Conflict of Interest in Childcare

A conflict of interest in childcare occurs when a person or the childcare centre itself has an involvement with competing interests. These interests may or may not be of a financial nature. A conflict of interest is likely to arise at some point and is in itself not a bad thing, provided that it is recognised, disclosed and mitigated to ensure that the person and organisation are kept at arm’s length from any decisions or transactions that could be construed to be affected by the conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest examples in childcare could include:

  • An employee is a relative or close friend of the childcare centre manager – who has control over salary, and job responsibilities.
  • The centre manager engages their brother-in-law to provide cleaning services after hours.
  • A staff member is receiving free products from an educational product supplier and subsequently recommends the purchase of the supplier’s products without researching o comparable products from other suppliers.

Handling Conflicts of Interest

The best way to handle conflicts of interest is to have sound reasonable policies in place to ensure that all potential conflicts are declared and managed. Regular training on these policies should be conducted and ideally employees should sign declarations that they have received and understand the training.

Invariably, there may be situations where conflicts of interest do arise and it is important to recognise these situations and act quickly to contain and mitigate the damage. Actions that may be required when employees do not declare conflicts of interest may include

  • Issuing the employee a formal warning
  • Requesting that the employee remove themselves from their involvement with the conflicting interest.
  • Permitting some restricted involvement (with oversight) in the conflicted project
  • Removal of the employee from the conflicted task
  • Termination of the employee’s employment.
  • Consideration of legal action in relation to the conflict of interest

While it is imperative to have a framework in place or dealing with conflict of interest in childcare, how it is dealt with will largely depend upon your understanding of conflict in general and how you choose to deal with it.

Examples of Conflict

Like it or not, conflict is part of being human and not all conflict is bad. Sometimes differences of opinion need to be aired, and shared for meaningful change to occur. Other examples of conflict need to be addressed. Some examples of conflict include

  • Personality clashes
  • Differences in background
  • Different leadership styles
  • Interdependence clashes – where one party is reliant upon the performance of another.

Various sources of conflict

Conflict never comes out of nowhere. There is always an identifiable source for it. Common sources include:

  • Clarity – or more to the point the lack of clear guidelines can cause people to encroach on each other’s boundaries, potentially causing confusion and hostility. Clear concise job descriptions, combined with distinct lines of reporting will help to prevent these situations occurring.
  • Insufficient resources – one way to reduce conflict in this space is to involve staff in the allocation of resources (ensuring that you give them defined parameters to work in)
  • Conflicts of interest sometimes emerge as individuals lose sight of the organisation’s goals as they pursue individual advancement. This can cause much unnecessary conflict and sometimes hostility.
  • Power struggles -The need to control is another human condition that can create conflict. Who should know? Who should do what? It’s important to understand that power struggles are real.

Tips on resolving conflict in the workplace.

There are entire courses devoted to conflict resolution and how you choose to resolve conflict will be largely dependent upon your suite of soft skills. Some useful strategies and techniques to use include.

  • Keep focused on maintaining the working relationship. Opening dialogue does not necessarily mean that there has to be a winner or a loser. Show respect for others opinions while expressing your feelings. Be direct and honest about how you feel. If you feel your blood pressure rising, excuse yourself and relax be start to lose control take a time out before returning to the discussion. Make sure that you are specific about what concerns you.
  • Focus on the present – The past is the past – what can be done now for everyone to move forward?
  • Choose your battles wisely– these discussions can be emotionally draining. Consideration should be given to whether the particular issue is really worth your energy.
  • Focus on one issue – Introducing other issues will only make an already difficult situation more difficult.
  • Try not to accuse- instead speak about how someone’s actions made you feel.
  • Be prepared to forgive otherwise there is no point in having the conversation.
  • Be prepared to agree to disagree if the discussion is going nowhere.
  • Maintain two-way communication.

Most importantly though, active listening may be the key to resolving conflict successfully.

Ensure you are listening

Actively listening is a skill in itself. Most people don’t listen – they hear but don’t listen. You can become a more effective listener by:

  • Paying close attention to the reasons that the other person gives for being upset
  • Ensuring that you understand the other person’s position.
  • Taking the time to repeat the other person’s words so that you understand them correctly.
  • Allow the person sufficient time to think before answering you.
  • Display empathy and patience b respectfully waiting for the other person to finish what they are saying before you respond

You can encourage the other person to share their issues with confidence by using phrases such as:

  • “Help me to understand what has upset you”
  • “Can you tell me what you would like to happen from here on in?”

Never assume – ask questions to get more information and to clarify issues:

  • “Can you elaborate on that a bit more please?””
  • “Is that what happens usually?”

Show empathy by reflecting feelings:

  • “I can imagine that that would have been very uncomfortable for you”

Show that you appreciate the other person’s concerns:

  • “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about this”
  • “I am happy that we are attempting to resolve this”

Confidently resolving conflicts positively is an essential skill required to build strong working relationships and to approach conflict of interest situations.