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Contracts and Neighborhood Childcare

This doesn't have to be a contradiction in terms

by MaryP  |  3239 views  |  6 comments  |        Rate this now! 

A friend, who lives in a small city a few hours away, had just found "the perfect" woman to provide care for her child.

"She's close to my work, the other kids are happy, the playroom is gorgeous, she's close to a park, she's experienced, and she just seems so warm and reassuring." All good.

"Have you signed a contract yet?" I asked, thinking that if they hadn't, I might offer to look it over for her, if she wanted my input.

"Oh, we won't need a contract. She's such a very nice woman, and she has terrific references."

You know, I run into this a lot more than you might expect, and it never ceases to surprise me. If you put your child into a daycare centre, there'd be a contract. AND a lot of other paperwork, too, probably. If you had a qualified nanny through an agency, there'd be a contract.

Whereas parents accept the necessity of contracts in the context of an agency or a centre, contracts with a neighborhood caregiver are sometimes perceived as putting a cold and cynical distance between the parties. What it boils down to is perception. They don't like the idea that caring for their child could be a job. In their heart of hearts, these parents want to believe that this woman is doing this strictly for love, that she's just got so much motherlove in her it bursts out all over, seeking for children to nurture.

It's an emotion-based response, and one which does neither party any favours. Of course you need a contract. Contracts do not cause conflict, they minimize it. Contracts make expectations explicit. Assumptions are minimized. When there is a disagreement as to who's to do what, the contract is the starting-point for the discussion -- but with a contract, such disagreements are far less likely to occur.

So, when you meet with your lovely neighborhood daycare lady, expect to see a contract. If she doesn't have one, suggest she provide one. Deal professionally with your caregiver, expect professionalism back. Love your caregiver, love that contract!

About the Author

Mother of three (teens), step-mother of five (teens), home daycare operator of five (todders), and STILL SANE!! NOTHING is impossible...

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6 comments so far...

  • If someone chooses to violate a contract,they certainly can. But is that reason enough not to have one?

    I don't know about them being unenforceable, either. A caregiver friend of mine lost about $500 when clients completely flauted the contract. She took them to small claims court - and won. I've also seen caregivers put collection agencies onto deadbeat clients. With a signed contract, you have that option. They are not, probably, so enforceable when the issues are not very clear-cut and financial.

    However, I still maintain that it's worth having one. Their primary purpose is not determining dispute resolution mechanisms, but *communication and clarification*, so you can avoid unexpected conflict of the "But I thought *you* were supposed to..." variety. (Nataly cites a good example: sick days. You can determine how many paid days your caregiver is to get -- and after that, she doesn't get paid.)

    I don't think making these things clear in advance would make someone unhappy -- personally, they make me feel secure.

    If the contract makes one of the parties unhappy, it's not a good contract, and the person who doesn't like the terms is foolish to sign on. If a parent wants to put something in my contract I can't abide by, I tell them that if this is critical to them, they'd be best off finding someone else. But, at my age and experience/confidence level, I'm not readily bullied. Nor do I bully.

    I have had clients defauls on a contract. I should write about the take-the-cake couple one day. I didn't pursue it because I was glad to see the back of them! But, given my friend's success in small claims court, I probably could have.

    But as I say, 99% of my contracts are with good, honest, reasonable people, who only want the expectations clarified up front so there are no unpleasant surprises later. THAT's what contracts are for. And mostly, that's exactly what they do.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 29th October 2007

  • spacegeek - I actually agree with you re contracts not being enforceable. What I do think they help with is defining some guidelines for things like sick days, etc. I remember when our nanny called in sick for the 3rd time in a month and I realized that we never even discussed the number of paid sick days.

    But unfortunately, yes, contracts get broken - a friend's nanny never came back from vacation and her contract was written by her lawyer husband:)

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nataly on 29th October 2007

  • I've had 3 nannies and 3 contracts. The second one completely violated her contract when she left with 6 hours notice after refusing to do many of the things in her contract (empty the dishwasher, for example).
    I've discovered that a contract may set up the rules, but there isn't much recourse to enforce it.
    And really, do you want an unhappy person watching your children, even if she is abiding by the terms of the agreement?
    A shame, but I don't see that nanny contracts are enforceable.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by spacegeek on 28th October 2007

  • I admit that when I started out, I felt a little self-conscious about the contract, but thankfully I had older, more experienced caregivers to support me, telling me their horror stories and remindng me that it's not hostile or stilted or rude -- it's simply good business, and makes you look professional. Now I can't imagine working without a contract: the possibility for conflict and resentment would be ENORMOUS.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by MaryP on 26th October 2007

  • You know, I didn't have a contract with the nanny either. And now I'm thinking of writing one up for the two babysitters we do have, though I don't have any problems with them compared to the nanny. Ha, the nanny would have pitched a fit if I'd produced a contract and THAT would have been a great red flag. Thanks for the reminder!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Mandy Nelson - Dandysound on 26th October 2007

  • I am going to confess something here - we had 3 nannies but never a contract. We found them ourselves, no agency, and yes, I felt a contract would be too cold. Our daughter is no in daycare, so yes, tons of paperwork and you know, as I was going through it, I wished we had a contract with our nannies - it would have made soooo many situations easier.

    So this is great advice and one that I wish I had heard loud and clear when we hired nannies for our daughter.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Nataly on 26th October 2007