INTERVIEWS, REFERENCES, CUSTOM FORMS & CONTRACTS
We feel terrible leaving our children with caregivers, but the reality is we all need help! Many of us do not have extended family nearby. Whether you work or stay home, have multiple kids or just one, and especially when you're a single parent, there are times when depending on a nanny or babysitter is necessary.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010, 58% of families have two working parents. That means caregivers have become an essential component of the economy and an integral part of the American family.
We are forced to trust caregivers with our children, and leave them alone in our home, allow them to drive our kids around town, all with the hope that we made the right decision. To that end, finding the right caregiver, nanny or babysitter is one of the most challenging, emotionally draining and important tasks you will do for your family.
After going through the process several times, I learned a lot about the hiring process and expectations. I am now offering you an organized way to approach the daunting search for the best caregiver for your children.
DEFINE YOUR NEEDS
Create your wish lists. Make a list of the qualities you want in a nanny or babysitter. Then make a list of what you would require them to do, and which tasks take priority. Identify what is absolutely essential to you and your spouse.
I found that when looking for a nanny, I wanted a kind, emotionally present woman who would respect my ideas on discipline and structure. I wanted the kids to be nurtured and not glued to the TV or snacking all day. The house cleaning was important, but not first on my list. I articulated some of my wishes early on, others evolved over time as my kids grew.
I also found that all together, my expectations were unrealistic. I wanted my children to be challenged cognitively while the house was cleaned, dinner was made, the mail was picked up, and laundry and ironing were done. I also wanted the kids to be squeaky clean each time I walked through the door. Really!?! Wouldn't you have loved to come work with me?
I knew it was not possible, but for some time, it bothered me when all these things weren't done. Even the best caregiver may not be able to do it all. Know that now.
During interviews, discuss your wish lists, making sure goals and expectations are reasonable and understood by all.
APPLICATION FORM & INTERVIEW QUESTIONS
Create an application form or employment questionnaire.
I realize many families hesitate bringing "paperwork" into the situation. They don't want to make it so formal. I recommend that you make it formal and gather as much information as possible during the interview. This is the most important job position you will ever have to fill. The employment questionnaire is easy to put together and a great way to start conversation. Trust me, once she is hired and settled in your home, you'll feel worse if you have nagging questions about her background and knowledge.
Some items for your employment questionnaire:
(1) Full name – first, middle, last and maiden
(2) Current Home address
(3) Previous Home address (especially if she has lived in another state)
(4) Spouse's place of employment
(5) Family status: Married? Single? Children and Ages?
Some interview questions are:
(1) How many years experience do you have?
(2) What is your other work experience?
(3) What are the ages of the children you've cared for?
(4) Do you have childhood related education?
(5) How do you deal with tantrums?
(6) How do you deal with sibling fights?
(7) Have you ever been fired from a job and why?
(8) Have you ever been convicted of a crime?
(9) What other cities have you lived other than here?
(10) Do you smoke?
(11) Do you have pets?
(12) Do you know how to swim?
(13) Can you follow my rules even if my child disagrees?
(14) Do you drive? Do you have current car insurance?
(15) What are your thoughts on discipline?
(16) Are you available to travel with the family if necessary?
Additional questions to ask a babysitter:
(1) How many other families do you work for and do you have higher loyalties to some?
(2) Will you be paying your taxes under your name, a DBA or a business name?
A babysitter is hired to provide childcare "as needed" and often works for other families. She is a contract worker and is therefore responsible for all her own taxes. She is usually paid hourly. She may but isn't always required to do additional things for you and your family.
Additional questions to ask a nanny:
(1) How many years are you available to work with our family?
(2) If our needs change (i.e. live-in/live-out/fewer hours) is that ok?
A nanny is usually hired to exclusively care for your kids on a full-time or part-time basis. She may even live with you. As a regular employee, you must decide if she will be paid a salary or hourly. You must also decide what vacation time and holiday pay she is eligible for.
You will be responsible for your half of her Social Security taxes and all income tax withholdings as required by law. Beyond caring for your precious children, your nanny could easily be tasked with the additional responsibilities of household chores and errands.
It is essential that you ask for and call past references. Call me a cynic but I often approach references knowing that I may be calling the applicant's best friend. I have known people to fake references, especially when they know you have no way of finding out. There's no sure way around this, use your best instincts.
Hiring an agency may help alleviate this fear, but even agencies may not catch everything. Agencies can be a convenient option but select one carefully. Make sure they are insured and bonded and have a reputation of efficiency, honesty and great placements.
The best way in my opinion to find your nanny and be sure the reference is legitimate is to hire someone you know, or is known by someone you know.
CONTRACTS & AGREEMENTS
Some issues these agreements can cover:
(1) No Drug or Alcohol Policy
(2) No Friends or Boyfriends Policy
I'll never forget the first time my middle child wanted our nanny, not me, when she fell outside. It crushed me but I accepted it. A good nanny is a mother figure who your children may grow to genuinely love. While it might sting a bit in the beginning, I think it is wonderful to know your kids have a trusting relationship with her. If things get too difficult for you, talk openly with her. Don't let your feelings fester - it will only hurt your relationship. Also, make a concerted effort to remain present in your kids' lives, even though your nanny is consistently there. This is extremely important!
So much of what I do could not be done without our nanny. I am grateful for all that she does for my family. Make sure your caregiver knows you are thankful so she feels appreciated.
Quick Facts: Childcare Workers
2010 Median Pay: $19,300 per year or $9.28 per hour
Entry-Level Education: High school diploma or equivalent
Number of Jobs, 2010: 1,282,300
Job Outlook, 2010-20: 20% (Faster than average)
Employment Change: 2010-20: 262,000