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How to encourage parents to attend Children's Centre services - advice needed

(14 Posts)
Lottapianos Wed 26-Sep-12 16:01:58

I work in Children's Centres. Most of our groups are free, on a drop-in basis and no booking required. There are a couple of short courses like Baby Massage which run over a few weeks and which parents have to book onto.

We have ongoing problems with parents booking places and then not turning up for the sessions. This is a problem as we have massive waiting lists and babies can only attend the course before they have started crawling, so it is time-limited. If parents fail to attend the first session, they get a phonecall reminding them about the group and asking if they will attend the following week. Some say yes but still don't show.

We started charging people a £5 booking deposit, to be returned in full if parents attended all sessions, or phoned in advance if they were unable to attend a particular week. This hasn't worked - people are still booking but not showing up.

It's really frustrating and hugely unfair on other parents who are having to wait for months because places are being taken by people who then don't show. Any suggestions for how we can manage this because we're not sure what to do next. All ideas welcome smile

titchy Wed 26-Sep-12 16:05:16

Can you run the first session on a drop-in basis? Maybe over a whole morning with places going to those who show up first. Anyone else who show up has to wait half an hour for the next introductory session?

AgentProvocateur Wed 26-Sep-12 16:15:42

It's an eternal problem. I've organized similar. I ended up calling people on the morning to check that they'd attend, telling them that there was a waiting list. It worked reasonably well. The thing with free courses is that people don't value them. We'd pay to get in sessional tutors etc, or hire a mobile crèche and people wouldn't come because "it was raining"!

What I wanted to do was blacklist persistent offenders and ban them from future courses, but I wasn't allowed. It's such a waste of money and resources. I do sympathise.

UnexpectedItemInShaggingArea Wed 26-Sep-12 16:22:11

You need to charge more money. Sorry, but when things are given away for free people don't value them.

Also, start a text reminder service.

Babies are unpredictable things, I never booked myself into these things when DD was little as sod's law was that she would be so contrary I wouldn't get there.

Lottapianos Wed 26-Sep-12 16:22:53

'We'd pay to get in sessional tutors etc, or hire a mobile crèche and people wouldn't come because "it was raining"!'

Yes yes to this! It really is a waste and with the cuts we're being squeezed tighter and tighter, we just can't afford to be wasting places that people aren't going to use. I do think sometimes that we are far too flexible and accommodating - I know some people have genuine reasons why they can't attend but others just don't value the services at all and take the mickey.

Lottapianos Wed 26-Sep-12 16:24:12

Unexpected, we do phone reminders and text reminders. And letters. We do everything short of driving to people's houses and shoving them in the back of a van!

Sadly I agree with you that some people don't value what they get for free sad

naturalbaby Wed 26-Sep-12 16:26:45

bigger financial commitment and ownership.

Even when sessions are paid for some parents aren't bothered about attending every one.
I go on a regular basis to sessions where I feel some responsibility for it, ownership or if I have a good relationship with the instructor so feel like I'd be letting her down if I didn't go.

BettyandDon Wed 26-Sep-12 16:33:36

I don't think there is anything you can do to encourage mothers of newborns to show up. Round here even when people are paying £20 for baby yoga sessions they show up when it's co nvenient for them and not if they havn't slept or baby is being a grump. But with private sessions at least there is no financial loss for the provider.

I think the only thing you can do to encourage people to attend is to run the sessions as a drop in. Then those who are interested will show up. I don't think mums mean badly by it I just think they forget how rude they are being when their big priority is the baby. I have a good friend who cancels on me 70% of the time as her son is a very bad sleeper - I don't think anything will change her behaviour until her son is more settled.

cmt1375 Wed 26-Sep-12 16:38:23

don't allow people to book in advance and allocate the places on a first come first served basis on the morning of the first session. Run a social session for anyone who turns up but is unsucsessfull.

PrimrosePath Wed 26-Sep-12 16:50:51

Could you overbook the sessions and risk having a crowded room?

If this is a persistent problem I would question the demand for courses and just focus on drop in sessions. But turning people away on the day may not be popular.

ContinentalKat Wed 26-Sep-12 16:52:06

Good idea, cmt!

OP, is your aim for these sessions to be open, with a low threshold? If so, I think cmt's solution is best.

If you can afford to exclude people, the high(er) fees and penalties like blacklists etc. might work as well.

ButtonBoo Wed 26-Sep-12 16:56:35

I agree with most of the others but I will say that my local centre does drop in/first come first served etc and folk just turn up ridiculously early.
My Mum has DD 2 days a week and every week they try to go to one of these drop in sessions. It starts at 10:00. Lately my Mum has had to get there for 9:30 and in the last 2 weeks it's been full by 9:30. She walks there for 20 mins so sets off at 9:00 and still doesn't get in.What is she supposed to do? Camp out overnight?
There is a small crèche type room available with some toys so my Mum took DD in there to play so it wasn't a complete wasted journey and to add insult to injury 2 Mums came out of the session after half and hour and left. Grrr!
You could ask folk to sign up for say 6 week blocks and they can't put their names down for 2 blocks in a row. At least most will get a turn that way. Otherwise charge £25 deposit. But that being said some DCs are ill or having a meltdown which might mean they don't go. It'd be rotten to not give back the deposit because of that. So you might suggest if they miss 2 or more out of the 6 they don't get deposit back UNLESS they call in advance to say they can't make it. You can thengive the space to anyone who tried to drop in? And any retained deposits can pay for new toys/session leaders etc so all benefit?
Good luck....

ButtonBoo Wed 26-Sep-12 16:59:35

OP - you're not in Twickenham are you??

Lottapianos Thu 27-Sep-12 13:24:01

Thanks very much for replies everyone. I do take that point that if services are free or the deposit required is too low, some people just don't value what is on offer. Unfortunately I work in one of the most socially deprived areas of the country (not Twickenham ButtonBoo smile), and raising the deposit above £5 would exclude so many parents that it would defeat the purpose of running a universal service.

I will have a think about the idea of making the first session a drop-in one and will discuss it with colleagues.
Thanks again

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