Spring Cleaning

Spring Cleaning

Are you getting ready for longer, sunnier days, spring break and getting one month closer to the end of the school year? So are we! Spring is the perfect season to close out winter and do some spring cleaning. Here are our tips for spring cleaning at a childcare center:

1. Floors
Sanitize floors to remove muck and germs that built up over winter.  Steam cleaning hard surfaces like linoleum or hardwood and using a carpet cleaner to clean carpets is your best bet.  Search for professional cleaners in your area.  Or, if you’re on a budget, most home improvement stores offer affordable rental options.  Plan on about an hour per room and 24 hours to fully dry.  A great way to clean floors on a budget is to rent cleaners, come in on a Saturday morning (or another day you don’t have kids in school), clean and be done by lunch time, and then come back on Monday to a facility that feels like new!  We’ve heard it turns into a team event too – just don’t forget to bring the donuts!

 

2. Organize
Your center is probably no stranger to a mess – crayons, markers, books, toys get strewn around.  Here are our favorite organizing hacks:

  • Supply buckets: get small (1 gallon or less) buckets and keep crayons, markers and other small supplies separated into their own bucket. The handles make it easy for kids to carry without spilling, and clean-up time become a game: match the right supply to the right bucket.
  • Prep bins: get larger tote bins and put all supplies for a single activity into each bin. For example, if you’re doing a self-portrait, put paper, crayons and other materials into a bin with a lid.  When it’s time for the activity, take out the bin, distribute supplies and when it’s time to clean-up, everything goes back in the same bin.
  • Label maker! Need we say more?  Having a label maker for your supply buckets, prep bins and other boxes makes it easy to find what you’re looking for and easier to put things back where they belong.

 

3. Files
Spring is a good time to shred old files.  Make sure you know your state’s laws for record retention.  7 years is usually a very safe bet.  Many communities offer free shredding events to safely dispose of documents that are no longer needed.  Check out Shredit.com to see if there’s an event near you.

 

4. Upgrade Systems
Just as you sanitize your floors, organize your supplies and get rid of files you no longer need, spring is also a great time to upgrade your systems.  Do you have a mobile app for parents to manage attendance, pay bills and get updates?  Do you have an electronic registration form?  How about a way for parents to book a tour on your website?  If you don’t or your current systems are older than the documents you’re shredding, give us 30 minutes to explain how Smartcare can help organize your day-to-day operations, delight parents and increase revenue.

 

Interested in learning more?

Schedule a Demo

Watch our 1 minute intro video above

Your live demo will include how to:

  • Send billing and post payments
  • Record attendance history
  • Retain medical information
  • Note incidents, successes, and birthdays
  • Make payments at your center
  • Create real-time communication with parents
  • Use leads to nurture prospective families
Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

The Daze of Summer

The Daze of Summer

Summer can be a unique time for a childcare center. Normal routines get disrupted. Everyone seems like they are in vacation mode. And yet, you probably feel busier than ever. We think summer is a great opportunity expand your program offerings and think about improving in the next year.
Summer Activities

Summer activities can present different challenges and opportunities than the school year.

Do you run a summer camp or offer summer specific activities?  Consider offering summer programs for school-age children.  This is a great way to make use of extra space at your facility and helps parents find quality care. 

Smartcare can help in several ways:

  • If you’re already using Smartcare, use our messaging feature to message parents to promote your summer programs.  Chances are many of your parents have school-age children!
  • Better yet, if you’re using Smartcare, ask your families if they have school-age children and use tags to tag families with school-age children so that you can filter for just that group, and message them specifically.
  • Use our online enrollment feature to quickly get information about children enrolling in summer programs and eliminate data entry.
  • Use our billing feature to bill by attendance, flat fee or on-demand, based on the fees for your program.
  • Use our lesson planning functionality to build engaging activities specific to your summer program, keeping kids engaged and parents satisfied.
  • Track attendance for all of your programs, keeping children safe and giving parents peace of mind.

 

Getting Ready for Next Year

In addition to using summer as an opportunity to expand program offerings, summer is also a great time to get ready for next year. 

Use the change in pace to look back at the prior year and assess your performance.  These are just a few questions to ask yourself.  Each situation is different, but in general, this a good place to start.

  • Were you in ratio compliance for all your classes for the prior year?
  • Are you collecting over 98% of charges in less than 30 days?
  • Did you meet your budget, especially for teacher payroll?
  • Did you complete assessments on all children and discuss the outcome with parents?

 

Smartcare has tools to help you improve next year.  At a high level, Smartcare is an all-in-one platform to manage a childcare center, with functionality including:

  • Manage multiple locations from anywhere
  • Online enrollment and registration
  • Manage attendance
  • Automate billing, payment collection and account integration
  • Class, student and teacher scheduling
  • Employee hours worked and paid time off
  • Curriculum, lesson plans, assessments and activity tracking
  • Custom reporting
  • And much more!

Schedule a Demo

Watch our 1 minute intro video above

Your live demo will include how to:

  • Send billing and post payments
  • Record attendance history
  • Retain medical information
  • Note incidents, successes, and birthdays
  • Make payments at your center
  • Create real-time communication with parents
  • Use leads to nurture prospective families
Meet all your center’s needs with our cohesive child care and preschool software solutions

Manage Teachers Easier

Manage Teachers Easier

We know managing teachers at your childcare center can be a struggle. We also know that you care deeply about making sure the children at your school get great care and education, and that you want your teachers to be satisfied with their work so that they stay and grow with your center. We’re here to help, and here’s how:

Basic Info

This may not be the flashiest feature of our application, but it’s an important one.  We digitize all your teacher records, giving you one single place to access information like name, contact info, and more.

Time Sheet

Teachers will clock-in and clock-out using Smartcare’s app, and use can use this information to power your payroll, eliminating the need for teachers to manage attendance in disparate systems.  You can see clock-in and clock-out information from anywhere, and you can make add time or make edits as needed.  You get the ability to manage vacation and sick time, creating limits and resets, as well as seeing how much time has been used.  If you want supervisors to review and sign-off on timecards, we can do that too with our employee timecard report.

Payroll

When it comes time to run payroll, our Payroll List report gives you options to customize date range, when a pay period starts and ends, how overtime is calculated based on your state or your own policies, and many other grouping, sorting and filter options.

Scheduling

Our scheduling features gives you the ability to create Schedule Templates which is just a fancy way of saying you can have one or more schedules and assign those to teachers rather than create individual schedules for each teacher.  But you can always create individual schedules or make edits as needed based on changes for that teacher.  Your teacher schedules will link with your student schedules, so you can see classroom ratios in the future and adjust as needed.

Certifications and Training

We know that no two centers are the same, so we’ve given you all the flexibility you need to track certifications and training.  Using custom fields or tags, you can create dates for certifications that have a specific time period or add tags for certifications to know which staff have those certifications.  Using documents, you can upload electronic copies and keep those in your digital files so they’re accessible whenever you need them.  All custom fields are reportable, so you can run reports to see whose certifications will need to be renewed, and you can proactively plan accordingly.

Turnover

We often hear that teacher turnover is a challenge.  What we have learned by working with nearly 2,000 childcare centers is that teachers leave for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes they leave for pay, and that’s a budgeting decision that can be tough to make, although Smartcare has solutions to help increase enrollment and reduce transaction costs, increasing budgets for teacher compensation if you choose to do so.  But beyond pay, often teachers leave because of their schedules, frustrations with their day-to-day activities, and lack of professional development.  We think our only scheduling tool helps make scheduling easier and clear.  We think our teacher app helps teachers do their in-classroom documentation and parent communication (ask us more about our teacher app!).  And ultimately, we think saving time managing employees gives directors more time for staff development.

To learn more about how Smartcare can help you make managing teachers easier, schedule a demo here

Parents want better communication and more convenience

Parents want better communication and more convenience

Communication and coordination is critical. Technology can streamline communication while also engaging parents more fully in their child’s experience.
Send News Alerts Throughout the Day

Besides indicating a child’s status at your center, a mobile communication app enables you to send news alerts, messages, updates and other information through real-time notifications. It can also allow parents to monitor their child’s achievements throughout the day.

Handle Emergencies More Efficiently and Effectively

Imagine a scenario in which you have to close your center because of a snowstorm or other emergency, but some parents don’t receive the message because they already left the house before you called – or maybe they failed to check your center’s website. With the ability to send real-time notifications through a mobile app, you can ensure that parents never miss receiving vital information.

Provide Written Reports at the End of the Day

Many child care centers provide a written report of each child’s activities and progress at the end of the day. But when parents leave their children with you, this is often the first extended absence they have experienced from their child – and it is only natural that some parents might feel anxious or want to learn how things are going before pick-up time rolls around. A mobile app allows you to delight your parents throughout the day.

With a real-time communication app, you can engage with parents and satisfy their curiosity throughout the day by sending them updates, photos, and even short video clips showing key happenings and milestones. Parents appreciate getting these glimpses into their child’s day. Providing a more personal touch to their experience with your center.

Communicate Regularly Without Disrupting Staff

To make sure these real-time updates do not get in the way of actual child care, it is essential that your teachers and other child care providers have an easy way to capture special moments.

Teachers already record their observations about children’s behavior and development; if they can send parents quick updates from the same system they use to log this information, then these updates will not disrupt their daily workflow.

See how one cohesive platform can simplify your workflow!

For Parents, It’s All About Convenience, Convenience, Convenience

Real-time updates are terrific, but parents also want to be able to view a summary of their child’s progress at a glance. They want an easy way to register their child, schedule child care service, and provide medical information, permission forms, or other information as needed, without having to visit your center in person to drop off this information. And they want convenient options when it comes time to pay for child care.

Technology can simplify payments:
  1. It frees busy parents from having to think about making payments. It’s all about their convenience.
  2. It prevents you from having to chase down payments from late-paying clients.
  3. It simplifies your record-keeping.

As parents have more choices about where to send their children for child care, the quality of their experience plays a big role in the choices they make.

This includes not only the quality of the care their child receives, but also important factors such as safety, convenience, communication and engagement. These are all areas where technology can help set your services apart from your competition.

Parents Demand Enhanced Safety

Parents Demand Enhanced Safety

The most important factor in choosing a child care provider for many parents is a safe environment. One survey of parents, from the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, found that this was the number one issue for 36% of parents. Cutting edge child care centers are finding that the right technology can help put parents fears to rest by ensuring their child remains secure in their care.

One of the biggest fears on the mind of every parent is the threat of their child being abducted while the parent is away. It’s unlikely a stranger will be the culprit. A more likely scenario is the danger that a child might be taken by an adult that he or she knows. Child care centers need to be prepared for these kinds of situations by having a secure way for parents to drop off and pick up their child. Ideally, all entrances into your facility should be kept locked at all times, and access should be granted only to those who are authorized to enter. So how can you control who enters your facility?

See how we can add a greater level of security in your center.

A system that is becoming increasingly popular is one that allows secure entry to your facility through a simple QR scan. It’s much like the one airline travelers now use to board their flight. A big advantage of this type of system is that it can easily be modified to accommodate trusted friends or family members if someone’s drop-off or pick-up plans should suddenly change.

With a QR code scanner, parents can add another person who is authorized to pick up their child to the system on the fly. Then the system notifies the parents that the child has been picked up by the appropriate person. Parents appreciate knowing when their child has been signed in or out of the facility.

An app that shows the status of a child in real time can give parents this peace of mind, while also ensuring that all family members who are responsible for daily drop-offs and pick-ups are on the same page. No one can pick up a child without an appropriate and approved QR code, giving parents peace of mind.

Understanding  Data Security and Compliance for your Child Care Center

Understanding Data Security and Compliance for your Child Care Center

An interview summary from our live webinar on Thursday, June 13, 2019

Featuring special guest: Patrick Miller, Managing Partner of Archer International, experts in data security.

Patrick Miller is a cyber security expert here to discuss the importance of keeping your financial, family, and student information safe. With years of experience in protecting corporations and public organizations, Patrick’s straight forward, no-nonsense answers provide clarity about the basics needed to protect a child care center from a possible breach. We will discuss good cyber hygiene, avoiding phishing and pharming scams, and five important steps to securing your data to avoid potential liability.

 

 

What does data security mean for an Early Learning Center? Whose data? What data are we talking about?

We are talking about any of the data used by your organization. This means the business data, personnel data, health data, family data entrusted to you, and financial data—both business money and your family or payer money.

Centers need to be aware that there are laws in place for privacy protection. An example of this would be HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 which is United States federal legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

Privacy laws in the United States deal with several different legal concepts. One is the invasion of privacy, a tort based in common law allowing an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit against an individual who unlawfully intrudes into his or her private affairs, discloses his or her private information, publicizes him or her in a false light, or appropriates his or her name for personal gain.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
At Smartcare, we are sometimes asked about FERPA. (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level. Students to whom the rights have transferred are “eligible students.”

Parents or eligible students have the right to inspect and review the student’s education records maintained by the school. Schools are not required to provide copies of records unless, for reasons such as great distance, it is impossible for parents or eligible students to review the records.

At Smartcare, we are compliant with FERPA. The key provisions of FERPA require the educational institution to receive consent from the parent prior to disclosing a student’s education records. Smartcare does not disclose any records. There is the expectation that a school has internal controls to ensure that information is not disclosed by school employees.

Why is data security important?

For obvious reasons, if someone can bring a lawsuit against a child care center, or if a federal or state law is violated, it spells trouble for the business. It can mean having to hire lawyers for defense, paying fines sometimes up to $100,000, and in some cases prison time.

In addition to securing your business information, keeping a child’s personal information secure is paramount because with access to certain information, hackers and cyber thieves can steal the identity of the child, take out credit in the child’s name, and create long-term credit issues for the child.

A business can suffer and may never recover from the negative results. So, it is important to be aware of the laws and to take preventive action to avoid problems.

Who is responsible for data security at a child care center?

In a word, everyone. The owner and board of directors, the executive director, administrators, business manager, receptionist, teachers, custodians–everyone is responsible. Leadership in child care centers need to be aware of what we call “cyber-hygiene” and make sure that your business is clean and safe from potential attacks.

It means taking time to train your staff of potential risks. For example, a receptionist should never leave family payer personal checks out on a desktop in plain view. That check contains personal identifiable information also known as PII. Physical health records and files need to be securely locked down. Computer and tablet screens should time out and go dark when an administrator steps away and be password protected to access.

At the very least, child care centers need to have a data security plan in writing. Technology within that plan should address encryption, firewall standards, the regular update of anti-virus software, and the use of strong passwords. Generally, it’s important to have longer passwords because it is the length that makes it harder to crack. So, pick a phrase or sentence with more that 15 characters that is easy to remember and use it.

Everyone that has potential access to information, needs to be aware of phishing and pharming scams.

Phishing: Phishing is the attempt to acquire sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details (and sometimes, indirectly, money), often for malicious reasons, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity.

Pharming: Pharming is a scamming practice in which malicious code is installed on a personal computer or server, misdirecting users to fraudulent Web sites without their knowledge or consent.
Pharming is a cyber-attack intended to redirect a website’s traffic to another, fake site. Pharming can be conducted either by changing the hosts file on a victim’s computer or by exploitation of a vulnerability in DNS server software. DNS servers are computers responsible for resolving Internet names into their real IP addresses. Compromised DNS servers are sometimes referred to as “poisoned”. Spyware removal programs can usually correct the corruption, but it can recur.

If I have a webmaster and a cyber-security insurance policy, won’t I be protected if a cyber-attack hits me?

Many small centers probably don’t have or can’t afford a full-time computer system manager. Some centers may have just set up a website and their software may be running on old personal computers. Even if you have a webmaster, or you have hired one, as the organization’s leader, you need to be aware that the ultimate responsibility is going to fall on the shoulders of the person in charge.

As for cyber-insurance, it generally offers some protection, but it might not pay out depending upon the policy type and claim. Your claim may be denied. Most policies have clauses that deny payment for global ransomware acts. You need to do your due diligence and be aware of what your cyber-insurance covers.

What technology do I need to have in place?

To be protected, it’s important to think of your business as a place full of electronic devices that are becoming more and more automated and complex and reliant upon wi-fi. You have business devices and software, and non-business and worker devices. Software and apps are running throughout your organization. Think about Alexa taking voice commands to direct music, televisions, bots and coffeepots.

You have two choices: One is to remain hosted locally—meaning managing tech security yourself or with a hired IT person. The other choice is to outsource to the cloud.

If you remain local, at the very least you will need four things:

  • A firewall and someone to manage the firewall. With an average IT staff member earning $80,000 per year, this gets expensive quickly.
  • You need to be sure your anti-virus protection is up-to-date. These are anti-virus security software products that are readily available at Best Buy or downloadable online such as McAfee, Norton, or Symantec.
  • Thirdly, you will need to be sure you are running the latest version of Windows or whatever operating system (OS) you are using. Don’t ignore updates. Go into your settings and switch to auto update so you are always running the latest versions.
  • You will need to remember to constantly back up your systems. In case of a breach or attack, if you have back up, it will be easier to restore your data.

If you choose to host in the cloud, you will need to find a reliable vendor. The advantages of cloud security are:

  • Cloud providers are able to manage security better because it is all they do.
  • With multiple clients, they know their business reputation relies upon providing good service.
  • Cloud providers are constantly updating security measures to stay ahead of hackers—or at least they are better able to combat the latest hacks and cyber mining activities.

I recommend you first separate your business data and move it to cloud based applications that are more secure than keeping data in your own center. Hire the best data security vendor you can afford. Most likely it will be less expensive than hiring an IT staff member. Use the BBB Better Business Bureau or get word of mouth recommendations from peers or associations to select a vendor. Interview vendors by going online and searching for “What Questions Should I Ask My Data Security Vendor?” A little research and meeting with potential vendors will payoff over time.

Going digital and paperless is actually more secure than people initially think. Dumpster divers who seek personal information are not uncommon. At the very least, be sure you are shredding all paper documents. Going digital can help your business be more efficient in addition to being more secure. You have easy access to bank and account balances and reports that can be backed up and have less of a chance to be hacked. In 10-15 years, we will see more movement to a paperless society where all documents will be stored electronically.

You need to take responsibility for managing your own system. You may need to hire a consultant to help you, but you really need to keep business data separate. Within your school, be sure to have two WiFi networks, one for guests and one for business. Let all the toys, tablets, Bluetooth, and staff devices run off the guest WiFi, and give it a relatively easy password like your center phone number or address. Then password protect your business WiFi with a strong password that is only given to authorized and trusted administrators.

What are the elements needed for top grade data security?

Security is challenging. Don’t expect to have a full data security plan implemented overnight. Take some time to research and adopt in stages. Here are the top tips you should take away from this webinar.

  • Change your mind set about data. Data is money. You are liable for losing or mishandling data.
  • Create a protection plan for your cybersecurity. Outsource business data to offset risk and liability. It is critical for your business continuance to protect data.
  • Put your business data on cloud-based apps and don’t rely on your own servers. This is especially true for PCI-DSS compliance when accepting credit or debit cards. Leave this to professionals who focus on processing funds digitally.
  • Your network should be segmented to keep business data separate from other software and apps running in your building(s).
  • Outsource and get cyber insurance and understand your policy. Your security vendor will be able to have your business back up and running in hours if there is a breach. Without a vendor, it could take days—if ever—to restore lost information when trying to respond to a cyber incident.
  • Begin training and non-stop messaging about data security to everyone in your organization including kids who are using tablets and computers.

This concludes our interview. Smartcare University thanks Patrick Miller, and his company Archer International for his time in presenting this information on data security and compliance for child care centers.

You can learn more about Patrick at: https://www.patrickcmiller.com/about-me
Archer International Security Advisers:

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