Educator Chris Mouser has been successfully running her own Family Day Care business in Garfield for 22 years, currently under approved provider Windermere Child and Family Services.
Leaving behind a successful career as a stock control manager, Chris started the Family Day Care to spend more time with her two young children, and she hasn’t looked back. Along with Certificate III, Diploma and Advanced Diploma qualifications in children’s services, she draws on her business management acumen to run her daycare.
A combination of business savvy and a warm personal touch is what makes Chris’s approach a success. She reveals her top enrolment tips that have stood the test of time and given her much success over the years.
The big secret to Chris’s success is that she allocates her spaces on a part-time basis.
Given that there’s a limit of four children for family day care businesses, Chris maintains a roster of 28 children to cover the five days. Booked at different time slots throughout the day, Chris keeps track and stays organised using logbooks for each family.
“If you have enrolled two children from one family for all five days of the week and a few months later they move interstate, you are left with two empty spots for the whole week and half your wage is gone.”
At Chris’s Family Day Care, different groups of children attend before school, during school and after school hours and another group for school holiday periods, making up a long list of children. If a family drops out, Chris has the option of relying on another family on her lists to take up the empty spots.
This system also addresses the issue of losing families while away on long holidays. “If I’m going away for a month, it’s much easier to say that I am not available for four Fridays, rather than four weeks. A family is then left to find an alternative for only those four days. If I had taken them full time, they would have had to find four weeks of care elsewhere and that increases the risk of losing them.
As with all aspects of running a Family Day Care, Chris is organised and proactive when it comes to re-enrolments. She starts making enquiries in September in preparation for the new year and within a month her roster of spaces is filled up.
Maintaining a roster of time slots or spaces calls on strong organising skills. When a space opens up in the following year, Chris turns to her contact lists of parents current and past and sends out a message to let them know and the spot is taken up promptly.
She also ensures that those on her casual or wait list are given an opportunity as well and have not been waiting too long. “It’s a lot of juggling. Even when there’s a last-minute cancellation in the morning, I send out a group text to the casual list or a family that hasn’t had the chance yet. So, it’s all about being on top of things.”
While Chris loves interacting with children and the creative and hands on aspects of running a family day care, she is mindful that it is also a business. For this reason, she never turns away prospective families even if she is booked to capacity.
“I treat every enquiry as a possible lead. When a parent calls me, I let them know that although I am full, I am happy to place them on a casual list. You never know what can happen down the track. I maintain a long wait list of names and numbers and make sure I stay in touch as well so that they know they are not forgotten.”
This practice of never saying no and letting parents know what she can offer them instead, allows Chris to form new connections and “keep the conversation going”.
Family Day Care operates under the same National Quality Standards as other forms of childcare and offers a viable and competitive alternative to long day care. Despite this, the primary challenge Family Day Care businesses face is that many parents are unaware of its availability.
“I’ve lived in Garfield all my life and everyone knows me. I was the local netball coach for children and my husband was the junior football coach as well. If I have any openings coming up, I’ll post it on my Facebook page and the word spreads.”
Moreover, attending story time groups at the local library and leaving posters at community hubs such as maternal health centres are ways to get the word out to parents.
First impressions do matter and Chris notes that having confidence during initial contact is essential as it helps parents feel at ease. It’s a skill that comes naturally to Chris who has many years of experience dealing with clients from her stock managing days.
Communications must work both ways, according to Chris. She encourages parents to communicate and not withhold doubts or uncertainties. Doing so could lead to misunderstandings over matters that could be resolved easily.
“The most important thing is communication, whether that’s to convey something good or bad. They must let me know if I have changed the child’s nappy too often or not often enough. If their child comes home with a full cup of water, it’s because I have filled it up twice, not because they haven’t had their water. What they think is an issue may not be an issue at all and having an open line of communication can clear things up.”
Before enrolling, Chris holds an initial meet and greet with the family to run through questions on just about everything that concerns parents including transitions, separation anxiety and payments.
“I go over the whole procedure with them whether that takes an hour or 20 minutes. If parents have the slightest doubt we won’t proceed, and I tell them to have a think about it. It’s important that everyone is on the same page right from the start.”
The induction is also an opportunity for Chris to gauge if it’s a right fit for her as well. She runs through her program planning letting parents know that her approach involves more outdoors and hands-on activities.
“There’s a lot of spontaneous play involved, and I let children direct their own play activities most of the time. Parents love that as children receive structured learning at school and kinder. Family day care is about letting kids just be kids.”
Once parents have secured a booking, a first day of attendance for a new child is limited to a few hours. “Transitions are hard, and I want their first day to be a positive one. It’s better for a child to experience a few good hours, rather than a long day in distress and anxiety.”
While strong communication and confidence are important Chris knows that interacting with families and children requires a personal touch.
“A parent would want to know how you interact and bond with their child. I make sure that a child is not ignored and ask what they like to do and engage them in some activity during the meet and greet.”
Even when Chris reaches out to a parent on a casual list, she refers to the child by their name to add a personal touch.
This personal touch continues when Chris is away on holiday as well. “I’m not one to mix business with pleasure, but I do indulge in small gestures like sending postcards or sharing a silly picture or video on the Facebook page. If I come across something interesting over the weekend that I think they’ll like, I’ll send them a message.”
These little gestures help develop long-standing relationships with the families. Something she attributes to her success and why children come back to her after she returns from lengthy holidays. “Every child has to matter. They are important and not just a number.”