Early Education and Support Division
Subject: Excused Absences in the Best Interest of the Child
Date: August 2003
Expires: Until Rescinded
Authority: California Education Code, Sections 8208 and 8261
Attention: Executive Officers and Program Directors of All Child Care and Development Division Programs Except Resource and Referral Agencies
The purpose of this bulletin is to restate the statute and regulations regarding the use of excused absences that rely on "the best interest of the child." Through this Management Bulletin, the Early Education and Support Division (EESD) reiterates the law and regulations regarding the use of "best interest" days in order to assist contractors to avoid future audit exceptions.
Education Code Section (§) 8208(e) defines "attendance" for the purposes of child care and development services in the following manner:
"Attendance" means the number of children present at a child care and development facility. "Attendance," for the purposes of reimbursement, includes excused absences by children because of illness, quarantine, illness or quarantine of the parent, family emergency, or to spend time with a parent or other relative as required by a court of law or that is clearly in the best interest of the child.
California Code of Regulations, Title 5, Education, (5 CCR), §18066(c) requires contractors to develop written excused absence policies, as follows:
Contractors shall adopt reasonable policies delineating circumstances that would constitute an excused absence for "family emergency" and "in the best interest of the child."
This regulation requires contractors to develop written policies describing the circumstances that constitute a family emergency and the time with a parent or relative that is in the best interest of the child. These agency policies typically include examples of time for a child to be with a parent or relative that is in the "best interest of the child," e.g., vacation or court-ordered visitation.
Section 18066(f) of 5 CCR places reasonable limitations on the number of days of excused absence that can be claimed by a contractor in the best interest of the child:
Except for children who are recipients of protective services or at risk of abuse or neglect, excused absences "in the best interest of the child" shall be limited to ten (10) days during the contract period.
The EESD is aware that over the years a variety of interpretations have been offered regarding the use of excused absences "in the best interest of the child," some including their use for staff development days. Some contractors may have relied on those interpretations in adopting written policies to accommodate staff development days.
To aid Child Development contractors, the Department's annual document, Child Development Attendance and Fiscal Reporting and Reimbursement Procedures, provides specific information on the use of the two percent flex factor to accommodate non-operating staff development days. (See attached reference sheet.) The entire document can be found on the Child Development Fiscal Information Web page.
Statutory and Regulatory Requirements
All child care and development contractors, whether direct service providers or alternative payment providers, are subject to the same definition of attendance and excused absences. In discussing "attendance" and "excused absences," the reference is to days that a provider is open to admit and provide services to children. Days in which a provider is not available to serve children cannot be claimed as an attendance or excused absence day. Excused absences may only be claimed for reimbursement on a day in which reimbursement is also claimed for children in attendance. Using the "best interest of the child" for a day in which the facility does not provide care for children, for whatever worthwhile purpose, cannot legally be considered a day of operation for which all of the children enrolled for that day have an excused absence.
A "best interest" day is one type of excused absence. The term “best interest days” is derived from the last clause in Education Code § 8208(e) that allows excused absences for children “to spend time with a parent or other relative … that is clearly in the best interest of the child.” This provision recognizes that a child spending time with their immediate or extended family is a legitimate reason for absence. Therefore, contractors are permitted to claim reimbursement for a child who is absent to spend "best interest" time with his or her family, in addition to the reimbursement claimed for children present at the facility on that day. A contractor who uses time spent "with a parent or other relative … that is clearly in the best interest of the child" for a staff development day risks being out of compliance with the cited Education Code and 5 CCR sections. Unless the child meets one of the exceptions cited in 5 CCR § 18066(f), claims for excused absences "in the best interests of the child" are limited to ten days per child per year.
Contractors may not use excused absences for staff development or any other purpose for days on which the facility is not open to serve children. Claims of reimbursement for excused absences "in the best interest of the child" for days on which the facility is not open to admit and provide services to children could result in an audit exception and a reduction in the amount of funds earned by the contractor.
Questions regarding the information in this Management Bulletin should be addressed to the assigned Early Education and Support Division Field Services Consultant.
This Management Bulletin is mandatory only to the extent that it cites a specific statutory and/or regulatory requirement. Any portion of this Management Bulletin that is not supported by a specific statutory and/or regulatory requirement is not prescriptive pursuant to Education Code 33308.5.