With child care staffing comprising as much as 70-80% of a program’s budget, controlling staffing costs is critical. We’ve been doing a lot of budget work lately with multiple scenarios and it’s amazing how much a slight pay difference or 15 minutes here or there can make. It can be the difference between continuing a program and closing the doors.
Since 15 minute-blocks can make a big difference, we have to make sure that we are not overstaffing our program. At the same time, though, we have to be absolutely sure that we are not understaffing either. Understaffing can decimate a program as quickly as a negative budget will. Understaffing, in addition to violating licensing regulations, leaves children at risk, reduces the quality of the program, and stresses out the staff.
Our balancing act is making sure that we have correct staffing at all times, not overstaffed, but not understaffed. This sounds easy….to someone who has never done it. But children, even those with regular schedules, don’t always arrive and depart at the same time. Then there are staff schedules to work around; some have family responsibilities that limit the hours they can work, some are taking classes, etc. These schedules can change with the season, the semester, or simply changes in their own lives. Dealing with all of these contingencies can present quite a challenge.
To be able to design a schedule that maximizes the staffing budget, a program manager must know how many children are in attendance at any given time, on any given day, in any given room, and how many staff members are working with them. Our tool for capturing this information is an “Hourly Ratio Tracking Sheet” (although it actually tracks every half hour). Every 30 minutes, a staff member in each classroom notes how many children are in attendance and how many staff are on duty in the room. For ease of reference, the sheet notes the ratio for the classroom. It also highlights those times that we may need to be overstaffed; lunch, snack time, diaper change time, etc. Our program manager then looks over these forms and highlights areas in which we are overstaffed. (Hopefully there is never an area in which we are understaffed.) If patterns of overstaffing are found (every Wednesday from 7:00 to 8:00, for example), the staff schedule is modified to use our staff and money more effectively.
If you don’t already have a ratio tracking sheet, check ours out here.