The Ethical Dilemma: I’m a Child Care Director, and I Need to Fire Someone. Help!

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You’re Fired: You are the director of a child care center. The church in which your program is housed has decided to sponsor adult day care for the elderly. To make room, you will have to close a classroom, reduce enrollment, and lay off staff. You have two choices. You can lay off “Grandma,” who is loved by parents and has been with the center for many years. Grandma is only minimally competent by today’s standards and does not have training or credentials. Your other choice is to lay off the teacher hired most recently. She is young, well-trained, and does a good job in the classroom. Do you lay off a more competent and qualified teacher or the one who is only marginally competent? My response was to keep Grandma on, and fire the younger teacher, who could find another job.

Was this the right response?

—Last In, First Out

Dear Last,

You seem to have answered your own question, but I will chime in with my reasoning—which does not agree with yours.

As much as I would regret having to lay off dear Grandma, I would never opt to leave young children with a “marginally competent” person when I have a “competent and qualified” teacher who has demonstrated she does a good job. As director, I understand that my responsibility is first and foremost to the well-being of my charges—the children—not the job security of one employee, no matter how long she has worked there or how beloved she may be. Besides, Grandma might indeed be able to land another job in another child care center, or as a babysitter (perhaps for the families who get squeezed out of a downsized program).

But as director I would first challenge the church about this plan. Is it really necessary or wise to subtract from the child care in order to add adult day care? Is there any way to expand the existing space or find additional space to accommodate both programs and retain both teachers? Would it be possible to keep Grandma on to assist with the children and the seniors? Would it be feasible to increase tuition, do a fundraiser, or secure grants or other funding to avoid cuts to the child care?

You say the program is “housed” in the church, so I wonder if the church has absolute control over it. Is there no higher authority (not a god, but a board of directors, or the parents) the director could appeal to? The director needs to make the case that reducing the child care enrollment would diminish the quality of the program (two teachers together can offer exponentially greater care, more activities, and enhanced safety than one). Downsizing would also wreak havoc on the displaced families who rely on the program so they can work and otherwise function. There is tremendous unmet need for quality child care, as well as senior programs. Reducing one to increase the other is not the way to go.

OK, letter writer, spill the beans: Are you the director or a good buddy of Grandma’s—or both?