For child care centers, managing a child care waiting list is a necessary and time-consuming part of business — but it's also an area of opportunity.
If you run a child care center or preschool, making lists easier to manage will reduce internal stress over maintaining a waiting list and fielding queries about it. At the same time, you can put your best foot forward for your business by using waiting lists as a chance to establish the excellence of your program.
Child care waiting lists can be frustrating for parents, and being proactive about managing your waiting list will build your reputation as a program that puts the needs of parents first.
Be up front about your policiesGetting a child into child care can be a long process for parents, and making your wait-list procedures transparent is a great way to appeal to parents searching for child care. Being up front about what happens to applicants on your waiting list makes life much easier for parents trying to make costly and time-sensitive decisions for their children. It can also mitigate time spent managing the wait list internally, especially responding to parent inquiries.
Being clear and transparent about your policies will also help parents get a feel for your program. The way you treat your waiting list is an extension of the philosophy with which you run your child care center and sets the tone for parents as they search for an opening for their child.
In the enrollment section of your website and in your program handbook, address the possibility of being placed on a waiting list, including:
- Fees: What are the fees associated with an application? Are they refundable?
- Enrollment periods: When are your enrollment periods? Can parents fill out an application at any time? What is the likelihood that a child will be accepted in between enrollment periods?
- Waiting list order: Will parents know where on the waiting list they are? Do you operate on a first-come, first-served basis or fill spots by other criteria? What age groups typically have the longest/shortest waiting list? How long are children kept on the list?
- Communication: If parents have questions, how should they contact you? Should parents expect updates on the waiting list?
- Enrollment offers: If a child on the waiting list is offered a spot, can the parent(s) defer until the next year? Do you have a policy for sibling enrollment? How many spots open up, on average, for each new enrollment period?
Be proactive about giving parents information regarding your child care waiting list policies when enrollment paperwork is filled out. Parents should have a good understanding about the process of being on and getting off the waiting list before they fill anything out.
Make your waiting list forms work for you
Child care waiting list forms are different from enrollment forms in that you only need a limited amount of information from parents in order to put their child on a waiting list. For example, asking who is authorized to pick up a child doesn't need to be on a waiting list form.
But what can be helpful is crafting your waiting list forms to not just capture the necessary information — like parent names, child's name and age, contact info — but also use them as an opportunity to help your business run more smoothly.
One of the easiest things you can do to streamline your waiting list is attach FAQs with your child care waiting list form or add them to your waiting list webpage.
Although you have outlined your policies, parents may wonder why another child got in before theirs, whether there is anything they can do to be moved up or off the waiting list, whether or not they can come for another tour, etc. Head off these questions based on what you actually experience as FAQs. It can help lessen the number of queries you receive.
Circle back with parents
Periodically, you need to check in with parents about their place on the waiting list. First and foremost, this keeps your list up to date and keeps parents in the loop on what is happening. Even if you don't have a spot open, this communication helps build your relationship with parents in your community. If someone is still waiting for a spot for their child, an update assures them they are still on your list and helps mitigate parent calls and inquiries. It also builds trust. Parents are likely on multiple wait lists, and a periodic check-in lets them know you haven't taken their money and forgotten about them.
An easy way to check in is to send an email to all parents on the wait list. If you use a digital system to keep track of your waiting list, it is easy to communicate with parents via email or text. Tell parents that their child is still on your list, and ask them to respond if they would like to be taken off. Noting how many children on the wait list have been offered a spot in the past enrollment period can manage expectations, but resist trying to predict whether or not spots will open up.
When you check in, another good thing to do is ask parents to update contact information in case anything has changed. Taking a child off the wait list happens only if you can contact their parents, so keeping this up to date is critical. Make sure to ask parents to update their information once they get off the wait list as well. With brightwheel, parents can update their own profiles after their children are enrolled, reducing your administrative load. Brightwheel can also help with everything from implementing your child care curriculum to managing your child care billing.
Make your child care waiting list process as painless as possible
Getting children into child care can place an enormous amount of stress on parents. Running a wait list can be time-consuming for staff who are corresponding with stressed-out parents on top of day-to-day tasks. Make your child care waiting list as painless as possible for yourself and for parents interested in your program by being up front about your wait list policies, making your forms a rich source of information for you and parents, and communicating regularly.
To get started with your new child care waiting list forms, download our sample form here.
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