What's in a Nanny?

Written by joanna cattanach
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Understanding the Difference Between Nanny and Sitter, and How to Hire Both

What's in a Nanny?
Hiring a nanny takes time and due diligence. (Kane Skennar/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

You just can't call yourself a nanny.

— Susan Tokayer co-president of the International Nanny Association.

Busy working moms and dads need a break once in awhile, and a babysitter is often the best option. But for parents who need more help, nannies act as a backup when you're not around. But who are you really inviting into your home? How can you protect your child and have peace of mind at the same time? It's really a matter of due diligence, say child care professionals. Parents should gather as much information about a potential nanny or babysitter beforehand. Follow up with every reference given, do a criminal background check, ask specific questions and if you don't have the time, professional babysitting and nanny placement agencies will perform the duties for you.

What Makes a Good Nanny

What's in a Nanny?
Make sure you and your nanny's child care styles are compatible. (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Because there are no nanny regulatory agencies monitoring nanny services and no nationally accepted guidelines or licensing, nannies vary in experience, background and skill.

Susan Tokayer , co-president of the International Nanny Association, an association for in-home child care workers, says parents don't have to use an agency but should look for certain minimum requirements when considering a nanny.

"They should be at least 18, need to be in good general health and that they should have extensive babysitting or day care experience," Tokayer said. A degree in early childhood education, teaching experience and previous professional nanny experience or a combination of those things are ideal, said Tokayer, a social worker who owns a domestic placement agency, Family Helpers, in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. The company primarily places nannies.

And keep in mind, "there really is a difference between a professional nanny and a babysitter," she said. A nanny is not only caring, but has good judgment, is professional, and can observe and assess behaviour of children. Nannies create environments that can help development, as well. "A babysitter keeps a child safe but is not necessarily proactive."

INA has online tools and questionnaires parents can use during in-person interviews, but Tokayer says parents should seek a nanny with a similar parenting style to their own, and whose philosophy about discipline and schedule are compatible.

Searching for a Nanny

What's in a Nanny?
You can negotiate nanny duties and salary. (SW Productions/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Your search for the right nanny may include a professional nanny service, but you can also use word-of-mouth or place ads in college newspapers or with online listings. You want a large applicant pool to choose from.

"We would suggest first, create a job application with all the information you want to collect on your candidates and include a job description," said Jessica Sjolseth, of Austin-based Mom's Best Friend, a national nanny placement service whose company takes care of much of the upfront work for clients before placing nannies with families.

"Verify their education, their Social Security [number], check all their past employment, run a background check," she explained. Placement services will go further and check national sex offender registries, as well as credit history, and perform random drug screening.

"As parents, we skip our research a lot of time," said Sjolseth, a mother of four. "It's definitely shame on us,"

Once hired, set up a contract that includes hours, scheduled vacations and detailed duties. Expect to pay anywhere from £7 to £10 an hour for a less-skilled nanny or someone who may not have a teaching degree, or £9 to £11 an hour for a skilled nanny, Sjolseth said. That does not include placement fees for services like Mom's Best Friend: their fees run from £325 to £1,950 for the service, which also includes complete vetting of nannies, extended education courses and child care backup service.

The average child care worker earns roughly between £5 to £6 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Wages vary depending on education level and the type of facility. So when negotiating your nanny's salary, duties and hours, keep in mind that "this is a higher income bracket for sure," Sjolseth said. But you are also getting a more skilled at-home child care provider whose duties often extend beyond a simple baby sitter.

You may need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, pay federal unemployment tax, warns the Internal Revenue Service. Sjolseth's company uses a certified accounting service that specializes in domestic help and she recommends parents do the same when hiring a nanny.

"A full-time employee can't be 1099ed," Sjolseth warned, referring to the form filed by companies that use independent contractors.

Seek Good Sitters

What's in a Nanny?
Check social media sites before hiring a sitter. (Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

If a nanny service isn't within your budget, or just not necessary for your child care needs, babysitters are often a more affordable option. That doesn't mean you should be less cautious, though.

Oftentimes people mistake a nanny for a babysitter, says Kelsey Graham team leader of SeekingSitters' Tulsa, Oklahoma, franchise.

"A nanny is more full time, where a sitter isn't going to be there full time," she said.

Nannies are commonly expected to perform household duties, such as laundry or cooking, and they may be asked to perform errands or specific activities with the child. Sitters are typically more focused on child care rather than home management, and you can run into problems when you try to make your babysitter perform duties outside of her normal routine.

Placement services such as SeekingSitters will do initial background checks and character checks before placing a sitter with a family. They also look at Facebook and MySpace profiles. Graham says parents can also do the same, especially if they want the sitter on a long-term basis.

Parents should also ask basic questions such as: Why do you want to be a babysitter? What are your interests? Assess the applicants response and behaviour, as well. Can she hold a conversation? Is she excited to be there?

To keep a good sitter, you need clear and constant communication. "Communication sets the family and the sitter up for success," Graham said. It allows for correction if necessary, keeps routines consistent for children and keeps both parents and sitters on the same page.

Tips and warnings

  • Parents should also be prepared to ask specific and open-ended questions: Why do you want to be a nanny? What is your length of commitment? Tell me about your last job? Why did you leave your last position? How do you react when you're angry with the child? What are your strengths? What role should a nanny play in the family? How do you feel about routines and schedules? How do you feel potty training should be approached? What TV habits are appropriate? Ask if they are CPR and first-aid certified. Also check each reference, perform a criminal background check and do check social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter. You should be interested in both their skill and their character.

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