As a parent, you want your child to be safe, healthy, happy and learning, both with you and in the care of others. Your values about how you want your child to be cared for are extremely important. They should play a significant role in your child care decision. When you know that your child is being cared for in a way you support, you’ll be more likely to have peace of mind when you’re away.
Child care licensing regulations will tell you a great deal about how a licensed or regulated provider will care for your child. Before choosing a child care provider, you can get critical information from several places. You can check for their license, view their inspection history and find their quality rating (if available). Depending on the state, you may be able to do these tasks online! Our State by State Resource Map can give you more information about these topics. Certain things that are not covered by licensing regulations may be equally important to your child care decision. A child care program’s child care policies, procedures and contract will give you a better picture of how your child will be cared for when you are not there.
You will want to have a signed contract with your provider before starting care. The contract should specify things you’ve agreed upon with your child care provider. This includes your child’s schedule of care, the rates and fees that you will be charged, who is approved to pick up your child, how vacations are handled and what you must do if you want to stop care.
In addition to a signed contract, your provider should have written child care policies for other important situations. This includes things like illness, discipline, emergencies and transportation. Below we’ll discuss what should be included in these policies and why they are so important.
Child Care Policies and Procedures
When visiting a potential child care program, you should receive a copy of their policies and procedures. If the provider does not offer this information, ask for it! You want to make sure that you agree with the way that your child will be cared for when you’re not present.
Quality child care programs will have written policies and procedures available. Some child care providers may put this information together in a parent handbook. Some providers may also ask you to sign a statement that shows you have been provided a copy of the policies and procedures. Even if you don’t need to sign a statement, it is important that you go through the policies and procedures with your provider to make sure you are in agreement.
It is important that the information be in writing. Having the information in writing is a great sign that the provider has put time and effort into deciding how they will care for children and operate their business. Additionally, written policies and procedures help make sure that all staff or volunteers understand and follow the policies and procedures. When this is the case, staff and volunteers are better prepared to handle situations that arise, from discipline to emergency evacuations.
There are a number of topics that may be covered in a child care program’s policies and procedures. Some things that you should look for include:
- Open door policy: As a parent you should be allowed to visit your child care provider any time care is offered. Make sure your provider allows you to visit unannounced any time your child is there.
- Program hours of operation
- Drop-off and pick-up policies: This should include who can pick up your child from the program and how that is monitored. It also may include information about fees for late pick-ups.
- Holidays, inclement weather procedures, emergency closings, etc.: Be sure you are able to see which days the program is planning to close. You’ll want to know if the program tends to close for holidays that you’re required to work or for inclement weather that may be common to your area. It’s also important to know how you’ll be notified of unplanned closures as they occur. This will help you to plan and avoid situations where you don’t have care and need to get to work.
- Sick child policies: It is important to know what symptoms would cause your child and other children to be excluded from care. Some programs are able to provide adequate care for moderately ill children in a way that would not put other children at risk for illness. Many programs do not offer sick child care, however. This means that you’d need alternate arrangements on days that your child must stay home from care.
- Fees and payment arrangements: Be sure that you see information about the rate for your child’s schedule and age group. You should also see any required fees for registration, materials, field trips, etc. Available discounts should be noted as well as accepted fee assistance programs.
- Forms required for enrollment: These may include registration forms, emergency contact information, permission for field trips, physicals, etc.
- Disenrollment/Termination procedures
- Daily schedule: Look for a schedule that meets your child’s needs. Things like nap times, meals and snacks, outdoor play, circle time and free play are typically included in the daily schedule. The daily schedule should fit the age of your child and be flexible enough to meet the needs of the children in care. Ask your provider how the daily schedule supports your child’s learning and development.
- Curriculum: A provider may follow a specific learning/teaching philosophy or curriculum. Be sure that learning opportunities are planned every day and that they are appropriate for your child’s age and development.
- Communication: Look for information about how and when your provider will communicate with you. How will you find out about your child’s day? Are there regular conferences planned? Will your provider check in with you regularly about your child’s development and progress? To learn more about monitoring your child’s development, see resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.
- Alternate Care/Substitutes: What is the policy for substitutes or alternate care when your child’s primary caregiver is not able to be there?
- Discipline and guidance: You should see policies preventing corporal punishment or shaming, such as yelling or spanking. Look for policies that encourage positive guidance. This means that the guidance is fitting for your child’s development. It is also geared towards teaching appropriate behaviors rather than punishing bad behavior.
- Food and nutrition: Providers may provide meals and snacks, or they may ask parents to pack food for their children. If meals and snacks are provided, look for evidence that USDA dietary guidelines are followed. Providers may participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). This program specifies which food groups must be served for each meal/snack and limits the amount of sweets that can be served. If meals and snacks are not provided, look for guidelines on types of food that cannot be brought into the facility (many programs are now peanut-free).
- Allergies: Make sure your provider knows about any allergies your child has. Ask your provider how children with allergies are protected. Make sure that other staff and volunteers have a way to know about your child’s allergies.
- Required immunizations
- Medication administration: Providers should have written policies about how and when they give any medication. This should include the steps that they will take to ensure that medication is given correctly.
- Parent involvement: Are there opportunities for you to volunteer or be involved with your child’s program? Is parent input welcome? Your involvement can build a better relationship with your provider and supports your child’s learning and growth.
- Emergency preparedness plans: Emergencies such as a natural disaster may cause child care programs to close down for a period of time. An emergency closure can take place during the time your child is in care. How will you be notified of closures and a program’s plan to reopen? Is the program able to adequately care for your child if you are unable to reach them for several hours or even days? If the child care program must evacuate their location due to an emergency, do you know where to pick up your child? All of these questions should be addressed in a written emergency plan. This plan may be a part of the policies and procedures, or it may be a separate document. Ask to see a copy.
- Fire drills: Look for information to show that the program practices regular fire drills. These drills are necessary to be sure that children and staff know how to safely get out in case of a fire. Ask to see their fire drill log.
- Transportation policies: If you child care provider will be driving your child in a bus or a car, ensure that the drivers are licensed and insured. You should also be sure that the vehicle is in good working order and that your child will be properly restrained in a car seat (or seat belts for older children).
- Field trips: Be sure to check the policies and procedures for field trip guidelines. Will your child be taken on field trips? When and where will those field trips occur? You’ll want to ensure that there are enough adults going to supervise the children and that any drivers are licensed and insured.
- Safe sleep practices: If you have an infant under the age of one, it is critically important that your child care provider has a safe place for your baby to sleep. It is also essential that all staff and volunteers always follow safe sleep recommendations. Ask to see where your child will sleep and any policies the program has regarding infant sleep practices. Make sure there are enough safe and sturdy cribs available for each infant present. Unless you have a doctor’s order, make sure that your baby will be laid on her back without anything else in the crib. To learn the latest information about safe sleep environments, see these resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Breastfeeding support: If you are breastfeeding your baby, ask to see your provider’s policies on supporting breastfeeding. In addition, look for steps that they take to make sure infants always get the right breast milk. To learn more about how your child care provider can support your breastfeeding, see information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.
Child Care Contracts
A contract provides details that are important to the partnership between you and your child care. Contracts, just like written policies and procedures, can help prevent many misunderstandings. Some items you find in a child care contract may also be included in the child care provider’s policies and procedures.
Here are some things that you can expect to see in your child care contract:
- Costs: Your rate, frequency of payment (weekly, monthly, bi-weekly, etc.), and any additional required fees should be specified
- When payment is due and acceptable forms of payment
- Late fees
- Hours of operation
- Days the program may be closed, and whether or not payment is required for those days
- Termination policy: You should agree on how much notice is required if you or the provider should choose to terminate your child care agreement.
- Parent and provider signatures
Child care contracts, policies and procedures set the stage for success with a child care program. If you’d like more information about choosing a quality child care program, we’d be glad to assist you. Give us a call at 1(800) 424-2246, email us or request a Live Chat.