YOU'VE HEARD THE SAYING, TIMING IS EVERYTHING. THAT IS certainly true at the end of the school day. When children are not picked up at the time agreed upon, the delay causes difficulty for everyone involved-for the child who worries about where the parent is; for the parent who is anxious about being late; and for the staff, who have staffing ratios and schedules to maintain.

The staff person who is present when a child is picked up late is usually the one to initiate a conversation with the parent or family member. It is left to that staff member to find out why the parent is late and if there is a problem with the anticipated pick-up time. This conversation can be especially difficult for both the teaching staff and the parent at the end of a long day.

Parents usually initiate this conversation with words of apology and explanation, and this is usually an isolated incident. The conversation becomes more difficult when children are consistently picked up later than anticipated. Parents who arrive late not only affect the program schedule, but also the underlying trust of their children. Even very young children anticipate the arrival of their parents at the close of the day. There is a sense of abandonment, however brief, when a parent is late.

Every program needs to have a policy regarding late pick up. The third time children are picked up late within a four-week period usually indicates that a meeting should be arranged. Topics to discuss include pick-up time policies, how to reassure a child when a parent is late, and how to find a solution that can work for everyone.

Parents of a child who are consistently late may not communicate well with each other about pick-up time. To ensure that the needs of everyone involved are considered, all family members who participate in pick up should be present at the meeting.

Sometimes the problem for parents involves difficulty leaving work on time. They may be reluctant to discuss this with teaching staff, fearing that they will be asked to leave the school. Caught between the needs of their job and their children, they may feel helpless and defensive. Teaching staff can work with them to arrange a solution that fits both their needs.