Contracts -- Why have one?
After you have written your policies, you will see areas where parental cooperation is essential. Contracts may feel cold and impersonal but they are really one of the best ways to keep a healthy relationship with parents because they reduce misunderstandings. They also reduce the need for business related conversations so you and the parents have more time to talk about the children. A contract can help parents take your work more seriously and understand the importance of your service.
Legally a contract is simply a mutual agreement with an exchange between parties. It can be a stand alone or have rules, policies or other documents attached.
A mutual agreement means that there is a meeting of the minds. Both parties read, understand, agree to and sign the document. An exchange between parties means that both receive something and both give something up. The parent agrees to abide by your rules and pay as arranged for care and in return receives your time, energy and resources in the care of their child. Since a contract is mutually binding, do not include items unless you expect to follow them yourself. It is important the contract is balanced so that you hold yourself to the same expectations as the parents (such as advanced notice of termination).
Once the following items are included you have the basics of a contract:
- Name, address and phone number of children, parents and/or guardians
- Payment rates, fees, deposits and schedules
- If you charge by the hour/day/week/month or to reserve a slot
- If you have a charge for late pick ups, or late payments
- Extra charges for meals, diapers, activity supplies (as apply)
- Time of care, days of week, date services will begin
- Termination or change in schedule procedure
- Signature and date of parents/guardians and provider
Be sure to review contracts verbally with parents and have them sign two copies, one for them, one for you. In some cases, parents may wish to add something themselves. Be open to this, especially if it is around health, safety or a child with special needs.
If you are currently offering care without contracts or policies in writing, you will want to discuss with parents why you have made the decision to begin using them and when you expect to implement them. It is unlikely they will object to signing something that accurately represents what you are already doing.
Reviewing and updating contracts is something that can be done any time with mutual agreement. Make sure all changes are in writing, signed and dated. Give notice about your intent to update a contract or include a clause for regular events, such as, an annual review of rates or rate increase with a certain amount of notice.
Update the contract annually with the policies and immunization forms.