime. Keep careful records of the staff clocking in and out. Even if a teacher performs unauthorized work, you can take disciplinary action, but you must also pay for the time the teacher worked.
Use contracts to define the scope of care and set realistic expectations clearly. A contract also ensures timely payment for services; once signed, it has the force of law. Neither party can legally break the contract unless you have mutual consent or a court of law voids the contract.
Nobody likes to discipline another adult, but sometimes it is required of a manager. One of the policies you should have developed is a progressive discipline policy that defines unacceptable behavior and its consequences. Depending on the level of danger of the behavior, assign successively more severe disciplinary measures for each time the behavior is repeated all the way to termination if needed.
Keep careful records of these actions so if you must terminate an employee for poor performance you have documentation to uphold it. Otherwise, you could be accused of unlawful termination for race, religion, or disability.
Discrimination and harassment
No matter how small your facility is, you cannot discriminate against any employee based on:
- Disability status
If you run a public day care, the law also prohibits you from engaging in discrimination against children or their families. If a disabled child is enrolled, you are expected to provide reasonable accommodation such as an access ramp or a modified daily schedule.
Day care facilities licensed as preschools also may be required to provide resources for children with learning disabilities such as an individualized educational plan.
If you learn that an employee at any of your day care facilities has discriminated against a child, a family member, or another staff member, you will need to take disciplinary action to protect your business.
You may not think of sexual harassment as something that can happen in a predominantly female or single gender group, but it can. You cannot ignore claims of harassment, no matter how unlikely you think it to be true.
Take every claim seriously, conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, and take appropriate action.
Poor or weak leadership has sunk many a business. The following are behaviors and actions that undermine your authority and leadership at your facility.
- Trying to be a best friend instead of a boss to your staff. Be a professional role model and coach for your staff, not a shoulder to cry on.
- Allowing gossip. Make yourself unavailable if a staff member wants to gossip and make it known that it is unacceptable. Plan disciplinary action for those who continue to offend.
- Worrying about being liked. Leaders who want only to be liked are ineffective. Leading means protecting your business, which may upset some employees or clients.
- Keeping teachers with good child skills but poor communication with adults. No matter how great a teacher is, you cannot allow one to be rude to parents. Provide training if the teacher feels awkward with adults but do not allow poor communication to continue. If the teacher is unwilling or unable to change, you may need to terminate employment.
- Micromanaging the staff. If you don’t trust the staff, the staff will become unhappy and leave. Learn to delegate responsibility and allow the staff to make decisions.
- Allowing problems to fester instead of addressing them. If you make a bad hire and cringe at firing someone, you need to know things will not get better by waiting. It is best for everyone involved, including the employee, to cut ties quickly. Make a grievance and complaint procedure part of your policy that clarifies the problem and its resolution.
Wanting to work with children is a noble desire. Running a day care, however, is a business and should be treated as such. Follow the appropriate legal requirements and acquire the leadership skills that will allow you to be successful in both aspects.