What do you do when you first meet a family that is looking for care? Know who you are and what you value in your program. When you are clear about who you are and what you offer, families can and will self-select out if their values strongly differ from yours. It can be difficult to do tours and not end up with families enrolled, but it will save a lot of stress down the line in the form of fewer unmet expectations and less conflict.

Start by showing off your worth and your values. Your QRIS rating and an explanation of what you had to do to accomplish it will show families that you are dedicated to the profession. Show families how safe your environment is and what children do there throughout the day–or what they will do, if you don’t have children enrolled yet!. Talk about your schedule, show photos if you have them of children engaged day to day, and talk about anything you provide– snacks and meals, special activities, field trips, newsletters or an update app, or anything else. Share your mission and vision with them, so they understand how you see your role in the care and education of their children. Have a handout or follow-up email to leave them with that has some information about your program they might want to review later, such as hours of operation and calendar of closures, meals provided, your mission/vision statement, philosophy, anything else that will make your program stand out, along with enrollment information including deposit and materials fees, tuition amount and frequency, and any required application paperwork. Some providers also include a small “about your provider” section, where they outline their qualifications and write a very short autobiography.

Now how can you assess whether a family would be a good fit for your program? Keep in mind that you should have and follow a nondiscrimination policy; consult with your licensor and/or child care resource and referral agency or see your CACFP Civil Rights Training for more information. Also keep in mind ADA requirements for enrolling children with disabilities. More information on that can be found here: Know the Law about the Americans With Disabilities Act — Child Care Law Center.

Now, provided you are not turning a family away because of their demographic or perceived abilities, what are you looking for? What creates “goodness of fit” between provider and family? One phenomenon to be aware of is “ingroup bias,” where people are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to people who they believe are more like them, whether that is cultural background, religious beliefs, or even something as minor as sports team affiliation. When you need to choose one family to offer care to, consider whether ingroup bias may be impacting who you are and aren’t offering spaces to.

Ask families about themselves.  Why are they looking for care now– are they leaving another program?  What do they need and want from a child care program? Have they had experiences previously of their needs being met or not met at another program? Be honest with them and yourself about whether your program is designed to meet their needs.

Being able to turn down families if you see that this would not be a good fit is difficult, but necessary. This is one reason to interview families even when you don’t have an immediate opening– it can be much easier to end interviews with “I’ll be in touch if there’s a space for you” rather than determining on the spot if you think the family would or would not be a good fit.

One of the best ways to find families that will be a good fit for your program is word of mouth. When a current family recommends another, you start off with a good impression on the new family and is a good indication that your values are likely to align as well. You can let families know in your newsletter or other updates if you know you’ll have spaces coming up or ask current families to “share” social media posts or post reviews on Google or Facebook.

Taking the time to plan out your interviews and tours will pay off in the form of long-term clients and positive relationships with families. This is a process that will take some refining, so don’t be afraid to experiment and play with your approach until you find something you’re comfortable with.