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Systems to Support the Operation of Your Program

As a program manager, you are responsible for setting up and maintaining organizational systems that help keep the program’s operations running smoothly. Efficient systems help to keep children safe and support direct care staff members in providing high quality care. In this lesson, we will review the key ingredients needed for a good organizational system and review some strategies for getting key organizational systems up and running, including systems for your program budget, record keeping and reporting, and safety policies.

  • Define the components of an effective organizational system.
  • Review what aspects of your role as a manager might require you to implement an organizational system.
  • Reflect on your program’s current organizational systems and plan for updates and changes as needed.
  • Learn strategies for organizing your systems for budgeting and finances, documentation requirements, and building and safety procedures.



In Lesson One of this course, you were encouraged to reflect on the various roles and responsibilities that you have as a program manager, and we broadly grouped those responsibilities into two categories: (1) responsibilities that you have as a leader to form and contribute to a positive, effective, program culture and (2) responsibilities that you have as a manager to maintain the organization, safety, and business side of the program. Thus far, we have been focused on the aspects of your job as a manager that have to do with your skills as a leader: engaging in self-reflection about your leadership style, understanding facilitative leadership and shared decision-making, creating a vision and helping your program move toward that vision, and creating supportive relationships with staff members, families, and the community. In this lesson, we will shift our focus to breaking down some major managerial responsibilities and think about what organizational systems you can put in place to make things run efficiently.

What are Organizational Systems and Why Are They Important?

Caring for the safety and well-being of young children is a huge responsibility. There are many people in and out of the building each day; staff members have various schedules to be maintained; children and families have varying needs; and basic materials, supplies, and food must be stocked and ordered in advance. As a program manager, you must be intentional about your planning and organizational skills in order for your program to run smoothly. If there aren’t some well-defined procedures and plans in place to account for where people are, how things are documented, and when things need to be done to keep ahead of deadlines, things can get missed easily—which can lead to safety issues, miscommunications, and more stress for you as a manager. As you implement organizational systems for your program, be sure to monitor all aspects of the program to determine which systems are operating effectively and what needs more immediate attention.

Organizational systems are clearly defined processes and procedures put in place to streamline and organize aspects of your program’s operation. They help you, staff members, and families feel confident that all the practices to ensure safety, licensing, and quality standards are being met. There are many aspects of your program’s day-to-day operations that could benefit from clearly defined systems. This might include systems to organize and ensure that daily processes are occurring, such as recording attendance or ratio and safety checks, as well as systems to help you prepare for things that occur periodically, such as ordering materials, licensing visits, and quarterly or year-end budget planning.

Organizational systems are important for many reasons. Systems make things more efficient. Not everyone would list paperwork or budgeting as their favorite part of their job, but they are essential to the operation of your program and must be kept up with consistently. Having a system in place for various operational aspects of your organization should save you time—time that you can then use to engage in other essential aspects of your job, like building relationships, exploring new ideas and initiatives, and planning for the future. When you have a system in place that is running effectively, you should spend less time resolving problems or dealing with last-minute issues or mistakes related to things like child records, licensing documentation, or your budget.

Systems are important for safety and accountability. Systems can help you be sure that everyone is on the same page, that everyone understands policies and expectations, and that all day-to-day essentials are in place. For example, having an organized system for collecting and confirming the necessary documentation for each staff member when they are hired helps to ensure that every staff member’s file is complete—this means that you know that the people who are in your building caring for children are qualified to do so and do not present a known risk to children’s health or safety.

The systems you put in place can also be an important way to build the trust and confidence that staff members have in you as a leader as well as the trust and confidence families have in the program’s capacity to care for children. Your systems should reflect an alignment with your vision and values. Remember, even though systems might seem to be mostly about organizing the management side of your job, they really go hand in hand with how you support staff members and how you bring your vision statement to life. If part of your vision statement includes that families feel welcomed and valued, you will want to make sure that you have systems in place that emphasize two-way communication. If you have a vision or value statement about staff development, you will want a system in place for ensuring that staff members have the materials, training, and coaching they need to meet their professional goals.

What makes a good system?

Regardless of what the organizational system is for, there are some critical elements to think about across the board. Systems don’t have to be intensive or complex—in fact it is best if they aren’t—they just need to be clearly defined and communicated so that everyone knows the role they play in keeping the system running. The developers of the Program Administration Scale (Talan & Bloom, 2011) identify three key features of a system that must be in place to make it truly effective:

  1. Tangible concrete evidence: This means that there is something physical that is used to complete the processes within a system. This might be a form that gets submitted for a material request, a log that documents when certain safety checks occurred, or a paper or online calendar used to enter time off, etc. This helps you and staff members keep track of what has happened, and it can help serve as a reminder to individuals to complete the steps of a process they are responsible for.
  2. Involvement of multiple individuals: A key aspect of a system is that individuals work in coordination to get things done so that responsibility doesn’t fall to one person. This helps make sure that there is consistency, and it helps to make sure that the process was carried out as planned. We are all human: People make mistakes and forget to do things; when multiple people are involved in a process or system, those mistakes can be caught and remedied quickly. If you are creating or updating a system, it is also important that multiple people are involved in the development process. If you design a system without input from others, you might find that no one will use the system consistently, making it ineffective.
  3. Defined process of accountability: This means that the process or steps associated with a system are clearly defined and everyone involved knows what their role is. Often, systems are set up so that once someone has completed their responsibility within the process, the next person in line is alerted and knows to complete their portion. This puts a built-in accountability check into your system, which reduces the need for you as a manager to constantly remind or check in with people to make sure they have completed their step in the system.

Caution: Don't drift into micromanaging

While lots of planning and organization are important, you’ll want to be careful that you don’t start unintentionally micromanaging. It can be tempting to set up systems that dictate exactly how you want people to do things, but being too controlling doesn’t convey the right message to staff members. Your organizational systems should facilitate and support others in completing the necessary tasks to make things run smoothly. While you will want to make sure you are periodically checking in and confirming that a system is serving its intended purpose, if you are constantly checking up on staff members it might feel like you are trying to catch them making a mistake or forgetting to do something. This can make staff members feel like you don’t trust them or aren’t confident that they can carry out the tasks they are responsible for.

You also don’t want your systems to be unnecessarily rigid. There are some things, such as systems for regularly checking safety compliance or ratios, for which there is little room for flexibility—they need to be done and they need to be done in a certain way that absolutely assures that basic safety needs are being met. But for other things, such as some of the systems that direct care staff members might use within their own classrooms or that don’t involve strict safety needs, you will want to think about (1) how you can support staff members in coming up with their own systems that meet a need but use their strengths and creativity and (2) where you can offer flexibility within program-wide systems. Define what things are nonnegotiable, that are essential for making sure the system meets the need you are designing it for, and then think about where you can offer flexibility.

For example, if you would like each classroom to have a system for family communication, you and the program coach can help staff members think about some basic criteria (needs to be two-way, needs to have flexibility so families can choose how they would like to communicate, etc.) and then encourage staff members to come up with plans that they think will work well with their own personalities and preferences and those of their classroom families. Another example might be a system for turning in and reviewing lesson plans. Things that are nonnegotiable might be the time window in which staff members turn the plans in, the key components that they include, and a requirement that they go out to families the Friday before the new week. Where can you offer flexibility? Does everyone need to use the exact same template or format? Do they need to be hard copy vs. digital? Do they need to be shared with families in the exact same way? Providing flexibility and asking staff members to complete things in a way that captures their expertise, their team dynamics, and their creativity can increase the chances that they stay engaged and committed to their work, and it reduces the feeling that they don’t have any control over how things go in their own classroom spaces, which can lead to frustration and not feeling valued as professionals.

When is a system needed?

Most programs will have, or will want to have, systems for:

  • Monitoring and planning the budget
  • Organization and upkeep of essential documentation and record keeping for various purposes (inspections, licensing, accreditation, state quality rating and improvement system)
  • Safety protocols and building procedures
  • Scheduling for staff members (including daily schedules, breaks and release time, and time off)
  • Hiring and onboarding new staff members
  • Staff professional development and performance evaluations

In this lesson, we will review key components and tips for managing systems that capture the more logistical side of your role as a manager—budget, documentation, and safety and building procedures. In Lesson Five, we will break down systems that are needed for managing and supporting your program personnel (scheduling, hiring and onboarding, and ongoing development and evaluations for staff members).

Financial and Budgeting Systems

Creating and managing a program budget can be intimidating, particularly if you aren’t stepping into the manager role with a background in business. Depending on your program, you may have a good deal of autonomy in constructing your center’s budget, from setting fees for families to determining caregivers’ salaries, or you may work within systems where your Service, State or Federal policy direct much of your budget. Some child care programs may also operate within systems where a finance office helps oversee and track much of the budget, including purchasing and payroll, but in other programs the fiscal wellbeing of the center rests mostly with the center director, who is responsible for many of the choices and oversight. One of your first tasks as a new director should involve understanding:

  • your program’s current budget
  • the types of decisions you are able to make in your role
  • the supports currently available to help track the budget or purchase goods
  • who you need to consult with when making budget-related decisions

Once you know the level of autonomy and responsibility you have with your program's budget, that can help you select or refine the systems you want to use to manage it. There are many tools and resources to support you in this process. Setting up systems that help you organize income and expenses, set goals, and complete regular financial checkups can help ensure that your finances are being managed responsibly, and can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed when it is time for an end-of-year budget review. Broadly, your budget system should serve two purposes: (1) It should help you understand the current state of your program finances (meaning that it shows you clearly what is coming in and what is going out) and (2) It should help you make projections about the future, allowing you to plan and make financial goals (Kelton, 2020). A good budgeting system helps you keep your finances healthy; it helps you monitor whether you are staying on track and predict when a shortfall might occur, and it helps guide your goals and strategies for closing the gap.

Where to begin with your budget?

If you are brand new to your role as a manager, an essential first step is to gain a full understanding of the financial context for your program. This means learning about any systems related to budgets and purchasing that your program already has in place. Things you might want to ask about the existing system include:

  • What tools are used to create and monitor the budget?
  • Is there a system for tracking purchases?
  • How often is new information (purchases, late fees, etc.) entered and summarized? Who enters that information?
  • How often is the operating budget reviewed and updated?
  • Where are receipts and records of expenses stored?
  • How can staff members make requests for materials or other classroom needs?
  • Is there a program credit card or are individuals reimbursed for making small classroom purchases? How are those requests for reimbursement approved and handled?

You might also consider asking to look at any budget information from the past few years. This will help you understand the current state of the program’s finances: Have you broken even over the past three years? Had a surplus or shortfall? Has tuition alone been enough to cover the program’s expenses or has additional funding been needed? Are there any noticeable patterns of over- or under-spending in certain categories (Lekeenan et al., 2019). This information will help you as you are planning for the upcoming year’s budget and thinking about where changes can or should be made to be more financially stable and to work toward program goals that require additional funds.

Once you feel like you have a good sense of where your program is financially and what the existing systems are, the next step will be to consider whether the systems meet your needs to both monitor finances and plan for the future. When setting up or evaluating your current budget system, consider the following important aspects and processes of tracking your program’s finances (Kelton, 2020; Leekeenan et al., 2019; Schmidt, 2017):

  • Make sure you have a centralized document or tool where you can lay out and categorize each of your sources of income and expenses. If these things are all organized and tracked in different places, it can be hard to get a full picture of your financial situation and hard to make accurate projections in order to create and check progress for goals. For example, tuition, grants, childcare subsidy payments for eligible families, registration fees, late pickup fees, funds from taking part in quality rating improvement systems (QRIS), etc., are all examples of money coming into the program that needs to be tracked and organized in one spot to get a full picture of all the money you have available. Similarly, regular expenses (building rent, utility bills, staff salaries and benefits) as well as more variable expenses (emergency maintenance, conference travel costs, funds to pay for new playground equipment, etc.) also need to be tracked. This is necessary to accurately project how much you need to have coming in to cover expenses throughout the entire year. Note: This might be done with a specific budgeting software tool but can also be done in a simple spreadsheet. If you are interested in exploring budgeting software, check out the webinar “Directors as Fearless Consumers of Software,” listed in the References and Resources section of this lesson. You can also find a downloadable Excel spreadsheet, developed and shared by Childcare Aware of America.
  • Think about what additional documentation and related systems might be associated with your various sources of income and expenses. Make sure you understand any specific requirements for each. For example, weekly attendance often needs to be collected and reported in order to receive childcare subsidy payments. Similarly, menus must be audited to receive payments for the Child and Adult Care Food Program. Plan for how you can connect these overlapping tasks to save you time or prompt you to remember to enter certain data or information.
  • Make a schedule for yourself for entering new information into your budget-tracking system. The more often you can enter the new information the better—weekly is ideal but it should be monthly at a minimum. You might consider making yourself a checklist or a calendar reminder that includes a list of things that must be entered each week that relate to the budget (such as new purchases that have been made, money that is in the cashbox from late fees, and checks for tuition and registration fees that have been deposited). Entering this information weekly prompts you to check in on things like petty cash that was used and whether payments were cleared, and it can help you catch problems or discrepancies (such as a missed payment or missing cash that is unaccounted for) quickly.
  • Think about what other people you need to engage in the budget-tracking system to make it work effectively (remember a system must involve more than one person to help with accountability). Identify and communicate these expectations clearly. A few examples include:
    • Staff members need to submit timesheets by a certain time for payroll to cut paychecks so that it can be approved and documented in the HR management system.
    • The program cook needs to meet with you to plan the weekly or monthly menu so you can order the appropriate food and drink and confirm that all necessary nutrition and dietary standards and needs are met.
    • A staff member needs to check in on basic supply inventories regularly so that orders can be made in advance, before something runs out.
    • Staff members need to submit requests for new materials for the classroom so that you can review, approve, order, and enter the data into the budget-tracking system.
    • You and the leadership team need to review the budget quarterly to decide what adjustments need to be made, discuss upcoming costs or expected changes in enrollment, plan for professional development, make enrollment goals for the next year, etc.

Having a system for tracking money going in and out is only half of the budgeting puzzle. You also need a process for looking ahead, planning accurately, and making and meeting your financial goals. Once you have a few months of information in your tracking system, you can use software tools or calculations in a spreadsheet to project how much money you will spend in a year and how much money you expect to come in. With these projections, you can see if you can expect to have all your expenses covered each month. If you find that you are not on track to cover all planned expenses, or if you have a goal in mind that requires additional funding (such as hiring an additional staff member or sending staff to a national conference), you can plan for how you will cover those gaps. When you use a budgeting spreadsheet or software tool, you can see what categories you might be able to adjust to free up more funds and meet you goal. This might include such things as (Kelton, 2020; Leekeenan et al., 2019; Schmidt, 2017):

  • Examining your enrollment patterns and considering whether you should update your marketing strategies to bring in more families to increase tuition dollars. See the Childcare Aware Marketing Planning Tool in the Explore section of this lesson for strategies to evaluate and update your marketing plan.
  • Connecting with local organizations and businesses to obtain materials at a reduced cost.
  • If permitted in your program, plan fundraising opportunities, such as a silent auction of local business donations, or connect with a local restaurant for a family night out fundraising event where a part of the proceeds goes to your program.
  • Search for local and national foundations that might offer grant funding. Grant applications will vary; be sure to read the call for proposals carefully and make sure you understand what you are and are not allowed to use the funds for. Grants can be small and specific to a project your staff is taking on (like redesigning a play space, adding a STEM curriculum, taking children on a specific field trip). There are also larger state and federal funding options to explore; you can learn more about these by searching or connecting with your local child-care resource and referral agency. More guidance about this can be found on the Childcare Aware budget resource page for providers.

When you have a good handle on your budget, you can offer more opportunities for flexibility and input from staff members about how funds are used, such as:

  • Intentionally including in your budget planning enough extra for staff members to spend a certain amount of money each quarter on materials of their choosing (beyond basic classroom and curriculum materials). Set up a system where staff members can fill out an online or paper form with basic information about what they want to order, what they will use it for, and the cost. Make sure within this system you are alerted that a new request has been made so that you can review and order promptly. You can track within each classroom how much money has been spent and send out reminders toward the end of the quarter to let staff members know they have funds that could be used or rolled over.
  • Offering a floating professional development day, where staff members can submit a request to attend a training that they are particularly interested in or excited about but may not be a part of your program-wide professional development plans.
  • Ask staff members what you could provide that would make their jobs easier. These might be adjustments to the space, such as a more comfortable designated work space, or something related to scheduling, such as more break time or release time for professional development or lesson planning. Deciding what to do with a surplus or identifying goals for increasing funding is an excellent time to engage in shared decision-making with the staff. The way you spend funds can directly affect your staff turnover; high staff turnover is costly and harmful to staff morale.
  • If you are experiencing high staff turnover, consider whether you can adjust your budget in other categories in a way that would allow you offer bonuses, time off awards, or raises. Or increase the amount of coaching and support you are able to provide to make sure staff members are well supported and able to feel successful, particularly as they get started in their role.

Documentation and Record Keeping

Paperwork and updating records can feel like mundane tasks, but proper organization and record keeping is essential to running a program that provides high-quality care and is compliance with licensing and accreditation standards. Files need to be organized and labeled in a way that allows those who need to access the information to do so quickly and easily. Child, family, and staff records must be stored securely to maintain confidentiality. Having a system for organizing and regularly updating records will significantly ease the burden of gathering information you need during a licensing visit or to prepare a year-end report. On the flip side, not having a clearly defined system for organizing and keeping up to date records can present safety risks (for example, documentation on a child’s medication, known allergies or dietary restrictions; emergency contact information; or a list of adults that are allowed to pick a child up).

When you begin as a program manager, you will want to review your program’s standard operating procedures to understand the policies and systems that are in place to collect and track required documentation. There are several basic components to consider as you learn about and use processes and systems for collecting, organizing, and updating documents and records. Start by understanding what you must document, for whom, and in what ways. You will be required by your licensing agency to collect and keep documentation of a variety of things including:

  • Staff members’ information, such as background checks, evidence that qualification minimums have been met, and evidence that required trainings have been completed.
  • Child and family information, such as contact information, list of adults with permission to pick a child up from school, and health information such as allergies and medications.
  • Records of safety drills and emergency protocols.
  • Financial records.

More details about typical documentation requirements can be found in Lesson One of the Program Management course in the VLS Management Track. Keep in mind licensing standards are not the only source of documentation requirements. Though there might be some overlap, there are unique types of documentation that are required by other regulatory agencies, such as accreditation agencies, or as a part of QRIS participation, receipt of child care subsidy funds, etc. These other agencies might have specific ways in which certain things need to be documented. For example, National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) accreditation requires that you provide at least two staff performance evaluations from the last year to show that evaluations are ongoing and that there are opportunities for staff members to receive feedback and engage in self-reflection, something that may be beyond the requirements of your state. You will want to be in touch with your licensor, accreditor, and any other oversight agencies to be sure you have a full understanding of what is required for each and what counts as evidence that you meet a certain standard. During licensing and accreditation visits, certain standards will be assessed through observation, review of a portfolio, and review of files. Be sure you know which standards will be assessed through file review. We will review a strategy for organizing and understanding multiple documentation requirements below.

  • Understand and clearly define who is allowed to access certain records, and under what circumstances. For example, it is appropriate for direct care staff members to have access to family contact information or forms related to a child’s dietary needs. It would not be appropriate for staff members to have direct access to their colleague’s personnel files or family financial information. This will influence how and where you store records and documents. For example, you might store child and family records in a locked filing cabinet at the front desk where those allowed to access the documents can do so easily but keep staff personnel files locked in your office. Be sure that the way you are storing records meets any privacy or security requirements. For example, documents that have Social Security numbers, financial information, or protected health information should be stored in a locked cabinet or in a password-protected secure computer filing system. Understanding who can and cannot have access to certain files will also help you and the staff members understand how to appropriately handle records requests. Your written policies should clearly specify what you will do when there is a request to view a child’s record from someone who is not the child’s legal primary caregiver. This process should include deciding whether the request is valid, informing the child or youth’s legal primary caregiver and obtaining a signed authorization to release the information, maintaining this signed consent document in the child’s file and, when appropriate, involving the child or youth in the decision process.
  • Understand the requirements for record retention and disposal of documents when the record retention time window has passed. You may have to keep certain records for a certain number of years. In some cases, there are also requirements or best practices for the proper disposal of documents. Some documents that don’t have sensitive information can simply be recycled, while others must be shredded. Work with your licensing and accreditation agencies to make sure you have a full understanding of these requirements.
  • Consider what processes need to be in place (and who needs to be involved) to make sure that proper documentation is collected. Refer to your programs standard operating procedures to fully understand what the various processes and requirements are for collecting and maintaining different types of documentation. For things like child and staff records, in which you are likely to compile a file for each individual with multiple types of documentation, consider having a front-cover checklist to ensure accountability and completeness. For example, each staff member file might have a coversheet that has a checklist listing each document that must be collected when the staff member is hired and onboarded, such as a signed contract or agreement, evidence of completion of basic health and safety training requirements, evidence of certifications and education requirements, letters of recommendation, background screening confirmation, etc.
  • Be sure that you have clearly defined who is responsible for documenting events (e.g., direct care staff members are responsible for documenting the date, time, and response to a child falling on the playground and getting a scraped knee). This includes how the documentation is filed, and who confirms accuracy and completeness if needed (e.g., direct care staff members turn in the accident report form to a front desk clerk, who confirms it is complete, makes a copy for the family and a copy for the child’s file, and places the document in the child’s records). Consider having standardized forms for common types of documentation and include reminders or self-checks on each form that detail flow of information and filing required.
  • Consider what processes need to be in place to keep records up to date. Some types of records are collected and filed continuously throughout the year (such as attendance records or injury reports) while others are more likely to be updated quarterly or yearly (confirmation of family contact information, updated staff member CPR certification, staff members’ completion of continuing education or professional development requirements, etc.). Creating a plan for reviewing documentation completeness and accuracy is key. Below is an example table for when common types of records should be reviewed and updated. Make sure to consult your standard operating procedures and your licensing and accreditation agents to understand any additional requirements or recommendations. Consider setting automatic calendar reminders and blocking off time at least monthly to complete necessary records reviews. For items in which you need to track compliance across multiple individuals, such as yearly recertifications or trainings for staff, consider creating an overview spreadsheet that will allow you to routinely update and review expiration dates as staff complete trainings. This allows you to have a snapshot all in one place instead of having to frequently review each file.
Daily or Weekly Monthly Quarterly Annually
Attendance (Children/Youth, Staff, and Volunteers) Review random sample of child records to confirm completeness Formal playground inspections Confirm all child files have been reviewed and updated by families
Review files of any new hire or volunteer to confirm all requirements have been met and documentation is complete Review random sample of staff member and volunteer files to confirm completeness and compliance Review quarterly budget statements and documents Document completion of necessary fire and other building inspections
Program and playground walk through to check for safety hazards, broken materials, etc. Document and file completion of required emergency drills Review child and staff files for upcoming expirations Document and verify all staff have completed required clock hours



Program and playground walk through to check for safety hazards, broken materials, etc.Document and file completion of required emergency drillsReview child and staff files for upcoming expirationsDocument and verify all staff have completed required clock hours 

Managing mutiple documentation requirements

The amount of documentation and paperwork required by the various agencies that license and accredit your program can be overwhelming. To avoid confusion and frustration when it comes time to create reports or get ready for visits from different agencies, consider making a list of documentation requirements and files that an agent will review during a visit. In this main list, you can specify how those requirements are met, where the documents are stored, who handles collecting and updating, and the scheduling for routine updates and confirmation of compliance. Having this all in one place makes it easier to track what needs to be collected across agencies and can be used to communicate with staff members their responsibilities for collecting or filing documents.

The sample below shows what this might look like (note that this table only shows a few types of documentation under the category of “family and child files” as an example; you will want to be sure that this list is comprehensive and represents all required documentation for your program).

Enrollment Packet Items (paper forms)
Item Agency Req. Where is it Stored? Responsible Staff Member Tasks and Initiate & Update Processes
Family contact information and list of authorized adults DoD, NAEYC Front desk computer (password protected),
Copy in child file folder in front office
Program Manager
Initial - Give families enrollment packet.
Annually - communicates with family their time to complete their annual review and update is approaching.

Annually - review the forms, update, and sign to confirm the information has been reviewed and is accurate.

Front desk clerk:
Initial - confirms completion, makes copy for family, file a copy in child's file, save/log in computer file.
Annual Update - logs new information and date updated; makes copy for family and child's file, file signed confirmation that information was reviewed.
Child health and immunization records DoD, NAEYC Copy in child file folder in front office
Consents for photography and recording Other Logged in file on front desk computer for quick reference,
Copy of signed form in child file folder in front office
Electronic keypad sign-in (Manually entered in classroom by direct care staff)
Item Agency Req. Where is it Stored? Responsible Staff Member Tasks and Initiate & Update Processes
Attendance DoD, NAEYC, Other Digital records accessible on front desk computer
Paper copy of weekly attendance record is given to front desk clerk and filed
Manager checks log daily midday, confirms with direct-care staff members that absences are accurate, corrects any errors, and sends reminders to families to use the electronic sign-in system as needed

Safety and Building Procedures

As a manager, you are responsible for clearly communicating to all adults in the building what to do in case of an emergency. You are also responsible for conducting and facilitating routine checks that ensure that risk prevention practices are in place. In both cases, organizational systems that are clearly communicated to staff members and families are essential. Having a plan helps everyone feel more secure, and it helps adults and children stay as calm as possible in high stress situations. You can learn more about recommended practices for creating risk management and emergency preparedness plans in the Safe Environments course in the VLS Management track. Below are some steps you can take to help make sure that your plans are well communicated, and that basic safety checks are occurring as planned:

  • Review your program’s standard operating procedures, written policies, and emergency plans to make sure you have a full and complete understanding of the processes associated with each.
  • Review the staff handbook and confirm that for each safety procedure and system (ratio and supervision compliance during non-transition and transition times, evacuation procedures, emergency procedures) clearly outline the chain of command in each scenario, what everyone's responsibility is within each scenario, the steps for completing the procedures, and the requirements for documentation to confirm that the procedures are carried out.
  • Confirm that there are visuals and log forms available in classrooms and relevant areas of the building that support staff members in remembering and completing the necessary steps and documentation of safety procedures.
  • Block off time on your calendar (at varying days and times) to intentionally observe staff members conducting ratio checks using a name-to-face method (during times of transition and non-transition), cleaning and sanitizing procedures, using equipment, etc. These observations can allow you to identify gaps in understanding and application of procedures and provide support at once to prevent safety risks. Review policies and protocols with staff members on a regular basis.
  • Create a program documentation file in which you maintain records of building inspection reports, logs of required emergency drills (date, time, type of drill, notes), completed checklists that show regular safety and health checks have occurred. These will be reviewed during and should be immediately accessible and organized and show the dates and times that required safety precautions and risk management plans were carried out.
  • Use calendar alerts to signal to you at least two weeks in advance of upcoming deadlines or expirations such fire inspections or emergency drills. Make sure that you also include alerts that will remind you to conduct weekly or monthly safety, health, and hygiene checks. This will help you make sure that you complete and document these checks regularly and that you haven’t missed any deadlines allowed inspection reports to expire.
  • Plan for when you will review your disaster and emergency plans (this should be completed annually). When you complete the review, document who reviewed it with you, when the review was completed, and what updates or changes were made. File this in your program records.

Supervise & Support

Watch the video below to hear program managers share their experiences and thoughts on (1) the importance of setting up organizational systems and how they intentionally plan systems that help staff members feel valued and secure, and (2) strategies for staying on top of daily, weekly, monthly tasks that support their systems for budgeting, documentation, and safety.

Organization Systems

Program managers discuss organizational systems that contribute to program success.

If you are a new program manager, below are some strategies to support you as you set up the organizational systems necessary to successfully operate your program. For more seasoned program managers, it may be helpful to reflect on these strategies and whether your program’s current organizational systems could be improved.

  • In your first 30 days:
    • Review your program’s standard operating procedures and meet with a supervisor to review existing organizational systems related to your budget, record keeping, and safety reviews.
    • Review the standards and requirements associated with your licensing and accreditation agency.
  • In your first 60 days:
    • Create checklists and reminders for weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly tasks that you (or another designated staff member) must carry out to monitor and update your budget, records, and safety procedures.
    • Reflect on existing systems and talk to staff members to understand what works and doesn’t work in the current system.
  • In your first 90 days:
    • Review (and revise as needed) staff and family handbooks and other written policies to confirm that responsibilities and procedures associated with all organizational systems are clearly stated and a minimum include: the chain of command for each system, what everyone's responsibility is within each system, the steps for completing the procedures, and the requirements for logging or completing forms to confirm that the procedures are carried out.
    • Work with your leadership team and staff members to adjust your existing systems to maximize compliance and efficiency.


One of the most important things you can do in your first few months as a manager is get a clear sense of the rules and requirements associated with your licensing and accreditation agencies. Spend some time exploring the your state’s licensing page and consider how you might be able to apply some of the guidance, resources, or templates available to maximize the efficiency of the organizational systems in your program.

As a program manager, you may be responsible for examining the enrollment patterns within your program and strategizing ways to market your program to increase the number of children and families that you serve. Explore the Marketing Planning Tool from Child Care Aware to help you to create or evaluate your current marketing strategies.


As a new program manager, you can reflect on a few things to get started in planning a new system or changing an existing system:

  • What systems do you already have in place (even if just in part)? If you are new to the program, refer to your standard operating procedures or talk to a supervisor or another member of your leadership team who has a history at the program.
  • Are their aspects of your program's operation that you would describe as a “well-oiled machine”? These are probably markers of systems, or parts of systems, that are working really well for you and your program. Keep these in mind while you are planning, and think about how you can apply what works well to other systems in your program.
  • What comes to mind when you think of things that maybe aren’t going as well? Are there things that you seem to return to over and over to correct or ask someone to fix? Are there certain tasks, such as your budget or reviewing lesson plans, where you constantly feel like you are playing catch up? Do you find yourself searching for certain documents right before a deadline? These all might be indications that you need to change or create a system related to those tasks (Bella, 2021).

After you reflect on these questions, use the Developing a System activity adapted from the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership to make a plan for one system that you want to create or update at your program.


Organizational System:
Clearly defined processes and procedures put in place to streamline and organize key aspects of your program’s operation


Which of the following statements about organizational systems is not true?
True or false? Budget systems are only used to track how much your program is spending.
Which of the following is a strategy for organizing and keeping track of records?
References & Resources

Bella, J. (January 7, 2021). Developing Systems: Creating efficiencies and becoming more effective. McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. 

Kelton, J. (2020 January 27). Fiscal Check-Up Part 1: When a budget isn't actually a budget. McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. 

LeeKeenan, D., & Ponte, I. C. (2019). From Survive to Thrive: A director's guide for leading an early childhood program. National Association for the Education of Young Children. 

Schmidt, C. (2017). The Childcare Director’s Complete Guide: What you need to manage and lead. Redleaf Press.  

MacDonald, S. (2016). Inspiring Early Childhood Leadership: Eight strategies to ignite passion and transform program quality. Gryphon House. 

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (NAEYC, 2018). NAEYC Early Learning Accreditation Standards and Assessment Items. 

Simon, F. & Dick, S. (2020). Directors as Fearless Consumers of Software for Program Management and Family Communications [Webinar]. Early Childhood Investigation Webinars. 

Talan, T. & Bloom, P. J. (2011). Program Administration Scale: Measuring early childhood leadership and management (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press.