- Learn key elements that go into the management of family child care.
- Identify how to create procedures and policies that can work for you and your family child care program.
- Describe the methods of effectively running the business of your family child care program.
Think about your role as a family child care provider. What are some of the tasks you must complete before children enter your home each day? How do you integrate working with families and children in your personal home? What are the things that you are constantly responsible for on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? As a family child care provider, you will wear many hats.
One of your main hats is as an educator. You interact with children and provide appropriate learning experiences for each stage of development. It is incumbent upon you to have realistic expectations about children’s behavior. While you will enjoy watching each child learn and grow, you will need to have patience and energy needed to work with children of different ages for many hours each day. And through it all, your ongoing communication with families will help build a sense of trust and collaboration.
As an effective educator, you will also be a learner. Being a lifelong learner is an essential part of being an effective family child care provider. You should strive to participate in training opportunities that help you understand how children develop and learn new skills to use in your individual family child care program. You will also meet other child care providers, trainers, mentors, and community members who can offer support and resources. Learning more about child care will keep you enthusiastic about your profession. Remaining flexible and eager to hear new ideas and try new approaches will be essential to your growth as family child care provider.
You will also be a business owner. Some of your responsibilities will be to interview and provide orientation to new families, manage money, maintain necessary documentation, plan for substitutes and personal vacations, prepare for emergencies, and keep your home in good repair. You must comply with the laws and regulations that relate to your business. Families will depend on you to keep your program running smoothly.
Personally, you may also be part of a family. You should understand that your family child care program affects others living in your home. Your family should be willing to share you and your home with the children and families in your program. You will need to learn how to effectively balance both work and home life in your house.
All of these many hats can sometimes feel overwhelming. Knowing your responsibilities as a family child care provider, communicating with others, and having efficient processes, policies and procedures can help you successfully manage you family child care home.
Responsibilities of a Family Child Care Provider
As a family child care provider, it is your responsibility to create a safe, supportive environment that fosters and promotes learning, relationship-building, and a sense of community. To ensure that you are providing this safe, supportive environment, you will need to obtain a license to operate. This is issued to you only after your state’s family child care administration has determined that your program is in compliance with laws and family child care regulations. These regulations may differ and are subject to change, therefore it is your responsivity to make sure that you remain in compliance. Your license is in effect for a finite period or indefinitely, but it can be revoked if you have not followed the regulations or related laws. Remember to follow all regulations and deadlines regarding renewal or annual requirements. When you apply for your license you agree to meet the conditions and standards of keeping your family child care home in compliance. Be sure you and any back-up providers know the regulations. You must display any license where anyone who enters your program can see it.
A condition of most family child care license to operate is that you as the provider and any back-up providers that may assist you stay up to date with training requirements and background check policies. Not doing so could jeopardize the license for your program. When you apply to renew your license, you will often need to submit supplemental materials such as records of training you have participated in during your licensing period, and annual fire or safety inspections. Your license is for you and for your family child care home. You cannot give it to another provider or move it to another location. If you move, change the name of your program, or in other ways change your family child care home, your license likely will no longer be valid and a new application must be submitted.
In-home inspections are used as one way to assess your program and determine if you are following regulations. There are various types of inspections, and they can be unannounced or you may be notified in advance. As a family child care provider, you have agreed to allow your licensor, fire safety representative, family child care administrator or other person designated by your licensing agency to come into your home at any time when children are in your care. Inspectors and monitors must be given access to your home, the children in your care, other caregivers or back-up providers and any family child care records contained in the home. Inspections will focus on those areas used by children in your program. However, you may be asked to allow the inspector to access all areas of your home, even those not directly used by children. It is important to evaluate if your home is a safe and healthy environment for children and that children are supervised appropriately. There are different reasons why your home may be inspected:
Access to Your Program and Records
Your licensing agency, or local resource or referral agency has your best interest and well-being of the children and families you serve in mind. They are also there as a resource to help you with training and comply with regulations. To help you and ensure compliance, a licensing specialist needs to have access to your family child care records. When your licensing specialist or family child care administrator comes to your program during regular service hours, you must allow them access to all areas of your home, in some cases even areas not used by the children in your program. You must allow them to view any program-related documentation that they may request. This will allow them to determine if your family child care program is a safe and healthy environment, if you are operating within correct ratios, and if all children are being adequately supervised.
A licensing specialist will have access to records that you will not share with anyone else without parental permission. Here is a list of things you need to have on file, readily accessible when they come to your home:
- Fire inspection and evacuation plans
- List of the names, addresses, sex, and birth date of each child enrolled in your program
- Updated list of parents’ names, addresses, telephone numbers and places where they can be reached in an emergency
- A list of the names and addresses of the people authorized to take children in your program from your home
- Daily attendance records
- Children’s health records
- Health statements for yourself (to be completed yearly in most cases)
- Statement regarding the health of all the people living in your family child care home
- Sample plan of program activities or daily lesson plan
- Information regarding alternate assistants and back-up providers who are available to care for the children when you are absent or ill
- Documentation of completed required trainings
You should contact your family child care administrator or licensing specialist for a list of exactly what forms and documents must be available for inspection at all times.
Documentation is always important and will be reviewed during most visits from a licensing specialist. When setting up a record-keeping system, consider how you will access the information in your records while continuing to provide supervision to the children in your care. You might want to use a portable file holder that can be locked to keep these records confidential. Your files will need to be kept in the child care program area during your family child care hours.
Business of Family Child Care
Your family child care, while filling a need for the families you serve by providing a nurturing and safe space for children, is also a business for you. As a family child care provider, you should consider the financial aspects of providing care for children in your home. The actual fee charged for child care services is generally modest, and some child care providers supplement their income with reimbursements from food programs, local or state subsidies, and military child care supplements. All of these streams of income must be considered when deciding if family child care is the right business for you and your family.
Taxes and Record Keeping
As a business owner, you must you be prepared to keep track of your monthly revenue and expenditures for tax purposes. It is a good idea to buy a receipt book to keep for your records. It is also a good idea to work through deductions allowed for using a private home for business purposes. You are classified as a self-employed person and are responsible for paying taxes and keeping track of fees and expenditures.
You will need to be aware of information and requirements for Social Security payments. Check with your nearest Social Security office for current information. If the combined family income, including your earnings, is too low to pay income tax, using deductions is not the best method. If the combined income is at a level where you pay income tax, check with your Internal Revenue Office to determine whether the work involved in keeping records is worthwhile. Two types of expenditures or costs are possible when taking tax deductions: direct expenditures, such as cost of food and toys, and indirect expenditures related to the use of your house, such as rent, utilities, mortgage payments, etc. Consult with your attorney or accountant to ensure you are keeping track of necessary expenses.
Family child care providers should keep good records of all expenditures. Separate out the direct expenses for food, toys, supplies, cribs, etc. and exclude your own family expenses. Keep sample weeks of costs for food, breakfast, snacks, and lunch. It is a good practice to itemize all costs. For example, if the cost of child care food per week is $18, divide by three children and the cost per child per week would be $6. If you are working with the Child and Adult Care Food Program or local agencies for food reimbursements, ensure that you follow all prescribed guidelines and requirements for tracking food expenses. Carefully check on the supplies that are used for your family child care each week. Little expenses add up quickly. Remember to consider thing like extra diapers, supplies for crafts, and birthday treats that might easily be overlooked.
These costs can more complicated because they involve the portion of the house and utilities used for caregiving. Indirect expenditures include a portion of rent, mortgage, interest, property tax, utility bills, and even your cell phone. These are things that are used indirectly for your family child care business. It is wise to consult the Internal Revenue Service or a tax specialist to determine what costs are allowable. The best advice to a provider who is going to use the business deduction method is: always save your receipts and canceled checks or proof of payment for the prescribed period in the event that you are audited.
Running a business out of your home requires you to be prudent and protect yourself and your family. Liability insurance is necessary for all family child care providers. If you transport children, be sure your automobile insurance covers the child care children. Many times, a good homeowner’s or renter’s policy is adequate to cover your program. Discuss insurance requirements with your insurance agent and licensing specialist. The important thing to remember is to always provide good supervision. Proper supervision will reduce the likelihood of accidents. You have a responsibility to call a physician or ambulance, in addition to contacting the child’s parents, in case of any serious injury that happened while a child is your care.
Program Policies and Procedures
When a family is considering your family child care home, they are preparing to make a very important decision to entrust you to keep their child safe from harm, keep them healthy, provide appropriate developmental opportunities, and love and nurture them. You can help families make suitable choices for their children by allowing them the opportunity to evaluate whether your program is a good fit for their family. You are also helping parents provide good care for their children when you give them information and resources.
Share with prospective families’ information about your program, yourself, and any other providers or community members who work in your program, including assistants, back-up providers, and your family members living in your home. Also let them know they are welcome to spend time at your program when their child is in your care and look over your records about their child. You will need to get some information from families when they enroll a child in your program. This includes:
- Name, sex, date of birth, and address for each child
- Each parent’s name, address, telephone numbers
- Contact information where each child’s parents and others responsible for the child can be reached in an emergency
- Names and addresses of each person who is authorized to take the child from your program
- Children’s health records that include:
- parent’s consent for emergency medical treatment
- evidence of current health examinations and immunizations
- list of allergies or chronic illnesses
- a record of illness, injuries, and any indications of child abuse or maltreatment
- the name and dosage of any medication used by a child and how often the medication is needed
See Lesson Seven in the Safe Environments course for more information on giving medication to children in your care. There may be times when children in your care will need medication. It may be because they have an ear infection, are suffering discomfort from a diaper rash, or have a chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes that is controlled by the use of medication. Medication can significantly affect children’s health.
In addition to information you collect about children and their families, you should contact your family child care administrator or licensing specialist for a list of exactly what forms and documents are required for enrolling children.
PUB How do you let people know that you have an opening? There are effective ways to advertise and attract prospective families to your child care program. Some ideas to consider include contacting your local child care resource and referral agency, placing advertisements in newspapers, contacting local job-training programs and colleges, posting a listing on an applicable website, and talking with other providers.
Once you have been contacted regarding an opening in your family child care home, you should have a plan for how to gather information from applicants. Consider how you will learn more about each applicant. Do you want to talk to them on the phone? When will you meet with them in person? How will they fill out and submit an application?
Conducting a family interview can help you decide whether or not a new family will fit well with you and current children and families in your program. This is a good time to be up front. Demonstrate to parents that you are a professional child care provider and you are ready to work with them to support the growth and development of their children.
During the interview you will need to be personable, honest, alert, perceptive, free from prejudice, and even-tempered. You will need to prepare questions before the interview and encourage the family to do likewise.
The interview questions that you ask and the time spent with the prospective family should help you make a decision about whether the family you are considering will thrive in your family child care environment. Sometimes, things our parents did with us or things that a parent would like for you to do with their children are not appropriate. They may even violate regulations. For example, letting preschool children play outside in the backyard unsupervised, or biting a toddler who bites you maybe things we experienced as children or things parents do, but these are not permissible family child care practices. Ask the prospective family how he or she would handle specific situations with questions like “What would you do if your child . . .?” or “How would you like for me to handle . . .?”
When you meet parents for the first time, you can also discuss ways to help their child become comfortable in your home. You may want to set up a time for the parent and the child to visit with you and the other children and to see the toys and materials in your program. Allow children to bring comforting items from home, such as a pacifier or blanket, a favorite stuffed animal, a book of pictures, or other safe objects that help your home feel more like their own home. You might establish a transition period when a child comes to you for a short time at first, and then gradually works up to a full day in your care. For older children, you could send the child a note to introduce yourself before they start in your program. Some children adapt easily to a new program. Others take a bit more time. Reassure parents and children that this is normal and that you are happy to have them as part of your program.
Following each interview and after your thoughtful consideration, you should contact the prospective family and let them know your decision.
One way to give families information about your program is in a parent handbook; take time going over the handbook thoroughly in a formal orientation. When it comes to policies and procedures, the best way to minimize misunderstandings is to put everything in writing and provide people with plenty of notice of impending changes. When you put a handbook together, it should reflect the unique qualities and the philosophies of your program. Policies should describe the details of your business and might include the following:
- Description of program philosophy
- Adult-to-child ratios
- Behavior guidance policy statement
- Basic daily schedule
- Supplies that parents will bring (diapers, wipes, formula, etc.)
- Your specific expectations of parents (such as children will arrive fully dressed, etc.)
- Plans or procedures for parent-provider meetings or conference
- Regularly scheduled special events, such as visiting the library, etc.
- Transportation of children to school, field trips, or classes
- Special activities and cost
- Emergency procedures
- Back-up care arrangements
- Persons authorized to pick up a child in the absence of parents
- Illness policy
- Policies regarding children with special needs
Check to see if your program has specific guidelines for developing a family handbook. Here are some guidelines when it comes to creating and updating family handbooks:
- Families should be given a handbook during their orientation. Spending time going through the handbook is time well spent.
- Organize the handbook in a logical way so families can easily find what they are looking for. Include a table of contents, for example, and have a section titled Communicable Disease. In that section, have your program’s exclusion and readmission policy along with what to do if there is an outbreak in your program and sample forms that might be required.
- Create inserts that can be edited yearly or as needed. Include a yearly schedule of key events, making sure to highlight dates when the program will be closed so families can make alternative care arrangements. Include a list of key personnel and contact information organized by role.
- Include a section for community resources and supports if that information is not provided by other systems of family support in your program.
- Put in writing your specific policies about when you will exclude children from care, discipline, making payments, procedures you will follow in emergency situations, and procedures for dropping off and picking up children, including who is authorized to pick up children.
There are several ways to handle revisions, but make sure everything is dated. To minimize updating, you can keep information that is likely to change in a separate insert or appendix. You can bundle revisions together to minimize the cost of reprinting and then update once or twice a year. Families should always be notified in writing of an impending policy or procedural change. If answers to families’ questions are not currently addressed in your handbook, keep these questions to include the next time you revise.
In addition to handbooks, having dedicated places specifically for family information, such as family bulletin boards, can help keep families informed. Here are a few helpful hints when it comes to family boards:
- Create family boards in the entryway to your program space and in locations where families congregate. In many family child care programs, there is one board in the activity room and a communal board in the lobby or entryway of the home. You must be diligent about updating the family boards consistently and regularly, especially if you keep boards in multiple rooms of your home.
- There are usually two types of information that get posted. One type is health and safety information, such as evacuation plans, which have a permanent spot on the parent board. The other type of information is time-sensitive information such as a flier announcing an upcoming family night.
- Make sure the information on the board is easy to read and displayed in an eye-catching manner. Look for torn paper, faded colors, and cluttered displays.
- Make sure the information is portrayed in a positive and inclusive manner. Ask yourself, “What is this board communicating?” It should truly welcome families and avoid postings that might alienate families, such as threats to disenrollment if payments are not received by a certain date.
Check to see if there are specificPUB Service or licensing guidelines for developing family handbooks and family bulletin boards.
Think of a time when you had to apply for something, such as school or a job. It’s likely that you felt excited—but also a little nervous. Families who choose to bring their children to your program will likely have similar feelings. Whether the family is enrolling a 6-week-old infant or a 4-year-old who has already attended child care in four different cities or installations, they likely need time to get to know the new program, new provider, and new policies. This is true even if they have already been through the process with other children—each experience is unique and brings with it possible anxiety and lots of paperwork. As a provider, it is your responsibility to ensure that new families get the information they need in a manner that minimizes their stress and increases their confidence in the choice they made to enroll their children in your program.
Providing families with a thorough orientation will acquaint them with your program’s policies and procedures. Your orientation process should include an enrollment packet, a tour of the program during which you can share your program’s philosophy, and an introduction to your home and those who will interact with the family’s child. After their initial meeting with you, you should encourage the family to accompany the child for another visit if their schedule permits. This way, the child can spend some time in your home before their first day in care. The more front-end work that you do, the easier the transition into care will be for everyone. Here are a few helpful hints when it comes to family orientations:
- Create a New Family Orientation Plan that includes activities for you to complete before, during, and after the children’s enrollment.
- Create a New Family Orientation Checklist that simplifies the enrollment process for families by identifying the items that need to be completed and their due dates.
- Have families complete as much enrollment information while they are on site as possible, as this reduces the administrative burden of having to chase paperwork.
- Consider creating a Getting to Know Us video for your program. This is a great way for families and their children to know what to expect as they transition into your care.
Communicating your program’s policies and procedures effectively ensures that everyone is on the same page. Implementing a thorough orientation process, providing an up-to-date family handbook and describing your daily schedule are some of your best strategies for ensuring everyone has the information they need. Knowing the daily schedule and what to expect makes transitions easier for children and families.
Effective Management Practices
Parent-Provider Contracts and Policies
As a family child care provider, you are a self-employed business person and you are entitled to set up your own contract and policies in a way that is specific to your program. However, many licensing agencies require the use of specific parent-provider contracts or agreements for regulated providers. The most notable legal constraint when setting your policies is that your rules cannot violate local, state, or federal law. Federal or state laws may prohibit discrimination based on race, color, sex, disability, religion, or national origin.PUB Your local resource and referral agency may also be able to offer further advice regarding contracts and policies.
Your contracts with your families should contain those items that deal with the parent and the provider’s legal rights, including the right of a provider to be paid. Examples of information to be included in contracts are:
- Your name, address, and phone numbers
- Names of children for whom you will be providing care
- Names, addresses, phone numbers, and employers of parents
- Addresses and phone numbers of adults who will pick up or drop off children (some providers request a photo copy of a driver’s license or other photo ID)
- Days and hours of care for the children listed
- Rate of pay and payment schedule
- Procedures for scheduled and unscheduled child absences
- Penalty fees (overtime fees, late pickup fees, late payment fees)
- Termination of contract procedures
- Back-up provider care arrangements
- Sick child exclusion policies
- Medical and emergency release forms
- A space for both parent and provider to sign and date
Parents must be given a copy of the signed parent-provider contract or agreement.
Providers must maintain a file of daily attendance records for each child in your care. The records need to include actual time in and time out each day for each child, total hours per week, and the parent’s signature. Parents should sign the attendance record weekly. The attendance records are to be made available upon request. Depending on your licensing agency you may use your own form or computer system, but it should contain the same information shown on the sample forms. Before you use your own form, contact your licensing agency to review it to make sure it meets the requirements. Some things to remember regarding attendance records:
- Keep your attendance records for three years. It is very important that these records are kept in the event you are reviewed by your licensing agency or family child care administrator.
- Record actual times of attendance daily. Your attendance record must show each day the actual times you provided care for each eligible child.
- Parent’s signature. The attendance record should be signed by the parent weekly.
- Failure to maintain records in compliance with regulations could result in your license or certificate to operate being revoked. Not completing and retaining these records may also result incorrect payments to you.
If you need help with this process or assistance with record keeping, contact your family child care administrator or licensing agency.PUB Your local child care resource and referral agency is a great resource that is available to offer tips for managing your business. In the Learn section of this lesson, there is a guide with some reports that should be completed monthly for your record keeping or reporting.
Admission and Release of Children
Family child care providers have a responsibility to make sure children in their care are in the care of a parent, guardian, or approved individual at all times. This includes any individuals you release children to at the end of the day. Your program must have in place clear policies for the admission and release of children to individuals other than their parents or guardians. This information should be included in the parent handbook, and parents should be required to submit a list of individuals who are approved to pick up their child as part of the enrollment process.
Visitors to the Program
There may be times when you invite a visitor to your home to enrich your learning activities. A police officer might describe how they help keep children safe, a dental hygienist might come to show children the best way to brush their teeth, a prospective parent may come to check out your program, or perhaps one of your former child care children comes to read a book to the children. One of your tasks will be to develop rules and policies around visitors in order to keep children safe and healthy. You will need to decide who are considered visitors, and then follow a specific procedure to sign them in and out of your program.
You will need to keep a written record of visitors, including the visitor’s name and signature, the date and time of entry, the reason for the visit, and the time they left the home. This record may be needed to document who was in your program on a specific day or who had contact with a specific child. It is your responsibility to ensure that the visitors to your program do not present a danger to the children. Remember to maintain appropriate supervision at all times. Visitors can never be left alone with children. If a visitor has routine contact with the children in your program, such as by a speech therapist, you may need to submit information to do a background check. For more details about policies regarding visitors, talk with your licensor or family child care administrator.
Providing an open-door policy for families is important not only to welcome families, but also to prevent child abuse and neglect in your program. It sends the message that you are proud of your home and the work you do with children and that you have nothing to hide from your families. It also confirms the message that families are critical partners in your program. Families should know and feel welcomed to visit anytime. They should not need an appointment or to call ahead during the time that their child is in your care. They should have access to every part of your home that their child has access to.
An open-door policy allows families to openly view program activities and advocate for their children if they see an inappropriate action. It also helps to strengthen the relationship and trust between you and your families. However, an open-door policy does not mean adults are free to roam around your home or have access your personal quarters. You must put reasonable safeguards in place to ensure the security of children and appropriate boundaries for you and your family. The following are procedures that can protect children and inspire trust:
- Sign-in and sign-out procedures: Make sure you are aware of and can account for all individuals in your home at all times. Your sign-in and visitor procedures should indicate the adult’s name, when they arrived, and when they left.
- Identity verification: Any unknown individual must be asked for identification. If an adult is there to pick up a child, confirm that the individual is listed on the child’s records as an approved individual and the child is permitted to be released to that individual.
- Visitor monitoring: All community members or visitors should be monitored while in your home. Children cannot be left in the care of an unapproved adult who is visiting the program.
- Clear boundaries: Post signs on areas that are restricted. For example, your personal bedroom or the basement should be clearly marked so other adults know where the child care space ends and your living areas begin.
Make sure family members know what to do if they witness something that makes them uncomfortable. Provide a paragraph in the family handbook about your open-door policy.
There are many ways to successfully and efficiently run your program. Hear from a few providers and a family child care administrators as they describe some useful family child care management tips.
Creating a Welcome Book for families can be a way to compliment the formal parent handbook they receive and offer an additional opportunity to introduce families to the program. This book could be placed in the lobby of the program, provided electronically, or sent home with new families.
Read and review the Create A Welcome Book for Families activity and use it to develop a resource you could share with families. As an alternative, you can use the attachment as an inspiration for developing a bulletin board that welcomes families and shares information about you and your program.
The following list of websites and online resources are tools toward becoming a successful and efficient family child care provider. These resources will help you address program-management concerns and may challenge you to enhance your family child care practices. Take time to review these resources and bookmark those you may want to refer to in your work with children and families. You may want to share any favorite resources with families who may ask for information about a specific practice or policy.
Resources and National Professional Organizations for Family Child Care Providers
- American Academy of Pediatrics, P.O. Box 927, 141 Northwest Point Blvd., Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009 (also state chapters),
- American Red Cross National Headquarters, 431 18th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20006, (202) 303-4498,
- Child Welfare League of America, 440 First Street NW, Suite 310, Washington, DC, 20001, (202) 638-2952,
- Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, DC, 20207-0001, 800-638-2772 (TTY 800-638-8270),
- Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, 2469 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20009-3575, (800) 638-2772,
- National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20036-1426, (800) 424-2460,
- National Association for Family Child Care, 5202 Pinemont Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84123, (801) 269-9338,
- Prevent Child Abuse America, 228 South Wabash Avenue, 10th floor, Chicago, IL, 60604 (312) 663-3520,
- US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service,
www.usda.gov (www.usda.gov/cnpp is the food guide pyramid for children)
- US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 1801 L Street NW, Washington, DC, 20507, 800-669-4000,
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