Choosing child care is the topic of the second article in Metro Parent’s child care series (take a look at part one, The Sad State of Child Care, here). If you’re considering hiring a nanny or at-home nanny, there are a variety of things to consider including cost, where to look, and what to ask potential hires.
When Pam Renusch of Bloomfield Township first found herself in need of child care 13 years ago, she turned to family and friends for advice. The feedback she gathered from her inner circle compelled Renusch and her husband to pursue a nanny for their son upon his arrival.
“We liked the idea of him being in our own home with one-on-one care,” says Renusch, an executive vice president at a local advertising agency. “Also, we wouldn’t have to be racing each morning to get up and out the door to daycare. If we could make it work financially, we wanted to try it. We’ve never looked back.”
These days Renusch is the mother of two, and she still relies on a nanny to assist with the care of her eighth grade son and first grade daughter.
“When you find the right nanny, she becomes a member of your family,” Renusch says.
Katie Bugbee is the senior managing editor at Care.com, a website that matches families looking for child, senior, pet or home care with providers of those services. She is also a mother of three.
“I went back to work when my first child was one year old,” she says. “I have been dealing with finding and paying for child care ever since. This is dear to my heart. I live and breathe child care.”
As for why so many visitors to Care.com are in search of nanny care specifically, Bugbee says that you can’t beat the convenience.
“When you hire a nanny, you can have someone at your home at 6:30 a.m.,” she says. “You don’t have to pack up and drive a child to day care and then turn around and drive the opposite way to work. Likewise, you don’t have to leave a meeting early to make pickup.”
This level of convenience comes at a premium though. According to the International Nanny Association Nanny Salary and Benefits Survey, the average hourly rate for nannies is $17.44. This is compared to the $7.50 hourly rate paid to au pairs (link to au pair story) as mandated by the U.S. Department of State, which oversees the J-1 visa program for au pairs. For comparison, the average annual fees for full-time infant care in a center-based setting in Michigan is $9,724.
“What you get for this price is convenience and things done just the way you want them,” Bugbee explains.
Beginning the search for an at-home nanny
When Pam Renusch first began her nanny search in 2001, she worked with a local nanny agency.
“We didn’t have any luck,” recalls Renusch, who interviewed three potential nannies identified by the agency. “I sensed that who they had available was who they had available. Our specific needs didn’t seem to be factored into who they were sending our way. It’s amazing how you just know when you’ve found the right person. I didn’t have that feeling with any of these people.”
Renusch eventually went on to place ads for a full-time nanny in The Jewish News and Observer & Eccentric. A woman who responded to one of her ads ended up being the perfect fit.
“She was a dream come true,” Renusch recalls. “She was with us for five wonderful years before she moved with her husband out of state. Our son is who he is today, in part, because of her.”
For the past three and a half years, the Renuschs have relied on the care provided by another nanny, this one identified through Care.com.
“The process was a bit time consuming because you have to weed through a lot of people and a lot of resumes,” Renusch says of the Care.com process. “But Sherry’s resume stood out. And as soon as we met her in person, I told my husband, ‘We’re done. She’s the one.'”
The in-person interview is an important step of the nanny identification process, agrees Care.com‘s Bugbee. She suggests families interested in a specific nanny prospect reach out as soon as possible to set up a phone interview followed by an in-person one.
“If you like what you heard during the phone interview, set up a face-to-face quickly,” she says. “The best nannies are like prime real estate. Ask to meet her in person within 24 hours.”
She also recommends families have that initial meeting at a destination other than their home.
“You don’t need everyone to know where you live, your address, etc.,” she says. “Meet at a Panera or a coffee shop.”
Bugbee also recommends parents ask candidates scenario-based questions.
“Don’t just ask why she wants this job,” Bugbee suggests. “Ask her what she would do if the baby fell off the changing table. Ask her what she would do if someone came to the door while she was with the child. Would she answer it? See if you like her answers.”
If a family does like what they hear, Bugbee recommends they extend an invitation soon after for the potential nanny to meet the family.
“Move forward saying ‘I’m liking you, are you liking me’?” she suggests.
Next come reference checks.
“Call references,” Bugbee insists. “Past employers don’t have to be childcare related necessarily, but they can speak to whether she showed up on time. Was she proactive? Even a neighbor can be a great reference. I always say to call at least three references.”
When Pam Renusch called the references of her current nanny, she was thrilled to hear them speak so highly of her.
“Every reference said we were the luckiest family in the world to be getting her,” Renusch recalls. “One of the things we were looking for was someone who had been with a family for more than five years. Stability says a lot. You want a nanny for as long as you can keep her.”
In addition to reference checks, Bugbee recommends conducting background checks on anyone who will be coming into the home. This, she maintains, should include a check of the nanny’s driving record.
“Even if you live in a city and the nanny won’t need to drive, a driving record can tell you a lot about a person,” she says.
Once on board, a nanny can and should be a partner in the raising of a child, Bugbee notes.
“Challenge this person to rise above babysitter to nanny, someone who helps you develop these kids,” she suggests.
Among the areas of development a nanny can help nurture such things as manners and etiquette. Laying out expectations upfront is an important step in beginning a new relationship, Bugbee says.
“Tell the nanny you want her help getting the baby on a nap schedule,” Bugbee says. “Ask her if she could do the laundry on Tuesdays.”
Though both of her kids are in school full time now, Renusch still keeps her nanny to help with after school activities and household to do’s.
“I will find things for her to do even when my son is in college,” Renusch laughs. “She’s so loving, and the kids adore her.”
Renusch’s nanny runs errands during the day, volunteers in the kids’ classroom, drives on field trips and helps with light housekeeping and meal prep.
In addition to setting expectations for day-to-day care and household management, Bugbee says it’s important for families to lay out early on how holidays, vacation and sick days will be handled.
“When you make your offer, we recommend you include paid time off, paid sick time and a holiday bonus,” she says. “Nannies are in the service industry. The average holiday bonus is two week’s pay.”
For her part, Renusch is more than content in the care her children have been under while she and her husband have been working.
“Both of us are in advertising, and our hours can sometimes be crazy,” she says. “Our nannies have been wonderful when we’ve run late and needed them to stay. They support us. Yes, we pay more for a nanny, but with it we get convenience and peace of mind.”
You made a good point that vacations and leaves should be talked about early on when hiring a nanny agency. I’d like to look for one soon because even though I am currently working from home, I still find it difficult to juggle my job and things I have to do at home. Getting some help in taking care of my kids would be a huge help.