A daycare center may close its doors for any number of reasons. These shutdowns might be caused by weather, the health of employees, or building maintenance.

Are parents expected to pay up even when they aren’t receiving services? The answer to that question isn’t as simple as it may seem.

Can a daycare charge when they are closed?

Parents may be responsible for paying childcare fees even if the daycare center is closed. The contract should stipulate whether or not payment is collected for days that the center is shut due to unforeseen circumstances, like health, weather, or facility maintenance.

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The High Price of Daycare Closures

a closed sign hanging over a business

Our eyes were opened to many things during the COVID-19 Shutdown of 2020. Many businesses and most schools were shut down for weeks or longer.

Daycare centers were among the first to close their doors. This left parents wondering whether or not they were expected to pay for services they weren’t receiving.

It’s not just a pandemic that can cause a daycare to close. Excessive ice or snow may cause a daycare to shut its doors. A flu outbreak might leave the facility short of staff.

A pipe might burst, causing emergency maintenance to keep kids away. Any issue that causes the facility to close for a day or longer is why parents ask if they will be charged or if their fees will be pro-rated for the days their children had to stay home.

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Legal Responsibilities

Most daycare providers have contracts that state what services they offer and the associated fees. Parents may sign a contract that is weekly, monthly, or even yearly. The contract should stipulate what the parent’s responsibility is in case of an unforeseen closure.

I live in Missouri. Like much of the Midwest, we have at least a few days of extreme weather each winter. Our schools shut down when the roads and sidewalks can’t be cleared in a reasonable amount of time or if heavy snowfall is expected during the day. Most of the daycare providers in my region follow school schedules. In other words, if the public schools close, the daycares will close as well.

In most instances, contracts in daycare centers state that fees will not be pro-rated if the school has to close for winter weather. The language may be even more vague so schools can close for unforeseen circumstances without losing revenue.

Theoretically, parents who sign contracts that state they must pay even when the daycare shuts down must continue to pay regardless of the circumstances. A daycare facility may waive this requirement, but they will not be required to do so by law.

Related: Are Expensive Daycares Worth it?

Ethical Choices

Aside from the legal argument, some parents may feel an ethical pull to continue paying for daycare even when it is not in use. Daycare centers operate on very thin margins. Even a few days of non-payment can be the difference between a profitable center and one that must shut its doors.

Home daycare providers earn even less than corporate daycare facilities. If a home daycare provider needs to close, they rarely have any backup funding that allows them to pay bills. Furthermore, home daycare providers often skip contracts with any language that might require payment from parents on days that they are closed.

A parent that can afford to pay when the center is shut down might find an ethical dilemma in not paying when they know that money can make a huge difference for the daycare owner.

Jane* is an in-home daycare provider who was unable to watch children during quarantine.

As a single mom, she relied on that income to support her own children. Two of the six families who use her services continued to pay for a few weeks until she was able to collect unemployment benefits.

She told me that she might not have been able to feed her family without those generous parents.

Related: How Single Moms Afford Daycare Services

Other Considerations

Some daycare centers will give parents the option to leave their contracts early if there is a forced closure. Parents might choose to go that route to save money.

During the pandemic shutdown, many parents found themselves in a tricky situation. They wanted to save money by not paying for daycare that wasn’t being used, but they didn’t want to lose their child’s spot when the centers eventually re-opened. This is a serious consideration that has had long-term consequences.

I recently spoke to Heather*, a daycare owner whose facility was shut down. Most of her families opted out of their contracts, but she was able to re-open after nine months of closure.

When she did re-open, all of the spots were immediately filled. Families who had used her daycare for years but didn’t return right away have now been left finding a new facility.

Heather said that she is telling parents who call her now that it will be two years before she has an open spot.

Parents who want to ensure their children are able to stay at their chosen facility might find that it is in their best interests to continue paying the price.

You May Not Have Much of an Option

Daycares can require parents to continue paying even when they are closed. Even when this isn’t the case, some parents continue to pay to keep their spot at the child care.

Have you ever been in this situation? Let us know about it in the comments!

*names have been changed

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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the faqs you might have when it comes to

It’s not uncommon for a child care facility to close for inclement weather, maintenance issues, public holidays, or school closures. Local governments might also order a facility to close, as was seen with the covid 19 pandemic.

Depending on your contract, you may or may not have to pay the tuition fees. If you don’t pay, you will probably lose your spot, which may be problematic if there’s a long wait for child care services in your area.

Most likely, yes. To know for sure, double-check the contract you signed when you enrolled your child. Something to keep in mind is that if you choose not to pay when you should have, you risk having your spot taken by someone else.

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