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Hiring a Nanny: A Road Map for Parents

submitted by LifeWork Strategies, Inc.

"But she came with such a great reference from a good friend of mine!"

"Everything was going well until I asked her to do some stimulating activities with the baby and she said, "I don't see the point, babies can't learn anything anyway."

"Our nanny didn't show up one day, leaving us stranded without child care. She mailed us a long note detailing all of the things she was upset about. We had no clue that she was harboring so much resentment."

Sound familiar? Your neighbors and friends have probably told you dozens of stories about how they discovered, the hard way, what NOT to do when hiring a nanny. Yet, you are still leaning towards nanny care for your child because of the one to one care you've heard is best for baby's development. What's a parent to do? Where should a parent begin to negotiate the maze of information and anxiety surrounding nanny care? Don't despair, use this as your road map guiding you on the journey to hiring and keeping a well-qualified, trustworthy nanny.

Like any expedition, whether it be a placid drive to the beach or a heart-pounding trek up Mt. Everest, you'll have a much smoother trip if you are prepared. It's much the same with hiring a nanny.

Realistic Expectations

One of the biggest mistakes parents make is not being realistic about the time and effort it takes to hire a good nanny. It's a shock to many parents to find that anyone, regardless of their qualifications or training, can label themselves a nanny. Unlike family child care and child care centers, which are licensed, regulated forms of care, there is no regulating agency that licenses or designates requirements for nannies. Thus, when you search for a nanny, you become an employment agency, establishing the requirements for the job, screening, interviewing, and supervising the employee. In addition, unless you hire an agency to do the nanny taxes for you, you must also, at times, be an accountant. Remember that all the hard work will be worth it when you find just the right person to care for your children.

Be realistic when it comes to your time frame. Studies indicate that the longer a parent takes to research, screen, and interview, the happier they are with their child care choice. I suggest that you allow four weeks to find a nanny if you work with an agency, eight weeks if you search on your own. The luxury of time will allow you to properly screen and choose the best match for your family. Remember that decisions made in haste often result in costly and frustrating U-turns--it's better to take the time to hire the right person from the start. If you are pressed to find a nanny quickly, see if you can find a temporary child care arrangement, through a relative or temporary nanny agency, while you continue your search for a permanent nanny.

Agency or Self-search?

You're armed with realistic expectations and you realize that you have what it takes to be a nanny employer. Now what? The next decision you need to make is whether to find a nanny through a nanny agency or to search on your own. Nanny agency placement fees--anywhere from $1500 to $5000--can be prohibitive for many parents. However, working through an agency can save you time and legwork, which for many busy professionals is worth the money. If an agency is a possibility for you, call several of them and speak with the directors. A good nanny agency director should return your phone calls promptly; counsel you on exactly what to expect; have a good record with the Better Business Bureau (or consumer affairs office in your area); and provide you with three outstanding parent references. Read the small print before signing a contract with an agency.

If working with an agency is not for you, get ready to embark on a self-search. Organization will be key--get a folder and mark it "Nanny Search" for all the information and notes you will collect during the search. You can advertise the position by subscribing to an internet service such as 4nannies.com; through placing ads in local newspapers; at the community center, gym, church, synagogue; or through word of mouth. That customer in the seat next to you at the hair salon may surprise you with a great referral! After placing a newspaper ad, put a legal size notebook and pen by the phone, and let your answering machine work as a screening device for you. [Note: the Internet recuriting route will cut out a lot of telephoning, as most initial contact is via e-mail.] Alternately, many families publish their cell phone number instead of the home phone to protect their family's privacy. Record a message that briefly outlines the position and asks callers to leave their name, phone number, the number of years they have worked with children, and any other information most important to you. Do not call anyone back who doesn't meet your bottom-line requirements or who does not have experience with children.

When you call candidates back, have a set of about five questions to ask them to further screen them. Set up face-to-face interviews only with those who answer these questions to your satisfaction.

The Two Most Important Things to Consider

From my years of counseling parents on how to find a nanny, I have found that the two most important qualities in good nannies are emotional maturity and knowledge of child development. Nannies who understand why children behave as they do are more likely to respond to children appropriately. A nanny who can control her own reactions and who can soothe a child's volatile emotions is less likely to become overwhelmed and burned out. Ask nanny candidates how they would handle scenarios such as a fussy baby or a temper tantrum. Ask their references how they managed stress. Make sure that your nanny is truly interested in child development and is willing to continue her professional development. Make professional development a requirement of the position by including in the work agreement that you expect your nanny to take two trainings a year and read one child development book a month, paid for by you the employer.

You've Found the Perfect Candidate! Now What?

Let's say you really connect with a nanny candidate at the face-to-face interview. I suggest you maintain objectivity and avoid hiring her on the spot. Ask her for her references and have her sign a release authorizing you to conduct a background check. Tell her you enjoyed meeting her, and that you will get back to her. Then check her references and work history, and apply to have a criminal background check done. If you think having a criminal background check done on a candidate seems severe, be aware that it is required by the state of Maryland for family child care providers and child care center teachers to undergo background checks. [More Information]

Once you have screened your ideal nanny applicant, offer her the job with a probationary period of one to three months. You must pay her for all the hours she has worked, of course, but the probationary period allows you and the nanny to have an "out" if the match is not a good one after all. You will want to have a work agreement that you and your nanny sign that spells out the exact job responsibilities, salary, benefits, and house rules for the nanny and children. The work agreement should include the probationary period, termination agreement, and dates when performance evaluations will take place. Be sure to include a date when the agreement will be reviewed by both parties. At that time the agreement can be renegotiated. There are many different sample work agreements on the Internet.

Becoming an Employer

Now that you have completed the cumbersome task of hiring a nanny, pat yourself on the back--you can relax, knowing you have done your homework. But keep your eyes on the road; you'll find that there will need to be minor tune-ups and adjustments that go with the territory of being a nanny employer. After all, caring for children is a dynamic rather than static enterprise that requires continuous teamwork between you and your nanny.

Successful nanny employers agree that the more you respect and appreciate your nanny, the easier it is to navigate through any conflicts that may arise. Following the golden rule will help you keep the nanny you worked so hard to find. Be willing to sit down and talk over anything that's a concern to your nanny, whether it be your child's behavior, or something in the work agreement that needs revision. Your relationship with your nanny and its subsequent impact on your child's care is an area of your life where you cannot cut corners.

Honor your agreement to give your nanny an annual or semi-annual performance evaluation. Give her paid holidays, sick leave, vacation time, and, if you can afford it, a health insurance package. Make sure your nanny receives bonuses and cost of living raises, just as you do at your job. Keep your payroll tax reporting up to date and deliver W-2s on time. Make sure you carry appropriate Worker's Compensation Insurance, if required. Lastly, never discuss areas of your nanny's performance that you are unhappy with in front of the children.

Finding a nanny you can trust takes time, patience, and fortitude, but if you take a systematic, realistic approach you'll stay on a steady course. And you will arrive at your destination!

Helen Clark, M.A.Ed., is a child care counselor, trainer, and curriculum developer at The Nanny Training Institute (NTI) at LifeWork Strategies, Inc. in Rockville, MD. NTI offers an 8-hour nanny training that covers everything in-home child care professionals must know to give the best care possible. Call NTI at 301-309-1466 ext. 102. Parents who need indivdual assistance with finding a nanny, can call LifeWork Strategies at 301-309-1510, or visit our website.