Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Finding the right childcare

Every one of my clients eventually comes to this most important question : What do we need for childcare, and where do we find it? Choosing someone to care for your children is one of the most difficult and challenging things about being a parent. Do you use your workplace daycare? Hire a babysitter? A nanny? Do you nanny share, or have her live in or out?

As a professional nanny for 12 years I worked with a few families long-term (2 or more years). I also worked with countless families as a babysitter, or through an agency as a temporary or just day by day job. I experienced pretty much every type of family there is out there! And every family needed something and someone different as far as a nanny went, excepting a few consistent needs:

She had to be
1) Loving
2) Responsible
3) Fun

Beyond that, the needs were all across the board. I tell you this because so many people are in need of good childcare, or aren't happy with what they have. Here are the steps to finding Great Childcare!

Step One: Figure out what you need as a family. Does having a nanny in the home work better for you? If you have two or more children that need care, it will probably make financial sense. If you have one child and finances are a crunch, you may want to look into a daycare or nanny share situation. I am definately pro in-home care, knowing that the consistensy helps everyone. I also know that that doesn't work for everyone, or that it's too pricey.

Step Two: How much can you afford monthly? This sadly often decides for you what type of care you choose. Make sure to look at all of the options carefully. If cutting out your cable tv and a few dinners out a month will get you the care you really want, I say go for it. It will pay itself off in your peace of mind and your children's happiness. Don't forget to figure in taxes for a household employee, transportation costs, benefits (vacation, medical, etc.). These can add up, so make sure you aren't getting in over your head.

Step Three: Start your search! Tell everyone you know what you're looking for. Ask friends who use daycare what it's like for them, and what they might have done differently. Send out an email asking everyone for resources, or a possible nanny. Or, use an agency. Agencies are very good at what they do: Matching the right nanny with the right family. They may even be able to assist with a nanny share. The only drawback to using an agency is cost. There will be a nanny placement fee that can be pretty hefty (one agency I know charges $1200.00 to place a nanny for a year minimum, and will place another if it doesn't work out within that year). The agency also will walk you through the tax details, make sure you're getting a great nanny, and provide resources to your nanny to help her.

Step Four: The interview. Be very specific in what you want in a nanny or daycare. Don't be afraid to stick to your guns and hold out for what you want and need. Make a list of requirements, here is a short list to start with:

1)Infant and Child First Aid and CPR Certified (by the way, you should be too. for classes.)
2)Safe driving record if the nanny will be driving, and fully insured either by you or herself.
3)Criminal record clear.
3)At least three great references, okay if not all from childcare background.
4)Love and passion for working with families and children!

you'll notice that experience is not on the list. This is important! Experience does not a great nanny make. In fact, a fresh nanny may be more enthusiastic, playful and more full of ideas. On the flip side, an experienced nanny may be called for in a trickier situation: Families with more than two children, need for household managing skills (takes time away from the kids), children with disabilities or learning issues, infants in the home, or your own preference.

Step Five: Time to commit! Well, for a trial anyway. Hire your nanny or choose your daycare with your heart and your head. Watch your children's reactions to them to check their comfort level. Start with a two week trial and then offer a contract. Try to hire for at least a year at a time, for consistency for the children. As much as possible, integrate your childcare into your family. Know that your children are most likely spending most of their waking hours with their nanny or daycare, and that they have a very important place in your child's life. When it's time to end the childcare relationship, be concerned for your kids. Make sure the transition is done gently and slowly, no matter how you personally feel. It is important that your children get the chance to transition from one to the other.

The last family I nannied for did this beautifully. Six months before the youngest children (of four) were to be heading to school, they told me the plan, and that they'd keep me on through September so that the transition was as easy as possible. They told the children too, and told them that I'd still be around and that they could call or see me often after I wasn't their "nana" anymore. They arranged for me to babysit frequently after our time was over, and that helped all of us with the transition. Finally, it allowed me to plan my future, in this case, of starting my business as a Postpartum Doula.

I wish you well on your search for your own "nana", or whatever fits your family best.