Read an Excerpt
Resolving Problems with Your Child's Caregiver
Excerpted from The Childcare Answer Book by Linda H. Connell ©2005
It is rare indeed for a parent/caregiver relationship to go so smoothly that there never is a difference of opinion or other difficulty between the parties. If there is an issue involving actual harm to your child, working things out is not an option you will want to pursue. On the other hand, less serious problems might be able to be resolved. This would avoid having to go through the process of finding childcare all over again. If you wish to continue the association with your childcare provider, you will want to approach the problem in a firm and direct-yet diplomatic-way.
Hopefully you have found a provider who sees eye-to-eye with you in most areas of childcare. However, very few people have identical ideas about how children should be raised. When a difference in opinion as to your child's care arises, the first thing you should do is decide how significant the disagreement is. If the issue is, for example, that the caregiver allows your child to watch too much television, simply requesting a cutback may be all you need to do. On the other hand, if you feel she is placing your child in timeouts inappropriately too often, or for too long, more work may be required to resolve the problem.
If you have a complaint with the care that your child is receiving, the most important thing to remember is to remain calm and bring your concerns to the attention of the caregiver in a considerate manner. This means speaking in a courteous tone and relating your concerns without being accusatory. Listen to what the caregiver has to say. She may have a good reason for what she is doing, or there may be circumstances of which you are not aware. If possible, speak with the caregiver when there are no other parents or children around. If she is busy caring for children, she may not be able to have a productive discussion with you. If you try to talk to her when other parents are present, she may become defensive.
Even though you are the final decision-maker when it comes to your child, try to take into account the training and background your caregiver has. Some childcare workers have years of education and experience to help them in their profession. They may be trying to use techniques in caring for your child that have worked with many other children in the past. Try to keep an open mind. If you approach the situation as a partner with the caregiver, you both will be more likely to reach a solution that is in the best interest of your child.
When the Childcare Provider is Unreasonable or Unreliable
Another kind of problem can occur when the childcare provider is not willing to see your point of view, to respect your wishes with respect to the care of your child, or to show up for work in a timely fashion. These are tough situations that may prove less likely to be resolved. When a childcare provider flatly refuses to do things your way, you need to examine the reasons why. First of all, ask her. You cannot make an informed decision about the future of your family's relationship with this caregiver if you do not know why she is taking a certain position. Then, consider your own reasons for disagreeing with her position. It is possible that this is an honest disagreement. If so, it is up to you whether it is a deal-breaker for your day care arrangement. On the other hand, it could be that your own rationale for taking a stand is not entirely defensible.
Example: Your family day care provider has begun screening off your child's crib at naptime because he has been having trouble settling down and is causing disruption for the older children. You believe that the child should not be placed in a separate area for naps. You feel that being isolated from the caregiver and the rest of the children causes him anxiety and keeps him from napping. The day care provider refuses to keep him in the main room because of the effect on the other children. She feels it will do him no harm to become used to sleeping alone, and she takes steps to comfort him while he is in the crib in order to help him fall asleep.
It is not unreasonable of the caregiver to handle this situation in this way, in light of the interests of the other children involved and her attempts to help the toddler adjust to the change in his napping environment.
The parent may not like how the caregiver resolves issues, but should recognize the limitations a family day care provider may have in a case such as this. If the parents feel strongly enough about their position, they may end up having to make new childcare arrangements. In the case of a day care center, issues may be easier to resolve. There will be a director on staff who can assist in mediating disagreements between parents and caregivers. Also, there is more day care staff who may have other problem-solving suggestions. It may be possible to move a child to another area of the facility where another staff member can be the primary caregiver for the child.
Unreliability is a particularly difficult problem to overcome. It is disruptive to you and your family when the caregiver does not show up, or in the case of a family day care, the caregiver is unable or unwilling to take your child for that day. Obviously, this problem is much less likely to occur in a day care center where there are many day care workers to cover for a sick or otherwise absent coworker, or with a live-in nanny or au pair.
If you have a live-out nanny, you should have a written agreement detailing how missed days are to be handled. Typically, an agreement will give the nanny a certain number of sick days and vacation days, and any missed work beyond those limits are without pay. Unfortunately, the money is only part of the problem. Far worse for many parents is that they themselves often have to miss work when the nanny or family day care provider is unavailable. If you have gone through a nanny agency to find your caregiver, it may be able to help you secure backup childcare. If you have found a nanny on your own or use a family day care provider, hopefully you have discussed backup care before placing your child with that provider. Otherwise, you should always have a plan in place for the unfortunate event that your childcare arrangement falls through.
Terminating the Childcare Relationship
If the problems cannot be resolved, it may be necessary to terminate the childcare relationship. Whether the relationship with the caregiver ends on good terms or bad, the family should take steps to make the transition to life without the caregiver as smooth as possible for everyone.
Put It in Writing
Regardless of the type of childcare, when the parents wish to terminate the services of the provider, they should put the termination in writing. The form of the writing may depend upon the particular childcare arrangement and the circumstances surrounding the decision to terminate. Childcare arrangements that end on a positive note require less detail than relationships that are terminated for cause. If you are terminating the relationship due to misconduct, abuse, or negligence by the caregiver, you should state that in your notice.
Even if you have hired a nanny who never bothers to show up for her first day of work, you should send a written termination notice stating it is effective immediately. This will avoid the possibility of the nanny later claiming that any sort of payment or benefits are owed to her as your employee.
In-Home Care Terminations
Ending in-home care arrangements can prove to be a bit trickier, especially if the split is not amicable. With outside care, all you have to do is remove your child from the facility. An in-home caregiver is, to some degree, entrenched in your household, especially when the caregiver is a live-in one. Not only do you have to end the relationship, you have to be sure that the caregiver packs up and leaves. If you have relocated a nanny from out of state, or if you have an au pair from another country, you may even be obligated to contribute to the costs she incurs in returning home, such as airfare. If you go through an agency for your in-home childcare, be sure to find out exactly what your liability is regarding termination before the caregiver arrives.
When ending a live-in caregiver situation, you may not want to leave the nanny alone in your home once you have told her you are terminating her employment. For that reason, you should try to time the termination so that you are able to be home for several days to supervise her departure. If that is not possible, you could arrange for another person that you trust to be present in your home while the nanny gathers her belongings.
It is possible that your childcare provider will not have the means to return home or even to secure lodging right away. In such a case, you might make the departure go more smoothly if you offer to put her up in a local hotel for a night or two. Even if you do not feel the nanny deserves that consideration, it might prevent her causing a scene or other trouble. This will make your life easier, but more than anything, it will benefit your children if you can avoid conflict as much as possible.
Problems the In-Home Caregiver Can Create
There have been cases where disgruntled nannies have retaliated for being fired by notifying the state department of children's services or labor board-falsely-that the former employer either harassed the nanny or abused the children. One of the best ways to avoid the nightmare scenario of a child abuse accusation is to keep complete records. You will want to keep a log containing not only the nanny's job performance during the course of her employment, but also of any injuries that your child may have suffered during her employment. Include dates and names of anyone else who would have personal knowledge of any incidents, either of injury to your child or misconduct by the nanny. Put any complaint you may have about the nanny's performance in writing. If the nature of the complaint is serious enough that a repeat occurrence would cause you to fire the nanny, be sure to put the complaint in the form of a disciplinary warning. Give a copy of the warning to your nanny. Also, have her sign another copy with an acknowledgement that she has received the written warning.
Claims of Sexual Harassment
To keep safe from a charge of sexual harassment by the nanny, take great care to maintain your relationship with her on a professional level. Sometimes, especially with a live-in nanny or a working relationship in which the nanny is considered one of the family, the line between familiarity and impropriety can be a bit blurry. In general, the federal laws that prohibit sexual harassment apply only to employers with at least 15 employees; therefore, they will not apply to a nanny situation. However, some states have human rights laws of their own that make essentially all employers liable for harassing conduct of a sexual nature. Examples of conduct that may amount to sexual harassment include: overt sexual advances; obscene comments; language or jokes (verbal or written);
unwanted physical contact, such as grabbing, rubbing against, or other touching; personal questions of a sexual nature; and, the display of obscene or pornographic material in the work area of the employee.
State laws against sexual harassment usually also prohibit retaliation by an employer if the employee reports harassment to the proper state agency. Typical penalties for a finding of liability for sexual harassment are fines, restitution for lost wages or benefits, reinstatement if the employee has been wrongfully terminated, and punitive damages. The safe course of action, if you have any doubt, is to completely avoid the above types of behavior around the nanny.
Your Child's Reaction
Whatever your own feelings about the ending of your business relationship with the childcare provider, do not ignore the effect the termination may have on your child. Even if you dislike the nanny or day care worker, be careful not to underestimate how much she means to your child. You should prepare your child for the day when your family and the caregiver part ways.
Of course, if the reason you are terminating the childcare provider is that your child does not like her, he or she likely will be happy to see her go, and you will have no adjustment issues. However, a child can become fond of a caregiver fairly quickly, and if this is the case in your family, you need to be sensitive to your child's attitude toward the termination. Not only could your child be saddened to see the nanny leave (or to be removed from the outside day care setting, as the case may be), but he or she may actually come to feel insecure by the upheaval. He or she may believe that, since this person-a person he or she cared about-was taken from him or her so easily, other loved ones could be sent away as well. Depending on your child's age and the circumstances of the caregiver's departure, you should try to explain to your child your reasons for ending the relationship.
Set Up a Replacement
However you decide to end the caregiver relationship, make sure that you have a reliable replacement provider for your child ahead of time, if at all possible. Do not be surprised if your child is resistant to the idea of a new caregiver at first. If it took him or her some time to become comfortable with the former caregiver, expect it to take even longer to warm up to the new one. Even an infant can easily show displeasure with a new caregiver and routine. With older children, it is important to allow them to voice their feelings about the situation. This will give them some sense of control over their lives, which in turn will help them along in the process of readjustment.