Should Parents Only Pay When Their Children Attend?

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Ask Melinda is a Playvolution HQ column offering thoughtful answers to family child care questions written by Melinda Marshall.

Your questions, comments, and answers are welcome in the comment section at the end of the post.

This week’s question:

The parents in my program want to pay me only when their child is here. Its costing ME to run my program this way. What should I do?


Families in my program pay for the “spot” regardless of their child’s attendance. This enables me to have a predictable budget and cover all the costs associated with running the business.

Most of my costs don’t go down simply because a child is absent. I still must pay the same amount for my mortgage, my utility bills, my licensing requirements, and my insurance policies.

Payroll for my assistants, which takes a large chunk of my budget, must also be paid. Supervision ratios require that with more than 6 children in attendance, there must be an assistant present. That means whether there are 7, 8, or 12 children I still must pay my assistant for the hours she is here. If any children are absent and don’t pay for that day, there’s no way I could afford to have an assistant here at all.

If you go on vacation for a month, you still must pay your mortgage. If you don’t drive your car for two weeks, you still must make your payment. If you go to college and skip classes for a day, you still pay the same tuition. If you don’t watch TV, use your internet, or talk on your phone, your more than likely still paying the same fee each month regardless. Childcare is no different.

Having a set budget also allows for planning of other costs such as materials and supplies, and even training for yourself. In the end, this helps maintain the quality of your program and is a perk for your families. When families pay for the spot, they are ensuring that they have secured high quality professional care for their child 5 days a week. This helps elevate stress on THEM, knowing their child is in good hands for the short time they are away from them each day. I would encourage you to change your payment policies to be based on spots and not attendance. Be sure to go over this policy when parents enroll and ask if they have any questions then. This will help them to better understand, and less likely to question or challenge the policy later.

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Owner at Mountaintop Family Child Care

Melinda lives in Upstate New York and is owner of her home based program, Mountaintop Family Childcare.

She has been a family child care provider for over 18 years and worked with children for over 27 years. Her program offers relationship based care that includes many aspects of farm life and nature/forest school with PLAY at the center of all they do. She firmly believes in slowing down childhood and allowing children to develop at their own pace.

Melinda believes family childcare programs offer unique settings that have much to offer to the early learning world. She strongly supports family providers in keeping a home like atmosphere in their programs. Backed by research, she continuously advocates for children's right to play.