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Child Care Resources

Understanding Child Care Contracts and Rules

Rose Allen, Extension Educator – Family Relations; and Patricia D. Olson, Program Leader – Family Relations and Family Resource Managements. Reviewed by Ronald L. Pitzer, Family Sociologist.

Revised July 2013 by Kathleen A. Olson, Program Director — Partnering for School Success.

Knowing the ground rules is important to a successful relationship with a child care provider. Parents can avoid misunderstandings if they know who is responsible for what. Some providers may have a written contract and/or a written set of rules that they make available to parents. Others may even keep a copy on file and go over it with parents when a new child enters their care.

What Are Child Care Contracts and Rules?

A contract spells out the agreement that parents make with a provider when they place their child in a provider’s care. It can include the hours, costs, and services provided by the caregiver. Some providers may also have a set of rules covering emergencies, sick-child policies, sleeping arrangements, supplies that parents need to provide, as well as many other issues that parents and providers need to agree on. Contracts and rules may be written or verbal when parents first enroll their child in child care. Putting the contract or rules in writing will make things much clearer for both sides when misunderstandings arise. Parents might want to compile their own list if their provider does not have anything formally written out. The following list covers some of the specific areas that should be covered in the contract and rules. Parents may need to bring these points up themselves if their provider doesn't discuss them. Check the following list of questions after a review of a provider's contracts and rules.


    What are the hours and days the child care home or center is open, including regular daily hours as well as vacation and holiday schedules?
    What do fees include and when is payment expected?
    What is the policy on caring for children beyond the hours of operation, such as who will care for the child and are there additional fees?
    What meals and snacks are served?
    What are the procedures for enrolling and withdrawing the child, including the length of time and if written or verbal notification is required?
    What are the provisions for trial enrollment?
    What are the provisions for when a provider is ill, has an emergency, vacation, or holiday? How is payment handled and who provides back-up care?
    What is the provider's insurance coverage?
    What are the ages and number of children in the facility?
    What are the sign-in procedures?
    Does the provider have proof of licensing?
    What parent conference opportunities are there?
    What are the policies on caring for more than one child from one family, including fees and reserving space for additional children?

Illness and Medication

    When should a child not attend child care? What is the provider’s definition of a "sick" child, including physical symptoms?
    What are the procedures when a child becomes ill while at child care, including how soon a child needs to be picked up when ill?
    When is written authorization necessary in order for the provider to give a child medicine?
    What are the procedures for notification of exposure to contagious diseases from both parents and providers?

Emergency Procedures

    What are the provisions for inclement weather, fire, or other emergencies?
    What are the procedures for notification and documentation of injuries that occur both at home and at child care?
    What are the procedures for notifying parents if the provider has an emergency and cannot provide care?
    How will the provider handle the care of children who are not picked up at the close of hours — where will parents need to go to retrieve their children?

Child Guidance and Educational Programs

    What would be an example of a typical daily schedule?
    What would a description of the provider’s child development philosophy include?
    How would the provider deal with the different developmental needs of the children in their care?
    What is the policy on television use?
    Does the provider use community facilities and participate in community activities?
    What is the policy on child guidance? What does the provider do when a child behaves inappropriately?
    What would be the parent/provider cooperative plan for the timing and method of toilet training?
    What are the provider’s religious, political, or philosophical beliefs on child care? Does he or she support nondiscriminatory practices in his or her business?
    Does the provider have a list of classes that he or she has taken (CPR, first aid, child development) in order to meet licensing requirements?

Daily Activities and Rules

    What are some sample menus of nutritious meals and snacks?
    Are there any labeling requirements for food brought from home?
    What is the schedule and what are the arrangements for the children’s rest time?
    What are the provider’s transportation plans and requirements?
    Does the provider have any pets?
    What is the policy on smoking?
    What are the policies on toys and treats from home?
    What outdoor activities are the children involved in? What is the policy for accommodating parents’ wishes on keeping their child indoors?

What Parents Need to Provide

    What supplies do parents need to provide (food, diapers, changes of clothing, car seat, fees for special events, bedding, etc.)?
    Does the provider keep signed immunization forms on each child? Also signed release forms allowing him or her to administer medication?
    Does he or she keep permission forms to allow him or her to transport children?
    The provider should be given phone numbers where parents or other persons authorized to pick up their children can be reached.

For More Information

If you need more information on child care, consult with the following resources:


U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Children and Families, Office of Child Care & National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement. (2011). Trends in child care center licensing regulations and policies for 2011 (Research Brief No. 999). Fairfax, VA: National Center on Child Care Quality Improvement

Related Resources

Is My Child Ready for Kindergarten? — Questions to help determine if your child is ready for school.

Finding Child Care: Questions to Ask — Reviews how to find child care, including a list of questions to ask potential providers. Also in Somali.

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