2005-01-17

Money: Fines for Being Late at the Nursery

A Scottish nursery (Related Stories) is fining parents 1_GBP for every minute they are late picking up their children after closing time. In a sign of the spiralling costs of childcare, parents who are even 60 seconds late picking up their son or daughter will find themselves paying a surcharge. Parents, who already pay 30.25_GBP for a daily session at 'The City Nursery' in Edinburgh -- around 600_GBP/month for a full working week -- are furious at the hard-line attitude being taken by the private nursery in the capital's Morningside area. But few feel able to speak out publicly as places at the private nursery remain at a premium. Many believe, however, that the nursery's decision will soon be copied across the country, resulting in a rise in the costs of childcare for busy working parents. One father, who did not want to be named for fear of losing his child's coveted place, reacted angrily. He said childcare is already a huge expense and there are times when parents are late due to circumstances outwith their control.
'It's outrageous', he said.
'We don't get refunds when we drop them off late in the morning or when we go on holiday, and we'd expect some flexibility in a relationship where you are committed to paying over 600_GBP/month for your child's care. 'It doesn't penalise repeat offenders, it penalises everyone. I work in the city centre and if roads are blocked on the way to the nursery then it's outwith my control'.
The nursery, based at 'The Old City Hospital', introduced its new late-collection policy at the beginning of 2005-01 after informing parents in their Christmas newsletter. The policy will also be introduced at the 'sister' nursery, 'The Links', in Musselburgh. Regional Manager Ms.Yvonne Harkins defended the move. She said:
'I accept it can be difficult for parents to get here, with weather or traffic, but there are one or two that take advantage of this. 'A deterrent is needed and most parents have accepted our decision. Only one has spoken to us about it. Obviously, if parents are going to be late they can come to some arrangement where we add on extra time. Also, we have staff who have maybe been in here since 07:00 and they need to get home, too'.
She added that pressure on staff ratios to children made it imperative that children were picked up on time: 'We have quotas that we need to meet laid down by 'The Care Commission'. When one session ends, another begins, and between 12:00 and 14:00 we have staff requiring lunches and parents coming and going. If we are over our rota, our licence could be invalidated. If parents weren't late, then it wouldn't be necessary to introduce fines'. Ms.Vanessa Constable, the Nursery Manager at 'Bright Horizons' in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh, which charges 26.88_GBP/session, said that they also have a 'late-collection policy' but it is not enforced. She says she has a 'very open mind' about enforcing the penalties because 'it is human nature to be five to 15 minutes late'.
'I know myself that parents can get "caught up"', she said. 'Traffic cannot be helped. We have the professional mums: a teacher, another at university... and it's not always easy to arrive on time. If they call to say they are running late, we can help because although closing time is 18:00, we are usually here until 18:30'.
The charges at 'The Bright Horizon Group', which now has 65 children's nurseries throughout the UK, range from 5_GBP for the first 15 minutes to 20_GBP for the first hour.
'A few minutes here and there is normal for any nursery. Traffic and work delays do happen, and because we're generally here anyway for a time after the nursery is supposed to close, then it's not a problem for us', Ms.Constable added.
Not all nurseries have a late- collection policy and Ms.Charlie Wardell, the Manager of 'Claremont and Heriot Hill Nursery' in the city, said she couldn't believe people were being fined.
'We are just not that mean', she said. 'We don't have many parents being more than a few minutes late.
'Parents do "get stuck in traffic" or get "held up at work", but we try our best to accommodate them.
'It's too mean to suggest they should be penalised for just one minute'.
'Prime Time Nursery', in Edinburgh's Queen Street, where parents pay 45_GBP/day for their session, do not operate a late-collection fine. A spokesman for the nursery said:
'We try to be flexible and do our best to accommodate late parents, but we have not "gone down the road" of penalising parents.
'If they are late on a regular occurrence then we would speak to them first to try and sort it out'.
'Late picking up your child at nursery? The fine is �1 a minute', Sharon ward, The Scotsman, 2005-01-17

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