How Do You Say “No” to a Prospective Client?

The moment of truth has come. You are ready to tell a parent who wants to enroll in your family child care business you don't want her child in your program.

What do you tell her? I do recommend...

I think the best answer is, “I don’t think this is the best place for your child at this time.”

Or, “I don’t think my program is a good fit for your child.”

Or, “I don’t think my program can meet the needs of your child.”

If the prospective client asks for specific reasons, don’t elaborate. If you feel that you must say more, you can add, “It’s not personal. I try to make decisions based on what’s best for each child, and I have a feeling that your child would be better off in another child care program.” The parent can’t argue with your intuition.

If you give the parent a reason, the parent may feel insulted. She may even think you are discriminating against her if you say the wrong thing.

Don’t say anything that is critical of the child or her parent. Keep it simple. You are not the best caregiver for every child in the world. Don’t accept a child if you feel that you can’t provide the best possible care. Don’t be afraid to say “no” even if you have no more than a feeling that it’s not a good match.  Go with your gut.

Note: You can say “no” to a parent for any reason or no reason. The exception is that you can’t say “no” based on a person’s race, sex, religion, ethnic background, national origin, or disability. So, you can turn down a family because of where they work, but not because they practice the Muslim religion.

I do not recommend...

Unfortunately, many child care providers have trouble following my advice. Some will tell a parent, “I’m waiting to hear from another family who I interviewed earlier this week. If she calls me back I won’t have a space for your child.”

There is a problem with this response. What happens if a week later this parent sees an ad you posted on Craigslist or on your Facebook page? The parent is likely to conclude that you weren’t honest with her and feel insulted. She may make a complaint to your licensor. So, I don’t recommend doing this.

Some providers would enroll the child for a trial period to see if it will work out. I don’t recommend doing this if you have an initial strong feeling that it won’t work. It will make it even harder to say “no” at the end of the trial period.

How have you handled saying “no” to a parent?

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Tom Copeland –


Tom Copeland

I've been the nation's leading trainer, author, and advocate on the business of family child care since 1981. I'm a licensed attorney and have presented hundreds of business workshops for family child care providers across the country. I answer thousands of calls and emails each year to help providers, tax professionals and trainers understand complex business and tax issues. Call me at 651-280-5991. Email me at Visit me on Facebook. From 1981 to 2009 I worked at Resources for Child Caring in Minnesota (now called Think Small), where I was director of Redleaf National Institute for 15 years. I've written nine books on the business of family child care published by Redleaf Press, a division of Resources for Child Caring. I was on the board of directors of First Children's Finance, a non-profit organization providing low interest loans and consulting and technical assistance to help family child care providers suceed as a business. They operate in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. Here are some YouTube videos of me talking about my work with this organization and the business of family child care. I graduated from Macalester College (BA) in 1972 and from William Mitchell College of Law (JD) in 1980. I live in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Diane and two cats, Duke and Ella.