Since the childcare business is highly competitive, and you can find at least 20 in any five mile radius, it’s important to know why parents stay and why parents might leave. As a daycare provider, you should know what brings parents to your center and why parents might leave. This will certainly help you to stay on top of what is important and what is so great about your center. It is hard to think about the negative side of things, but sadly we must be aware of what is happening out there so we can be sure to avoid any of these behaviors.
1. Tuition prices do not match the experience.
We’ve all heard the repetitive complaint that daycare is too expensive. And while it definitely is expensive, it’s important to make sure that your center is excellent and offering what it promises to offer to justify the cost. If you aren’t providing snacks or food and if you aren’t offering enrichment like art and music, and if your toys are broken and the floors are filthy, parents will not stay long. Make sure that all of your toys are in good shape, rooms are clean and tidy, and some type of food- even if it’s just a snack- is offered daily. Parents will not mind paying more money for better quality. Try to offer specials like gym, art, language, etc. for enrichment.
2. Security is not taken seriously.
The single most important aspect of your program and what parents care about most is the safety of their children. It is vital that there be a system in place for security. This can look different for each center depending on your location and situation. Some centers have a private entrance where you need a code, key fob, or key card to enter the building. Some centers may have a specific employee who mans the door and checks before anyone enters. Whatever the case may be, your center should have a way to safeguard the entrance so that not everyone has access to where the children are.
In addition to a secure entrance/exit, it is also important to have a system for who can have access to the children. If someone shows up to your center to pick up a child, and you don’t recognize them, what is the protocol? Do you check for ID and then check their emergency contact form to assure that it is approved? How do you handle it when the person is not on the list? It is imperative that these situations are thought through and planned strategically so that you are never left making a split decision without thought put into it. Then once you have a plan, be sure that you are training all employees, both seasoned and new on how to handle this.
Lastly, make sure your program has an emergency plan that is reviewed and practiced monthly. Practice drills (fire, lock in place, intruder, lockdown, etc.) and train new employees right away on these procedures for all groups. Have walkie talkies in each classroom so that it is easy to communicate with all staff immediately, and make sure each classroom has an emergency bag with them at all times.
3. Communication is lacking.
The most important part of a daycare provider aside from safety is the communication. If a parent does not feel like they know what is going on, they will not be confident that their child is in a loving and safe place. Parents should receive some type of communication daily. This can be in the form of a paper they receive letting them know when their child was fed, diapered, and what activities occurred that day, or through a childcare app like HiMama. These reports should be personal and organized.
4. The director is never around.
If the leader of the program is not around, then the rest of the staff will develop habits and there will be no accountability for behaviors. If this is the case, it won’t be long before parents realize that the program has no “champion,” and it is a free for all. It is so important that the director is present, casting vision to the staff, and available to communicate with parents regularly. He/she should be in the lobby/office to greet parents often, and should be super responsive to emails and phone calls.
The director should also be invested in the lead teachers by checking in on their health (both physical and mental) and be a soundboard for them so they feel encouraged, seen, and heard. Sheryl Sanberg says, “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” Another quote I love by Reggie Joiner is, “You can’t be on the same page if you’re not in the same room.” It is so important for the leader of a program to invest and build relationships with staff, and this can’t be done if the director isn’t around. The unsaid message that is being sent out when the director is absent is, “I don’t value you, and you don’t matter.” Clearly, no leader wants to ever say that, but that is the message we are saying if we don’t invest our time and energy.
5. The building is not clean.
When parents go on tours, they are not only wanting to make sure the staff are friendly, but they are also wanting to see a clean facility. If your carpets are all stained and the tables are sticky, parents are not going to enroll with you. It is important that you have dedicated staff to properly clean the classrooms and common areas. Even if you can’t hire someone to do this, each staff member should be responsible to keep their space clean and provided with the proper supplies to do so.
Each year there should be fresh paint and replacement of anything worn out. Broken toys should be replaced, and each classroom should have sufficient storage so that it doesn’t appear cluttered. A cluttered space can create stress and overstimulation for children. A clean and organized environment is where children can thrive.
6. There is too much staff turnover.
Sadly, daycare centers do have a reputation for having high turnaround since staff are underpaid mainly. If it is possible to pay your staff a competitive salary, then they will certainly stay longer. The fact of the matter is that turnover also happens for other reasons. If a staff member accepted the position, it is assumed that they knew what their salary would be. So they are leaving for other reasons as well. Staff may feel like they are unseen and unappreciated, and therefore, they go elsewhere.
There needs to be a sense of community among staff. The leadership of the program must devote time to training, team building, and relationship building in order to create a healthy staff. In addition to the relationships built, there are ways to help them financially if you’re not able to pay them more. For example, at our center, we belong to a program that gives teachers retention bonuses as well as grants for exemplary performance. I also work hard to get parents to “spoil” our staff by getting them gift cards and helping the morale with appreciation gifts. We also belong to a program that helps pay for 80% of college tuition, so that is an added benefit.
What are you doing for your staff so they feel appreciated and valued? The paycheck matters, but it is much more than that.
7. The curriculum is not developmentally appropriate.
If your center isn’t using a curriculum that is recommended by professionals, then you may run the risk of having a developmentally inappropriate program. There should not be a ton of worksheets, and students shouldn’t be sitting for long periods of time. It is vital that a program have a rubric/assessment to make sure that there is accountability and standards to go by. Teachers should be trained and qualified, and there should be daily lesson plans that reflect play in all that they do. Young children need to play to learn. If your program is making children sit and listen and then complete worksheets, they will not be happy, and they will not stay enrolled. There are so many resources out there that are wonderful and have been created by ECE professionals.
8. There’s no flexibility in scheduling.
Many parents these days are able to work more from home, but they still need some other days to be able to go into the office or work from home with more focus. These parents are looking for programs where they can send their children a few days a week. Most centers (pre-pandemic) only offered full-time or fixed part-time days (MWF or T/TH). If your center is full, then you can certainly keep doing it the way you’re doing it. But most likely, your center is still building up your enrollment due to the aftermath of the pandemic. You may want to consider having more flexibility with scheduling. You’ll still need to be strategic with it to assure that you aren’t keeping other enrollments to occur, but adjusting this model is important for what the new needs for families are. Perhaps you keep infants and toddlers at full time only but you allow more flexibility in your older classrooms where ratios are a bit bigger. Or maybe you set 2-3 spots per room where you allow for a flexible schedule, and it’s “first come first serve.” Parents will enroll elsewhere if they know there is flexibility.
Will every parent in the world be happy with your center? Absolutely not. You cannot possibly please every parent, and honestly, you shouldn’t because it probably means that you’re compromising your core values if that’s the case. Make sure you know what your “non-negotiables” are to maintain your philosophy. But in the examples above, the first seven should be avoided by all programs. Never allow yourself to get complacent when it comes to offering quality care. Be the center that sticks to their philosophy and maintains quality care no matter what.