The right way is to follow the terms of your contract. If it requires you to give parents a two-week notice, do so. You and the parent can agree to end your agreement earlier than two weeks if you put it in writing and both sign it.
Here are three tips to follow to improve the chances that the ending of your agreement will go smoothly.
"Terminate at will"
While I recommend that you require parents to give you a two-week notice to end your contract, I also recommend that you do not restrict yourself to the same terms. Instead, put in your contract, "Provider may terminate at will." This gives you the flexibility to end your agreement immediately if the parent is threatening you, creating a disturbance for your business, or refusing to pay you for your services.
You cannot charge parents for days that you refuse to provide care. Let's say you want to immediately terminate your contract with a parent. It's Friday. The parent has paid you for the past week and has paid you in advance for the last two weeks of care. If you tell the parent she can't come back on Monday, you are obligated to refund her the amount she paid you for the last two weeks.
Did you or the parent terminate care?
Sometimes there is miscommunication between a family child care provider and a parent. If you are in a conflict situation with a parent and are considering terminating care, be sure you communicate clearly. Let's say the parent owes you money for care from last month and you are struggling to collect it. Your contract requires the parent to give you a two-week notice while you may terminate "at will."
When you try to discus this payment issue today, the parent is vague about when she can pay you. You then make one or more of the following statements:
"I can't wait any longer for your payment."
"I've had enough. I don't think I can go on like this."
"You must pay me by tomorrow or I'm going to have to end our agreement."
It's possible that the parent will conclude from any of these statements that you have terminated your agreement the day of this discussion. Let's say the parent doesn't show up tomorrow and you don't hear anything more from her. Has she effectively given you a two-week notice because she hasn't returned? Did you terminate her?
If it's not your intent to terminate your contract immediately, it's important to be clear to the parent that you expect her to bring her child to your program the next day ("I'll see you and your child tomorrow.")
If you are terminating immediately, you cannot expect any payment from the parent for care after that day.
What if, in response to any of your comments above, the parent says, "I'm not coming back." If you want to be able to collect payment for the next two weeks, you need to come to an understanding that the parent is giving her two-week notice. Therefore, say to her, "Does this mean you are giving me your two-week notice?" If the parent agrees, then either write up a short note that says this and get the parent to sign it, or send the parent an email indicating that you are accepting her two-week notice.
If a parent is not showing up for care and has not given you an official notice to end your agreement, send the parent a note, asking for clarification. If you are willing to continue to provide care say, "I have not ended our contract. You are welcome to continue to bring your child to my program. If I do not hear back from you within a week, I will assume you have given me your two-week notice and I will then proceed to take legal action to collect what you owe me under our contract."
If you don't want the parent to return, say, "I'm sorry we couldn't agree to continue our agreement. I'm no longer providing care for your child." Then say either, "You owe me $ under our contract," or "I'm refunding you $ for the days you paid for care after the end of our agreement," or "You do not owe me any additional money."
The language you use is important to be clear whether you or the parent is ending your agreement.
Tom Copeland - www.tomcopelandblog.com
Image credit: whatafy.com
For more information about contracts, see my book Family Child Care Contracts and Policies.