Contracts and Policies

Contract Basics

Family child care providers are free to construct their own contract with the each of the parents of the children in their care. There are two exceptions:

  • Minnesota licensing rules require some basic provisions for your contract, so check with your licensing documents before finalizing your agreement.
  • Federal anti-discrimination laws make it illegal for providers to discriminate in their contract on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, age, disability, or national origin. Your state or local government may add additional categories such as sexual orientation.

Other than these limitations, providers can establish whatever rules they want in their contract. All contracts, however, should contain the following four clauses:

  • The names of the parties to the contract (the parent(s) and the provider), as well as the name(s) of the children.
  • The terms of the contract: the days and hours the provider is open and the parent fees for care. These are the only rules that can be legally enforced by a court of law. In other words, if the provider refuses to provide care on a particular day that is covered by the contract, the parent is not legally required to pay for that day. If the parent refuses to pay for care that is covered by the contract, the provider can go to court to enforce this rule.  All other rules established by the provider are not legally enforceable. These are defined as "policies" such as: authorized persons who can pick up children, illness and emergency policies, activities, meals, naps, toilet learning, discipline, etc. If a parent or provider is unhappy because the other person is not abiding by these policies, the solution is to end the agreement, not take the person to court.
  • The method to terminate the contract. Usually providers will require parents to give them at least a two week written notice before the agreement can be terminated. We recommend that providers do not require the same notice for them to end the contract. Instead, providers should include this language: "Provider may terminate the contract at will." The reason why providers should do this is to allow themselves to immediately end the agreement if a parent becomes disruptive to their business (such as making a false complaint to licensing, bad mouthing to other parents, threat of violence, etc.).
  • Signatures of the parent and provider and date of signing. When both parents are caring for their child, providers should get both parents to sign their contract so that it can be enforced against either parent.  Do not include an ending date for the contract; you should review or modify the contract at regular intervals, but including an ending date is not necessary and can lead to unintended problems.

Reduce Common Problems
Although providers are free to adopt any rules they want, we strongly recommend that providers put these two rules in their contract:

  • Client will pay at least one week in advance
  • Client will pay in advance for the last two weeks of care

If you enforce these two rules, you will never have a parent leave your program owing you money. These two rules are reasonable and affordable; if the parent can’t pay this full amount in advance, you can allow parents to pay a little extra each week over time. For parents who receive state financial assistance, you may or may not be able to adopt these rules.

Have you ever given a parent a break and not enforced your late fee or some other term of your contract? If so, you should include the following language in your contract:

Failure to enforce any term or provision in this contract does not invalidate that provision, term, or any other provision or term of this contract.

If you want to begin to enforce the contract term immediately, write an addendum to your contract, with the following language, have the parents sign it, and give them a copy:

Effective immediately, all terms of the contract signed on _______ (fill in date contract signed) will be enforced as written.

Another contract tip. Consider the following language: Fees incurred due to returned or nonpayment of checks will be the sole responsibility of the parents.

Add or edit the following language to fit with your situation:  Any additional costs due to returned checks will be due within 3 days of notice to you and are subject to late payment fees.

For all of the contract language cited above, if you want to add any of the statements to your contract you can either rewrite your contract or draft an addendum, have your parents date and sign it, make a copy for the parents, and keep the original with the contract.

If the parents are not living in the same house, but share child care expenses, be sure to go over your contract with both parents. Have both parents sign the contract. This will make it easier to enforce the terms with both parents. This is good practice even with parents who live in the same house. Even parents who are "happily married" split or just might disagree with the terms when it comes time to enforcing your contract. For more information about contracts, see Family Child Care Contracts and Policies by Tom Copeland, available from Redleaf Press.

Policy Basics

A Child Care provider’s "policies" are a written document that communicates the rules and expectations of her child care.  While the policy should include information about hours and payment—a policy is not enforceable in court. Use a separate contract to make a legal agreement with parents that covers the terms of hours, payment, and termination.

To maintain a professional image, you must be consistent and believe in the policies you set. That’s why having them written down is a must. Now, don’t confuse policies with contracts. A policy is what you expect every family that you provide care for to follow. A contract may vary from family to family, such as agreed upon hours or special arrangements for a certain child’s needs.

The beauty of having a written policy is that if parents try to negotiate a certain item, such as wanting to bring their child with a fever of 102 and your policy says you won’t accept children with fever of more than 100, it’s much easier for you to reinforce your policy by referring to your document. "Here is the written policy not allowing ill children in care. I’m afraid I can’t take your child today." Written policies are a great "non-negotiating" tool because it takes the personal affront out of the situation and refers it to the business aspect. Having ill children in care is not good for business.

Policies can and should change as your business changes.  State in your contract that policies may be changed or reviewed as needed and put into effect with a two-week written notice. This helps to maintain your professional image. We try to not change policies more than once a year, but would not hesitate to change it if an unforeseen situation should arise.

Policies can include anything you wish. No jumping on furniture? Meals served at certain times? Don’t forget that illness policy! Here is a sample of some of the policies we include (or have included) in the past:

  • Daycare hours
  • Enrollment Procedures
  • Rates and Payment
  • Trial Period
  • Holidays, Vacations and Other Absences
  • Substitute Care Arrangements
  • Illness
  • Meals and Supplies
  • Discipline
  • Activities
  • Potty training procedure
  • Proper clothing for weather/outdoor play
  • Pets
  • Prohibition of candy or gum
  • Policy about bringing toys from home
  • Bus stop procedures
  • Photo/video policy
  • Birthday policy
  • Transportation/ field trip policies
  • Communicating absence by text/email/call

Written policies are an ideal tool to use in communicating more effectively with parents. Setting the ground rules allows you more time for the business of caring for children instead of constantly negotiating your business. Now, where’s that pen and paper? Excerpted from What is a Policy by Cindy Clark.