Hiring a Nanny — Know Where to Look, What to Ask and How to Fire

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The thought of having a new babysitter watching my kids gives me heart palpitations. I’m fine leaving the kiddos, but it’s where to find a new sitter, training them, and then of course, making sure they’re responsible enough to take care of the kids–the whole thing gets me stressed out. So, imagine what a mother faces when she is hiring a nanny–entrusting someone to look after your kids on a long term basis–the thought of that really stresses me out. So, Breezy Mama turned to Candi Wingate founder of Nannies4hire.com, Babysitters4hire.com, Care4hire.com and a Nanny Agency, for advice on where to look for the best help, what to ask when finding a nanny, and if needed, how to fire a nanny.

What type of childcare options does a parent have?

Parents considering childcare for their children have many options at their access.  A list of some of the most common childcare options is as follows.

  • Nanny. A nanny is a childcare provider, typically full-time, who is employed by a family to provide supervision and a nurturing environment for the family’s children. A nanny provides these services without direct parental supervision. Nanny services are typically rendered in the family’s home, but a nanny may live in or out of a family’s home. The well-being, education and development of the child on a day-to-day basis are the primary responsibilities of the nanny. Job duties typically include child supervision, nurturing, bathing, feeding (including meal preparation), housekeeping (including the children’s laundry), homework supervision, errands, exercise, and transportation.
  • Manny. A manny is a male nanny.
  • Babysitter. A babysitter is a childcare provider, typically part-time and/or sporadic, who is employed by a family to provide supervision and a nurturing environment for the family’s children. These services are provided without direct parental supervision and may be rendered in the family’s or the babysitter’s home. Babysitters do not live in the family’s home. The responsibilities and job duties of a babysitter mirror those of a nanny.
  • Au Pair. An au pair is a foreign young person, between the ages of 18-26, who comes to the United States to live with a family and provide full-time childcare for the family’s children. The responsibilities and job duties of an au pair mirror those of a nanny. Unlike a nanny, an au pair requires a commitment of twelve months. There are many requirements for the au pair visa, which is required for an au pair coming into the US. There are also fees that run between $5,000-$7,000 that must be paid in addition to a $500 educational stipend and weekly ‘pocket money’ expense of approximately $175.00. Au pairs are limited to attending to no more than four children from the ages of three months to 12 years. Families must go through one of 11 designated au pair agencies to obtain a J-1 au pair visa. Additional information can be obtained from the US Department of State.
  • Governess. A governess is a childcare provider who is employed by a family to provide supervision and education for the family’s school-aged children. A governess provides these services, on a full- or part-time basis, in the family’s home and without direct parental supervision. A governess may live in or out of a family’s primary residence. The education and development of the child on a day-to-day basis is the primary responsibility of the governess.
  • Mother’s Helper. A mother’s helper is similar to a nanny except that a mother’s helper works under the direct supervision of the parent and is not responsible for the children on her own. Her decision-making authority is limited. A mother’s helper is often a younger woman, in her teens, who may want to be a nanny in the future. She is not expected to have the knowledge or experience of a caregiver who calls herself a nanny or a babysitter.
  • Baby Nurse. A baby nurse is not a medical professional; instead, a baby nurse is a childcare provider, typically full-time and temporary, who is employed by a family to provide expertise regarding the needs of healthy newborns. A baby nurse provides these services with and without direct parental supervision. Baby nurse services are rendered in the family’s home, and a baby nurse may live in or out of the family’s home. A baby nurse will work as a day nurse or a night nurse, but not both. If 24 hours of support is desired, two baby nurses will be hired, each working a 12 hour shift. A baby nurse educates new parents in the care of the infant. In the first few weeks of the child’s life, the baby nurse will take over the tasks of feeding, bathing, and diaper changes so the new mother can get her rest. If a mother is breastfeeding, a baby nurse supports the process and allows the mother to get rest between feedings. Newborns will need care for their healing umbilical cords and circumcision sites. The baby nurse will teach the new parents to understand the needs of the infant, including burping, swaddling, and creating a feeding and sleeping schedule for newborns. When the family’s youngest child has grown past infancy, a baby nurse’s job ends and a nanny’s job begins.
  • Childcare Sharing. Childcare sharing involves, for example, one nanny, employed full-time, who splits her time between two or more families.
  • Childcare Co-Op. A childcare co-op involves parents taking turns caregiving for each other’s children. Parents who have available time take turns watching their own children and the children of others. This is typically a fee-free arrangement. A hypothetical situation may be as follows: two households have one full-time employed parent, one part-time employed or job seeking parent, and two toddlers each. The part-time employed or job seeking parents formulate a schedule in which one watches all four children on Mondays (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), Wednesdays (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), and Friday (7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). The other part-time employed or job seeking parent watched all four children on Tuesdays (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), Thursdays (7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.), and Friday (12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.). By engaging in this fee-free arrangement, the families save the cost of a full-time nanny. However, the children may experience grief from being separated from their nanny, and when the laid-off parent secures new employment, a new, well-qualified nanny will need to be secured (the recruitment and selection process for whom can be time consuming and arduous).
  • Family/Friends. Family members and friends can function as nannies, mannies, babysitters, or other childcare providers listed above.
  • Day Care. Day care is an organizational setting, outside the family’s home, in which children from a variety of homes are being supervised, nurtured, educated, entertained, etc. in the absence of direct parental supervision. Daycare can be full-time or part-time.
  • Municipal or Organizational Activities. Municipal or organizational activities can be arranged to supervise, nurture, educate, and entertain children. Examples include community arts centers (or museums, or other “kid zones”) that gives children exposure to the arts (or history or other facet of culture), YMCA’s/YWCA’s, summer camps, dance instruction organizations, municipal sports leagues, etc.

These are the most common childcare options available in most communities.  No one option is right for everyone.  By understanding their options, parents can make a choice that is best for their family.

If a parent goes with an agency, what are things to look for with the agency?

If you’ve decided the best route for you to find quality childcare is through a nanny placement agency, make sure you find one that is a reputable resource. Getting a referral from someone you know who has used a nanny placement agency is an ideal way to find a reputable agency. Another way to investigate the reputation of a nanny placement agency is by checking whether it has any professional affiliations. You can look for professional affiliations with organizations such as the National Alliance of Professional Nanny Agencies and the International Nanny Association. You should also check if a nanny placement agency is licensed, bonded, and insured.

Should a parent expect to pay for an agency’s services? If so, what kind of charges can they expect?

A nanny placement agency will usually charge an application fee along with a placement fee that can add up to thousands of dollars.

If a family decides to use an agency, do they still get to interview the candidates in person? Is there a limit to how many people a family can interview?

In general when using an agency, the agency will screen out the best candidates that fit a family’s needs.  At that time they will send information to the family on that nanny and then the family can get in directly contact with the nanny.  A family will still have access to interview a nanny in person or over the phone; depending on their situation and if they will be relocating a nanny for their job.  There is usually no limit to the number of nannies the family will receive for review.

I’ve met foreigners who have come to the US as an au pair—what is your take on hiring caregivers through this route? If a family would like to hire an au pair, where should they look?

Which caregiver is right for your family, nanny or au pair?  The answer is: it depends.  If you want a caregiver that will be a consistent influence in the lives of your children year after year, then you will probably prefer a nanny.  If you want a caregiver who can orient your children to foreign cultures and perspectives that are different from your own, then you may prefer an au pair.  For some parents who want to avoid raising ethnocentric children, the costs and governmental hurdles associated with hiring an au pair can be daunting: many will seek instead to hire a nanny who may be foreign born and raised but currently living in the employer-family’s country.

Whether you hire a nanny or an au pair, ensure that you are hiring a caregiver that is a good match for the needs and lifestyle of your family (i.e., experienced with raising children, as active or sedate as your family seeks, comfortable with your method of instructing and disciplining your children, etc.).  When you hire a caregiver who is a good fit for your family, whether that caregiver is a nanny or an au pair, both your family and the caregiver will benefit tremendously by the relationship.

When hiring an au pair, it is best to go through an authorized au pair agency so all the requirements are legally met when bringing the foreigner into the US.

What should parents look for in a nanny or caregiver?

Here are some of the most important things for you to consider when selecting a new nanny for your children.

  1. The nanny should be able to relate easily and bond well with your children while also maintaining a clear distinction from them. Nannies must be able to play with and enjoy your children (which can often be construed by the child as peer-level interaction) while also maintaining discipline. It is easy for a nanny (and a parent) to feel more comfortable in one role or the other: to be most comfortable being friends with the children, or to be most comfortable supervising the children and redirecting their errant behaviors. Parents and nannies must have a shared understanding of how to navigate both roles successfully and strike a balance between peer-level interaction and parent-level interaction with the children.
  2. The nanny must be able to relate with your family and administer discipline to your children in a manner that is appropriate and consistent with your family’s boundaries. You and your nanny should discuss, prior to hiring, the discipline style that your family would like the nanny to use.
  3. The nanny should have years of experience, solid references from prior employer-families, a clean background (pursuant to background checks), and completed training on nanny basics (CPR, first aid, the Heimlich maneuver, basic nutrition and food preparation, and general personal and home hygiene). If you need your nanny to drive, then your nanny should have a valid driver’s license and a clean (or as close to clean as possible) driving record.
  4. The nanny should be able to develop and carry out fun, creative, and educational experiences for your child.
  5. The nanny should be capable of handling small “crises” on his/her own. You and your nanny should come to an agreement about what issues may warrant a call to you and what issues the nanny is authorized to handle on his/her own. Your nanny should be able to act comfortably within the boundaries you have provided.
  6. The nanny should be able to commit to your family for an extended period of time (unless your needs require less). Children often become attached to their nannies. When nannies leave, children often experience grief associated with that separation. Therefore, it is advantageous to hire a nanny who will be able to stay with your children for an extended amount of time.
  7. The nanny’s expectations regarding terms and conditions of employment should be close to the terms and conditions of employment that you are offering. If you are seeking a live-in nanny, a prospective nanny that seeks a live-out arrangement may not be a good fit for your family. If you wish to hire a nanny in a smoking home, a non-smoking prospective nanny may not be a good fit for your family. Pay rates for nannies should be discussed up front to ensure that the prospective nannies are willing to work for the income you offer.
  8. The nanny should not have fears or concerns about the non-negotiable aspects of the job with your family. If you have a cat, and your prospective nanny is severely allergic to cats, the prospective nanny may not be a good fit for your family. (Side note: some allergic reactions can be treated with over-the-counter or prescription medications or other accommodations that may be used by the allergic nanny.)
  9. The nanny should be a positive, loving influence in your household.

During the interview, what type of questions should the parents ask? Do parents have the right to ask for the prospective candidate’s criminal history?

When conducting an interview, make sure you don’t venture into the realm of asking illegal questions to a nanny. It’s always best to keep the questions focused on items that relate to the candidate’s role as a nanny and how she will perform her job duties. The following is a list of illegal questions you don’t want to ask a nanny during an interview.

  • Don’t ask your nanny what her maiden name is.
  • Don’t ask your nanny if she has ever been arrested. However, you can ask if she has been convicted of a crime or has felony charges pending against her.
  • Don’t ask your nanny what year she was born.
  • Don’t ask your nanny what country she has citizenship with. However, you can ask if she is a U.S. citizen.

During a nanny reference check, plan ahead with a short list of questions you want to ask previous employers so you can get a good idea of whether an applicant would make a good childcare provider for your family. Here’s a rundown of the basic questions you should cover.

  • During the reference check, ask if your nanny’s previous employer would hire her again and then find out why or why not.
  • Ask what specific things the nanny was skilled at versus areas that weren’t her strong points.
  • Find out why she no longer works for her previous employer.
  • Ask her previous employer to describe her relationship with the children.
  • Verify what dates she actually worked with her previous employer.

When you’re interviewing a nanny candidate, you should be aware that some questions are legal and some are not. It’s always important to maintain a level of professionalism as you’re interviewing candidates. The following are questions you can ask a nanny candidate.

  1. You can ask what a nanny’s full name is.
  2. You can ask if she has any criminal convictions.
  3. You can ask if she has any felony charges pending against her.
  4. You can ask if a nanny is over the age of 18.
  5. You can ask how long she has been a resident of the United States.
  6. You can ask if the nanny candidate is a U.S. citizen.

How many references from a prospective nanny should a parent call?

In regards to reference checks, it is a good idea to follow up with past employment references, childcare references and character references.  Usually families will be in contact with 2-4 references and sometimes more until they feel confident in the nanny they have chosen.  Make sure when you are calling references to use a land line so you can verify information.

Do you recommend Googling the candidate’s name to see what comes up?

Any means of finding information about the nanny you are hiring is a good idea.  So Googling is a good idea.

If a parent has hired a nanny, but it doesn’t end up working out, do you have any tips in what is the best method to let them go? And, should the parent report back to the agency that they let the nanny go?

•  I. If you have a progressive discipline policy in your nanny contract or elsewhere in your nanny’s terms and conditions of employment, you should follow your policy.
•  II. Check with an employment law specialist attorney in your state to understand the laws that govern employee discharges in your area.
•  III. If you don’t have a policy on how discipline is to be handled, your attorney will generally advise that you should proceed via the following steps.
•   A. Assemble as many facts as reasonably possible about the behaviors that your nanny exhibits that make her a poor fit for your family. What specifically does she do? On what dates has she done it? Where has she done it? Have there been witnesses? These and other questions can help you nail down the specifics of the behaviors that concern you.
•    B. Put everything in writing. Document all the answers to the questions in “A” above.
•    C. Calmly and non-judgmentally visit with your nanny about the behaviors you’ve observed as compared to the behaviors that you expect. Make sure that your nanny understands why your expectations are set the way they are. Ask your nanny if she has an explanation that makes her behaviors make sense to you. After your nanny has had an opportunity to tell her side of the story, let her know that you and your spouse need to visit about all that has been said. Ask her to give you about an hour (or however long you think you’ll need) and then come back to finish the discussion with you.
•    D. When your nanny has temporarily departed, document the conversation in “C” above and discuss with your spouse how to handle your nanny. Does she need to be re-trained on your expectations? Does she need a verbal warning? Does she need a written warning? Is this offense serious enough for termination on first offense? If this is not the first offense, is there a sufficient paper trail (i.e., documentation that you have spoken with your nanny before about her behaviors as they vary from your expectations) to support a discharge at this time? If you and your spouse conclude that letting your nanny go is the best course of action, then you need to decide how you wish to handle that discharge. If she is a live-in nanny, how will you handle her moving her personal belongings out of your house? Does your state have laws on the payment of final wages, dismissal statements, and other matters? How will you tell your kids that their nanny is no longer employed by the family? How will you handle childcare during the time between this nanny’s departure and the next nanny’s hire date? (Note: make sure you properly estimate the time it will take to recruit, interview, screen, and hire a new nanny.)
•    E. When your nanny returns, calmly and concisely tell her that you have decided to let her go. Let her know how her separation will be handled moving forward (i.e., when and how she will receive her final paycheck, etc.). Ask her if she has any questions. Give her a chance to feel heard. Then, end the meeting on a professional note. Do not at any time express anger or let your emotions get the better of you.
•    F. After your nanny has departed, visit with your kids. Tell them briefly that their nanny no longer works for your family. Let them know what to expect of their near-term future (i.e., who will be attending to them until a new nanny is hired).
•    G. Follow up on any promises you made to your nanny about her dismissal. For example, if you promised to hire a moving service to pack her personal belongings in your home and move them back to her community of origin, then you need to make such arrangements promptly.

Yes; the parent should report back to the agency, as there is usually a guarantee period.

For more great tips, subscribe to the Breezy Mama newsletter– it’s free! Even better, you’ll automatically be entered to win a Sashay Satchel from Petunia Pickle Bottom (a $119 value)! Hurry and enter your email here:

About Candi Wingate: Candi Wingate is an award winning nationally recognized child care expert. She has been a nanny, owned a nanny agency, started three online nanny databases, authored “100 Tips for Nannies & Families” and “The Nanny Factor: A Parent’s Guide to Finding the Right Nanny for Your Family,” plus is a wife and mother of two.  So when it comes to the nanny industry, she is your expert.

Candi Wingate is the founder of Nannies4hire.com, Babysitters4hire.com, Care4hire.com and a Nanny Agency.  Her nanny experience actually goes way back.  She was a nanny for a family with five children, which included newborn twins.  After becoming a nanny and working in a nanny agency for several years, she purchased the successful Nation-Wide Nanny Placement Agency.  After finding that the company needed to expand, Nannies4hire.com, Babysitter4hire.com and Care4hire.com were born.

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