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10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

There are definitely more, but here are 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care. I wrote this several years ago but after 18 years in family child care, I still stand by these 10 things.

10 Things I've Learned About Family Child Care
10 Things I've Learned About Family Child Care

10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

Don’t wait.

I learned a long time ago not to sit around and wait for people. Occasionally people will run late. Other times they will have a change in schedule and just not let you know. Either way, I don’t sit by the door and wait or push back activities to wait for someone. There’s way too much to do. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or waiting for pick up, get on with your schedule and your day.  If you sit and wait, you’ll waste time and start to fume. Unfortunately, it’s the children who miss out if their parents don’t bring them in time to participate in activities. Hopefully, parents eventually see that but they often don’t.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

Along with this: it’s a smart idea to include a policy for no calls/late arrivals. Require parents to notify you if they’re running late or say that you’ll call them within 30 minutes if you haven’t seen or heard from them. This allows you to check up on the child and make sure all is well. We do have a responsibility in this area as mandated reports and care providers. Too many children are forgotten in cars resulting in preventable, tragic deaths of young children.

Create a Policy and Handbook

Make one. Refer to it.  Use it.  Situations come up in all areas. So make a handbook that covers them all. I continually add to mine and clarify things. Look at samples and other providers’ books online to determine what to include. At a minimum: hours, rates including any additional fees, closing and illness policies, and a contract.

After years in the field, I still find situations come up and I wonder how to handle it or what’s fair. Then I ask myself, “What does my policy say?” Don’t be tempted to make exceptions. Sure, you want to use common sense and be flexible but remember everyone thinks you should make an exception for them.  If you do make an exception to your policy, which I do not recommend, make sure the parent knows it and that you are doing something out of the ordinary for them, just this time. In the future, it will be handled like ___________. Sometimes I’ve had to live and learn but put a policy in place to handle it when it comes up again.

sidewalk paint for kids 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

Use KidKare Software

If you haven’t heard of KidKare, check into it. It’s a great tool for family child care providers. It software made just for us. It can manage your food program records, track attendance, billing/payments, and all related expenses.

There are printable daily reports, W10 forms, receipts, all kinds of tax prep forms and reports. It includes an accounting system specifically tailored for family child care businesses and includes tips from industry expert Tom Copeland to make it the most effective software a family child care provider can use for their business. 

Tax professionals are very impressed with the reports I provide at tax time. It’s the most professional method I’ve found for keeping all my business records in one place. All your records are automatically saved online so you don’t have to worry about computer problems and losing all your data. If you are concerned about the expense, believe me, it’s worth the money, for the time and money it saves.

Get to know Tom Copeland

This is a guy to get to know. He’s the expert in all things family child care and he’s on our side. He says it best: {from his website, Tom Copeland’s Taking Care of Business: “A blog about running a family child care business focusing on the business side, including record keeping, taxes, contract, legal, insurance, money management and retirement planning.”}

I’ve been the nation’s leading trainer, author, and advocate on the business of family child care since 1981.
I’m a licensed attorney and have presented hundreds of business workshops for family child care providers across the country. I answer thousands of calls and emails each year to help providers, tax professionals and trainers understand complex business and tax issues. Email me at [email protected]. Visit me on Facebook.
From 1981 to 2009 I worked at Resources for Child Caring in Minnesota, where I was director of Redleaf National Institute for 15 years.
I’ve written nine books on the business of family child care published by Redleaf Press, a division of Resources for Child Caring.
I graduated from Macalester College (BA) in 1972 and from William Mitchell College of Law (JD) in 1980. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Diane and two cats, Duke and Ella.

rainbow waffles 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

Find a Support Network

Seek out other mentors and support as well. There are fabulous providers in my area that I rely on as well as educators, other community professionals and organizations.  It truly takes a village to raise a child. Parents often need support and resources that we know how to access. By getting involved you’ll grow as a child care professional.

All About Insurance

Make sure you have the right insurance. Everyone sues everyone these days. I have lots of insurance and thankfully haven’t ever needed to report a claim. If you think about all the things that could happen, you won’t sleep at night. Taking care of other people’s children is a risky business. I know I could lose everything I have or hope to have if something happened & I wasn’t properly insured.  Relating to this, I fully support regulated child care, offering not only the children and families more protection, but the providers themselves.

I’ve heard providers say:  “I only have parents who are like friends”  in the argument that they don’t need insurance, only take cash, or don’t follow the laws for legal care. They want all the benefits of family child care (working from home, making a good income, being home with their children, tax benefits) without being responsible.  Let me tell you – if anything happens to their child, FRIEND OR NOT, you’ll soon realize they will turn on you and it’s not a matter of being friends or not. It’s about their child and rightfully so. If you make a mistake, have a disagreement, or even if it’s an innocent accident, they are going to do whatever it takes to “win”.  At the very least their insurance company will.

Make sure you have business insurance, commercial insurance for transporting if you do, and pet liability insurance. If you are a regulated provider (licensed or certified) you can get commercial child care insurance. Chances are your homeowner’s insurance is not enough if you’re running a business. You’re running a business if you take money to care for someone else’s children.  Even if your insurance company says you’re covered, get it in writing. My insurance company said my homeowner’s insurance covered my child care business, but after further digging, I found out it was inadequate. Coverage was for up to 6 kids but I’m licensed for 8. Also, if you have business liability insurance, you are able to get liability endorsement for physical abuse and sexual molestation claims.

READ Seven Common Childcare Dangers

healthy child care lunch ideas 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

People do what’s best for them.

So make sure you do what’s right for you AND YOUR FAMILY. For myself, that meant changing my hours. I don’t want children in my home before 7:00 am. At first, I wanted to accommodate as many people as possible so I was licensed from 6 am-6 pm. That no longer works for me so I changed my hours and I close at 5:30 pm. 

It also means scheduling your days off and PAID vacation time. It might mean charging a part-time minimum, charging in advance for the week, a very common practice nowadays it’s called Pay to Play or No Pay, No Play. Protect yourself, your family, your time. I could have children in my home 7 days/week 24hrs/day but that wouldn’t be good for me or the kids. If things don’t work for you, you won’t be able to keep your doors open and provide a valuable community service.

incubating chicken eggs in day care 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

It’s About Sales

I used to be in commissioned sales. There are highs and lows with sales. There is in this business too. You do have to sell in this line of work, sell yourself and your program every day. If you continue to focus on promoting your business even during “high” times, you’ll be more successful during the “low” times.

The Daily Things

People come through my door every day. What it looks like, sounds like, feels like matters. The things I’m doing, saying, feeling, and projecting matter. What the kids are doing, how they’re acting, matters. It’s all a reflection of me. I try to keep things neat when parents are arriving and plan activities and put out materials that will keep the children’s interest during transition times. If there’s something exciting going on, they will want to get involved when they arrive and will be involved and busy when parents come to pick up. It’s okay if kids don’t want to leave. 

Get a Website

This is probably the #1 best thing I’ve done. Provide as much information on it as possible and keep it up to date. I get calls and compliments on it all the time. I believe it weeds out many people before I even get a call. That’s fine with me. If my hours, rates or policies do not work out for someone, it saves me a lot of time. I used to have my site listed with AT&T online directory for a fee. I no longer do. You probably don’t need to with all the free child care directories and resources available but if you’re just getting started, it’s a good business write off and it doesn’t hurt. There are lots of free sites available but I prefer a site with no advertising. Try

Ongoing Communication with Parents

Communication is key. Newsletters, activity calendars, memos, daily reports, emails, texts. Also, consider a Facebook page or a blog for communicating with parents and potential clients. It’s a great way to show what you’re already doing. On that note, DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO. It builds confidence, trust, and respect. If nothing else, provide documentation of what you are already doing through pictures and little updates.

yarn block painting 10 Things I’ve Learned About Family Child Care

Handling Interviews

It’s always exciting for me to meet new people and anticipate the prospect of a new opportunity. I’m the type that wants to accommodate everyone but in reality, it’s not wise. Even from the first contact, do not ignore red flags. You can’t help everyone. Make sure the child and family are a good fit with your program.

One major red flag for me is people who are demanding. They want an interview NOW. These families never work out. They are short on time and attention span or something. Who knows what they are looking for other than someone who will meet their every demand NOW. 

Again, schedule an interview on your time. I’ve welcomed people into my program on short notice. Straightening up and preparing to make the best impression while trying to meet my regular or pre-planned activities. It’s not worth it. If they are really interested they will schedule a time to meet that works for both parties. Why is it they need child care TOMORROW anyway?? Once a family breezed in and out of here and it was a huge turn off for me. I felt violated. In my own home. Never again.

Families are interviewing you but you must also interview them. I am in control of the process from start to finish. I offer times to meet, and set the expectation – tour, review of handbook, answering questions. 1/2 hour is about right.

frozen art collages

Other Simple Ways to Advertise

Put a decal on your car, donate to school events in your child care’s name, leave your business card on boards/drawing bowls, and put a sign out front.

Keep inspired. Keep growing.

This is a high burnout occupation. It’s demanding, frustrating, and just plain hard work. There are definitely stretches where I get burned out. To keep myself interested, inspired, and rewarded, I focus on growing. My business isn’t going to grow much more –it’s limited by the number of kids I can have in care by the state and my home is only so big. For me, it’s about growing in the quality of the care I provide.

Learning about philosophies, methods, and ideas. It’s about getting more training and education. Bettering how I already do things. Being more creative in the activities and environment I provide. If I didn’t do these things, I would have been done a long time ago. If the day is boring for me, it will be for the kids too.  There are hundreds of wonderful inspiring ideas on blogs and websites that educators and parents are sharing out there that inspire me every day.

valentine party punch

It’s Fun!

Being with kids every day I get to do the whole “mom thing” a lot. Even with having just one child of my own, I won’t feel like I’ve ever missed out on changing lots of diapers or holding little kids, or seeing them grow. I get to do all the fun kid things that I maybe didn’t do as a child myself or didn’t have the time, thought, or opportunity to do with my own child. He’s included in so many of them too. I get to be at home. I love home.

Sometimes I say “I’m going to stay home all day” on my day off. Oh yeah, that’s what I do all the time. I know it’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it. I get to enjoy the nice weather with the kids and I enjoy the snow days like a kid. Of course, it’s not all fun and games….

car matching cards

It’s also hard work.

It’s a ton of work but I’ve never been afraid of hard work. You get what you put into it like anything else. This job doesn’t really get any easier, it just keeps changing. I’m learning to like change. It means growth and sometimes it’s so necessary even when you can’t see it. It’s been good for me in so many ways. But know your limits.

You need a day off to yourself, time out of the house, time alone, help with daily responsibilities and there’s only so much anyone can do. I’ve learned not to commit right away – say you’ll get back to the person about what they’ve requested so you can think about it or say “I’m sorry, that doesn’t work for me.” If a situation is no longer working, don’t think you can’t end the arrangement. Sanity and respect are worth a lot more than money. Then there’s paperwork and taxes….potty training and non-stop cleaning…..

umbrella dropper art paintings

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