new mother picking child upFines for arriving before your child is due to start or picking your child up late

The time that your child is booked in to arrive and leave by are the hours your service expects your child to attend, not before and not after. 

A service may fine you for arriving after the time that your child is booked in or if you arrive before your child is scheduled to start.

What is a late fee?

Which ever way you look at it a late fee is a punitive measure – a punishment to give the message of ‘don’t be late’ - this is how it generally comes across to parents and families.

Great services usually do not have a fine system and find ways to meet both parent and staff needs

Some services take a friendly approach, supporting both families and staff.  Most parents don't want to inconvenience their child's teachers and will feel bad if they do. In cases when a parent is frequently late (or arrives before the child is booked in to stay) the service manager will likely suggest to the parent that they change the child’s booked-in hours to match. This is a simple solution. 

Most services do not routinely fine parents for one-off lateness because they value relationships with parents and are well-managed with staff on hand before children arrive and after the last child is booked in to leave, to do things like meeting with parents, planning, and tidying up and setting up resources for the next day.

Other reasons for not having a fine system include:  

  • supporting families and understanding that things don’t always go according to plan for parents,
  • knowing that a fine does not always prevent a parent from arriving outside of the time their child is booked into attend, and
  • the service is adequately staffed with good teacher to child ratios and can accommodate a child whose parent may be running late.

Why other service have late and, or early arrival fees/ fines

Some teachers argue that fining parents is a necessary or good thing because they are understaffed and can't cope or are paid to work till a certain time only and are not paid overtime, so parents need a strong message to collect their children within the hours booked. 

Some services have a late charge to provide another source of revenue on top of fees and other charges. A sign of this is if a service enforces a fine on the first occasion and/or regardless of parents’ reasons and no teacher or educator has had to work or stay longer hours as a consequence. 

Some services run a very tight financial line and only employ teachers for the time that children are booked in and run on bare minimum teacher to child ratios, So it is very important to the service provider that no child is present at the service outside of booked hours as this would result in the service breaching the minimum teacher to child ratio.

Other services fine parents to acknowledge that teachers may be working outside of normal hours and the fine money goes straight to the teachers or is paid in overtime, But many teachers say they are not paid overtime, and fines are applied also when no teacher works outside of normal hours.  

What can you expect to pay?

According to Dr Sarah Alexander, chief executive of ChildForum, it is unusual for a service to charge a late pick-up fee if the parent is a just a few minutes late - it may after all be because not everyone shares the same time on their clock or watch.

Services do not usually fine parents on the first occasion but if late several times then the service is likely to enforce a late fee. 

The average charge is up to $1 per minute after the first 10 or 15 minutes.  Some services have a flat fee of $20 to $25 if more than 10 or 15 minutes late. 

Must you pay the fine?

Check the service’s fees policy.  If a fine is clearly stated and the amount, then you are must pay it.

A late charge may work in your favour

If you know you are going to be late occasionally a service that charges a late fee is effectively allowing you to be so and not to feel bad about it. When charging a late fee the service is telling you that it has plans in place to cope with any late children and you will not be putting staff out by being late.

Differences in how this is enforced

Services with a fine system usually implement it only if you are regularly late or dropping off early.

Most services are aware that not all parents are intentionally late or early and talk with the parent first before fining. At one centre, for example, a parent due to pick up her child at 3pm did not get to the centre until a little after 3.20pm due to attending to a serious car accident (the parent was a paramedic). The centre had good adult to child ratios and was able to easily accommodate having the child for a bit longer in the day.  

Whose time is right?

If time is disputed, for example if the service charges for every minute late – raise this with the centre. One parent took a picture of the clock at the service and checked it against the official ‘world’ clock time for NZ (most mobile phones show this) and was able to prove that the clock the centre was going by was 3 minutes fast.

Procedure and policy if a parent/caregiver has not arrived to collect their child and the service has closed

When you enrol at a service that service should tell you what its policy is in this circumstance. The usual policy is for the service to contact the persons listed as your emergency contacts. Should these people not be able to be reached after trying at a least a couple of times, then a service may call the police for advice or help to track parents or other family members.

* Thank you to Dr Alexander from ChildForum for advising and supplying content for this article.

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