Causes For Complaint
Allison Lee has been childminding for over 11 years and has cared for children aged from 10 weeks to 11 years. A mother of two boys, Allison's career has provided her with the opportunity to work for The National Childminding Association and she is currently employed.
The relationship between childminder, parents and child is often a close one as you are working in partnership together to provide the best possible childcare. It is crucial that you remember that parents are the most important people in their child’s life, and you must understand and respect their wishes. You may become very good friends with the parents of the children you care for and remain in contact with them long after their children have grown up and left your childcare setting. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of childminding. However, it is still important to remember that you are running a business and whilst you can be good friends with your customers your relationship with them must also be on a business and financial level.
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
No matter how hard you work, how many hours you devote to other people’s children and how many training courses you undertake there is no foolproof way of ensuring that you will never receive a complaint. This is quite simply because, as the saying goes, ‘You can not please all of the people all of the time.’ You will, over time, learn how to juggle your work with running your home and looking after your own family. I will not pretend that it is easy when there are many demands on your time. Sometimes you will feel that there are not enough hours in the day. There will be times when your best laid plans fall by the wayside and you feel as if you are meeting yourself coming backwards but this can, and does, happen in all workplaces. The important thing to remember is that you are a professional person doing a professional job and you must act the part at all times. Even when you feel that whatever you say or do is not good enough, and there will be times when this is the case, you must bite your tongue, remain polite and refrain from passing judgement.
DEALING WITH CONFLICT
It is important to remember that working parents may feel an element of guilt at having to leave their children and, when they are stressed and tired after a long day, it is sometimes all too easy to say something hurtful or insensitive. Try not to dwell on this or read too much into it.
However, that is not to say that you must sit back and be insulted. Being a professional does not mean being a doormat. It is possible for you to get your message across without an argument. Just as a parent has the right to say something if they are not happy with a particular element of the childcare service you are providing, you too have the right to let them know if you feel that they are continually taking advantage of your good nature.
If, for example, a parent turns up late one evening to collect their child and tells you that there was an accident on the motorway, there is every chance that this is the case and the delay in getting to you was therefore unavoidable. However, if the same parent continually turns up late, with no valid reasons, and you have to rearrange your own family commitments accordingly, it is not advisable to keep quiet. By not confronting the parent you will become resentful, your family life will suffer, and you will not be able to carry out your childminding duties properly.
Tell the parent why you need them to collect their child on time; perhaps your own daughter has to be at her piano lesson, or you have a training course to attend, and the parent collecting their child late regularly is having an adverse effect on your own life. Remember that as a self-employed person, you choose the days and times that you want to work. You will have set your daily working hours according to your own family commitments and there may be valid reasons why you must stick to these times as much as possible. Of course you do need to be flexible.
Negotiating with parents
The best way to deal with a problem of this nature is to address it calmly. Do not be rude to the parent as they rush through the door or comment that your daughter will miss her music lesson yet again, due to their lack of time keeping. Instead choose a time when neither of you are in a hurry and, calmly and politely, point out that your working day finishes at a set time, which was agreed when you both signed your contract. Explain that you are not trying to be difficult but that you have family commitments, and that these are suffering because of the regular late evenings you are expected to work. (It may be that you do not have plans for the evenings but if this is the case you should still not be expected to work overtime regularly without recognition.)
Reaching an agreement
If you are willing to extend your working hours then tell the parent this and suggest that you agree a revised fee for the additional time worked, amend the contract and sign it together. However, if a late finishing time is completely inconvenient and you do not want to work these hours, even with extra payment, then inform the parent of your decision. Their reasons for being late may be genuinely unavoidable and by discussing the problem with them you may be able to come to a compromise; perhaps by agreeing to work late two evenings per week, with advance warning, or for the parent to arrange for their child to be collected by someone other than themselves.
Everyone needs time away from work and how and where you spend your leisure time is your own business. However, I have found that by talking to the parents you can quickly and easily work out a solution to most everyday problems. Tackling a problem or unacceptable situation calmly and reasonably usually has promising results and I have found that very few parents try to be awkward, and the vast majority are remarkably accommodating.
Being open and approachable
You must make sure that all the parents of the children in your care can approach you at any time, if they want to discuss the care their child is receiving or any problems or difficulties they or their children are having. If it is not appropriate for them to discuss things with you immediately because, for example, other parents are collecting children at the same time and confidentiality is difficult, then arrange for them to telephone you later in the evening at a mutually convenient time. Or if they live nearby, ask them to call back later in the evening when you can sit down together and discuss any issues.
It could be that one of you has an issue with the childcare arrangements and it is crucial that, whatever the problem, it is dealt with promptly and professionally. If a problem is left to fester and grow out of proportion people will begin to feel resentful and the whole important relationship between childminder, parent and child can irreparably break down.
Always be honest and open with parents and never promise something you cannot or will not do. If you do not want to work weekends, for example, never hint that this is a possibility simply in order to fill a vacancy; it will, at a later date, mean that you resent losing your weekends or that you let down the parents should weekend cover be required. This is a bad start to a working relationship and should be avoided at all costs.
DIFFICULT PEOPLE AND SITUATIONS
There are probably times in your life when you have looked back and thought you could have avoided a certain situation if only you had handled things differently. I am sure every one of us can think of at least one occasion that we would not wish to repeat and would, in hindsight, have avoided at all costs if we had been better prepared. Handling difficult people and situations is an everyday fact of life. We are all different; we all want and need different things and we all have a different outlook on life. It is these differences which make us all unique. It is often all too easy to see things through our own eyes and we tend to base our opinions of other people on the things we see, rather than on the whole picture.
Often we do not get to know someone completely; we are only aware of the things they choose to share with us. It is very easy to make assumptions about a person which can be completely unfounded and totally unfair. For example, you may be met each morning with a mother who is, in your opinion, curt or abrupt. She may drop her child off with you and rush out without passing the time of day. You could be forgiven for thinking that she was career minded and focused on her work that she was rude and uncaring about the welfare of her child. This assumption could be right but it could also just as easily be very wrong. The parent
- may feel guilty at leaving her child and therefore find it easier to rush away so as not to prolong the departure for both herself and her child;
- she may be shy and unsure of what is expected of her;
- she may be worried about something that she has not confided in you.
There are many reasons for a person to act in a certain way and we should not be quick to stand in judgement.
Some people are, of course, naturally rude or arrogant and hopefully if you encounter someone like this you will be able to decide, prior to the placement commencement and ideally at the first meeting, whether or not you feel you are able to provide a service for a family of this nature. First impressions are very important and it is often possible to decide whether or not you like a person’s ‘nature’ during the initial meeting you have with them.
Some people, however, seem perfectly amicable to begin with, and do not start to show their true colours until later on, after the contract has been signed and the placement has begun. The signing of the contract, although a legally binding document, still does not stop parents treating you unreasonably. But in my experience as a childminder I think I can honestly say that, if you are providing a good service and have an easy, open relationship with the children and their parents, you should not have too much difficulty remaining on good terms with them. It is important to remember to be fair and as flexible as possible whilst seeing things from all sides. If you sense a problem or you feel things need clarifying then approach the parent in a polite, professional manner. Never raise your voice or lose your temper, even if they do.
There may however, still be times when you feel that you can no longer continue to provide childcare for a particular family. The decision to terminate the contract could come from either party. If you feel the need to terminate the contract, I would advise you to discuss the problem with the parent and try to resolve the issue first of all. Failing this, explain why you feel the need to terminate the contract and agree a date for termination. This should have been stated on the contract but you may agree to a shorter or longer period of notice, depending on the circumstances of the family and nature of the grievance.
Children are very adept at knowing when things are not right between adults. They can sense an atmosphere and may become stressed if they feel that the important adults in their lives are not getting on well. It is important to avoid any kind of bad feeling for this reason. Although a child may sense a grievance they may not be old enough to understand the reason behind it. Ignoring a conflict or refusing to discuss it can be very harmful to your business. Other parents and children may sense a problem and wonder why there is tension between you and another parent. Confidentiality procedures will prevent you from discussing, with someone else, any problems which do not concern them.
Clarifying the contract
One of the most important things you must do, prior to a placement commencing, is to sit down with the parents of the child and go through the contract with them. The contract you provide, and its contents, must be clearly explained to the parents and any questions they may have must be answered honestly, prior to signing. We have looked at contracts in more detail in Chapter 6. It should clearly outline the service you are prepared to provide and cover aspects such as:
- days and hours you are available;
- fees you charge;
- holiday arrangements;
- illness arrangements;
- arrangements for playgroup, nursery and school collections.
Basically, any important aspects of the service you provide, and any additional requests made by the parents, should be recorded on the contract. It is better to put too much information into a contract than too little, and the accuracy and detail you provide at this stage should alleviate any misunderstandings in the future. All parties concerned must be aware of, and fully understand, what is expected of them prior to signing the contract. Providing parents with copies of your policies (discussed in Chapter 8), will help to back up your requirements and avoid future disputes.
The necessity for a contract
There are a number of reasons why you need to have a contract between yourself and the parents of the children you are providing care for.
- A written contract sets out exactly what is expected of both yourself and the parents of the children you are caring for.
- A contract is a legally binding document. If you have problems in the future regarding aspects such as non payment of fees, it is very important to have a contract if you are intending to recover unpaid costs.
- Having a contract puts your business on a professional level. A contract can be tailormade to meet the needs of each individual family and shows you are committed to providing a good professional service.
The contract, once signed, is a legally binding document and for this reason everyone concerned must be aware of what they are putting their signature to. The document should state the childcare arrangements which you have agreed to provide for a negotiated fee, under agreed terms and conditions. It is not a contract of employment.
Breakdown in communication
Contract disputes usually come about when there has been a breakdown in communication between the parent and the childminder. As I have mentioned before it is important that you discuss, wherever possible, any problems as and when they arise. Ignoring a problem will not make it go away but it could well make it escalate out of all proportion making it impossible for a solution to be found. Although prompt action should be taken to deal with any problems which may, from time to time, arise, you must make sure that you do not act impulsively.
Reaching a compromise
Take time to think the situation through, and if possible, try to find several compromises which you would be happy with and which you could put to the parent for consideration. You will probably find that if you are open to suggestions and willing to compromise then a solution can be found rather than if you are completely adamant and unwilling to show flexibility.
It may take several discussions before a problem is resolved and you may decide to try a particular course of action, monitor the response and review it at a later date. However, in some cases (thankfully in my experience this is rare) you may have to terminate the contract. There may be certain circumstances when one, or both, parties are unable to find a compromise and it would not be beneficial from the child’s, the parents’, or your business’ point of view to continue with the contract.
AREAS OF CONFLICT
It is worth taking the time to think about the areas which you feel may bring conflict to your childminding setting. By thinking of the different issues in advance you will be better prepared to handle any situations as and when they arise.
Some of the most common areas involving conflict when working as a childminder are:
- disputes over pay and working hours;
- concerns over day-to-day duties and responsibilities;
- disputes over the daily routines of the children;
- disagreements over differing parenting practices and family lifestyles;
- disputes concerning prejudice or discrimination;
- changes in family circumstances e.g. divorce.
Most of the above areas can be dealt with by using a detailed, accurate contract and by ensuring that everyone completely understands what is expected of them. Childminding is largely about negotiation and compromise. You, and the parents of the children in your care, must realise that some degree of compromise has to be made by everyone. Parents must be aware that if you care for several children it is not always easy to accommodate their every whim and sometimes solutions have to be found.
When dealing with any areas of conflict or disagreement, always:
- Remain calm and professional – never raise your voice, even if the parents do. You are much more likely to be heard if you lower your voice!
- Be tactful. Refrain from being rude or making unnecessary comments which appear to criticise the parents.
- Make sure that you have the facts at hand. Try not to throw lots of niggling grievances at the parent when addressing an important concern. Focus on the exact issue which needs to be dealt with.
- Avoid acting hastily – give yourself, and the parents, time to calm down and collect your thoughts before tackling an issue.
- Try to offer as many solutions to the problem as possible and, if possible, be prepared to compromise.
Some things to remember when dealing with conflict during your working day:
- Be professional and ensure that you provide a positive role model to both the children and their parents.
- Stay calm, listen and offer sympathy, support and reassurance when necessary.
- Ensure you are non-judgemental and avoid stereotyping.
- Remain positive and helpful. Be prepared to compromise whenever possible.
- Never become aggressive or abusive.