Nanny Search 101: how to find the right fit for your family

One hot topic of conversation among parents today involves making the best decision for yourself, your family and your child when it comes to childcare.

Childcare facilities providing care for more than one child include daycare centers, in-home care (where one person takes care of up to six children, possibly including their own) and co-ops (in which parents alternate taking care of each other’s children).

Another option for childcare is to hire a nanny – someone to work in your home with just your children.

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Nannies defined

babysitter-how to find a nannyNannies need first be distinguished from baby nurses and doulas.

Baby nurses are typically women who work with a family for a defined period of time, usually no more than three months, after the baby is first born. They help with feedings, changing diapers and putting babies on a sleep schedule.

Typically, they also live with the family during the course of their stay.

A doula, a Greek word meaning “mother the mother,” is a person who has had formal training to become a birth coach for expectant moms.

In addition to coaching during childbirth, doulas also help moms ease into the postpartum experience by answering questions and facilitating the transition into the role of mother.

For most families, a nanny is a special person, whether or not they live in your home.

Tracy Wilson, mother to Patrick and Garrett, says having a nanny makes getting ready for work easier. “The kids can wake up, stay in their pajamas and eat breakfast without feeling so rushed in the morning,” she says.

Wilson also is convinced that having a nanny is good for her family’s health. “It may just be coincidence, but my second son, for whom we had a nanny, rarely had a doctor’s visit,” she says. One additional bonus for Tracy is that her nanny isn’t “tied to a set schedule,” which allows for scheduling flexibility.

Finding the perfect nanny

So how do you go about finding that special person? Before you decide to start the search process for a nanny, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What advantages/disadvantages are there to hiring someone to work with my child on a one-to-one basis as opposed to a daycare setting?
  2. What are the advantages/disadvantages to having someone work and/or live in my home?
  3. Do I want the responsibility of becoming an employer, and how will I manage it?
  4. Will I feel comfortable having someone with my child alone in my home?
  5. Can I afford the cost of nanny care?

There are various ways to find a nanny. You can ask for references from friends, advertise in a newspaper or other publication, or use a search firm.

Search firms are beneficial if you are interested in having an outside firm screen all of your candidates. And when you use a professional search firm, only candidates who match the profile of qualifications for which you’re looking will be sent to you.

In addition, reputable search firms typically run background checks on all nanny applicants, which includes a criminal record check, motor vehicle report, credit history and child abuse check.

There is typically a one-time registration fee to use the nanny agency and a placement fee should you decide to hire one of the agency’s candidates.

Candace Branch, executive director of Family Solutions LLC, a nanny placement agency in Richmond, Va., advises contacting an agency at least four to six weeks prior to the nanny’s requested start date. “You should be prepared to list specific characteristics you’re looking for in a nanny to help identify the best candidates,” Branch says.

Carrie McKesson, a former childcare provider and nanny for two years, says she worked through an agency, and it gave her a sense of security.

Interviewing your prospects

how to find a nanny
how to find a nanny

You will, of course, want to conduct face-to-face interviews with any prospective nannies.

Here are a few sample questions to include in your list when conducting nanny interviews:

  1. Tell me about your past working experiences with children. What did you enjoy most/like the least?
  2. Ask how she/he sees organizing a typical day for your children, based on their ages and what you’ve told them they enjoy doing.
  3. What do you see as some of your greatest strengths/biggest challenges as a caregiver?
  4. How do you utilize these strengths and deal with these challenges?
  5. What interests you about this position?
  6. What are your long-term goals?
  7. Do you drive? Do you speak a second language?
  8. Can you provide references?

You may ask other questions that relate more specifically to the ages of your children and the job requirements you have for this position.

When you interview a candidate whom you feel has a great deal of promise, take time to discuss your family, schedules and any daily routines.

Depending on the age of your child or children, it’s helpful to allow them to ask the candidate questions of their own. Personality is very important, and you want to make sure that whomever you choose is a good fit for your kids.

You may also want to type up a job description to make the candidate aware of your expectations.

After the interview, contact personal and professional references to further assess your candidate’s background and gain insight into his/her personality and performance on the job.

Making an offer

Before you make an offer to a candidate, be sure you are aware of your legal responsibilities in hiring someone to work in your home. For this kind of information you might want to contact your family lawyer or go to the library to research employment laws in your state.

When it comes time to make an offer to a candidate, it is helpful to have a typed work agreement stating the nanny’s job description and responsibilities.

You will also want to discuss policies regarding phone calls, television time and meals.

Once you have reviewed these together, the document can be signed to verify that you both have a mutually agreed upon set of expectations.

Lastly, you might want to arrange regular meetings with your nanny to address any current issues and to ensure that both parties are satisfied with the arrangement.

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When the right connection is made, a nanny can be an invaluable addition to the family. When making your decision, be sure you define your family’s needs, establish a job description for an ideal candidate, conduct formal interviews and then establish regular, open communication with your nanny.

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