Katie

Practical Tips for Successful Live-in Child Care

Many two-professional families confront the issue of what is the best solution for childcare. There are the options of a live-in nanny, a live-out babysitter, care in somebody else's home setting, childcare centers and, the most coveted "relative care" choices.

Personally, I have never had the option of having grandma or auntie take care of the kids so I have had to choose among the other less-desirable options. We've always gone with the live-in option. We choose the live-in option because of the flexibility. When the 6 year old was little he was usually sleeping when I went to work and I loved that I didn't have to pack him up and take him somewhere in the car in the early morning. I have never had a job when I know precisely when I'll be home at night and I'd hate to have to say to the partners or clients in the middle of a late afternoon meeting -- "If you'll excuse me I have to get my kids from childcare" as I bolt out of the conference room. At the same time, I'd hate to be late to work because the nanny is stuck in traffic in the morning on her way to our house.

Nannies are most common in the Northeast region of the United States but as somebody who hasn't lived in the NE since college, I have found that I am usually on my own when it comes to finding good live-in care. For that reason, I thought I would pass along some practical tips that have served us well.

As a caveat, let me throw out my qualifications for this advice. We have two kids ages 4 and 6. We have had live-in care since the oldest was 2 months old. That comes to a total of 5 different live in nannies. Among the first four, 2 were awesome and continue to be close to us, 1 quit and I fired 1. The fifth is with us now and so far, so good.

Tip #1: Go with a reputable agency. We have had good luck with Nanniesplus.com and AllAmericanNanny.com. Nanniesplus is pretty much exclusive to the Northeast and DC but we were able to find a nanny willing to live in North Carolina from them 6 years ago. AllAmericanNanny.com places live-in nannies all over the country. There are also other good agencies out there that I have heard of but can't personally vouch for. Do not try to do it alone by using one of those internet placement agencies or your newspaper. The agencies cost a pretty penny but they really do a lot of leg work for you. They spend effort matching expectations and personalities and it makes all the difference in the world. Also, they all have satisfaction guarantees which you might want to use if things don't turn out so great. The nanny that I fired came from an online placement agency that I had to use when my agency did not have any good nannies available and before I found AllAmerican. She was a disaster and not a good match for our family.

Tip # 2: Check references. Personally call them with deep questions. Don't rely on the agency to check them for you. You can tell a lot from voice inflection and uncomfortable pauses when you ask questions personally.

Tip #3: Hire an American or a person that is legally able to live and work in this country. First, hiring an undocumented worker is against the law. You are required to fill out an I9 immigration form on any employees and this requires checking to make sure they are able to legally work in the US. This may show my political bias but I am a law-abiding American who is staunchly against breaking US immigration laws under any circumstances. Hiring a legal worker is the best thing for the country and for you personally -- You don't want to expose yourself to added liability just to save a few bucks on childcare.

Tip#4: Pay employment taxes and otherwise comply with household employee laws. This will require you to submit a schedule H with your personal income taxes. I use a program called Nanny Pay and it doesn't get any simpler than that. This is just smart advice especially if you are young (like me) and not sure where life is going to take you. Who knows, maybe some day you'll want to be a federal judge or political office holder and you don't want to have to answer to questions of tax evasion and the like.

Tip #5: Make a very detailed contract with your nanny right from the start. This conversation may be uncomfortable because it will talk about your expectations and employee-employer type things. If you are like me, you want this person to be a part of the family so it is uncomfortable to put things in writing like paid holidays, overtime compensation, and approved discipline tools. Get it in writing, make it detailed, and send to the nanny before you offer her the job. I have found this to be extremely useful and our nannies have really appreciated it. More than one has told us that she'll never take another job without a similarly detailed contract up front. We list the aforementioned items but also: base pay, eligibility and criteria for raises, household chore responsibilities, vacation time, car and medical insurance responsibilities, access to phone, internet and the car, and anything that is considered a job responsibility. It doesn't have to be formal or approved by a lawyer but should be thorough. Most agencies have form contracts for you to use but even if they don't you should make one with as many details and you can think of.

Tip #6: Make childcare the top priority. Some may disagree with this but I think the nanny's main responsibility should be the kids and not the housecleaning. Make sure the priorities are clear from the beginning and be reasonable. Otherwise, you'll find that your toddler is watching TV so the nanny has enough time to mop the kitchen and you would have been better off sending him/her to preschool all day.

Well, those are the main pieces of advice. You'll have to think personally about what you want the relationship with your nanny to be like and what is reasonable and unreasonable to expect from the situation. For example, I have always hired nannies that are younger than me and without their own kids. I figure this will make it more likely that they will raise the kids in the way I want. Again, this is a personal choice and you'll need to take some time to figure out what you are looking for.

6 Comments

Elizabeth

<div align=“left”>Thanks so much for writing about this issue.  My sister just had a baby, and she had a really hard time figuring out exactly how one goes about procuring good childcare when she had to go back to work—there isn't much information out there.  Does anyone know how much it costs to have a live-in nanny versus a live-out or daycare?  For women just starting out, it might be difficult to have housing with enough rooms to accommodate a live-in nanny (and I imagine, though perhaps incorrectly, that it is more expensive). </div>

Katie

Live in nannies usually go for NO LESS than $300.oo per week but that can equal up to 60 hours per week of work.  Obviously the more experienced the nanny or the more educated he/she is the more she'll make per week.  As far as I can tell, reputable agencies won't even talk to you if you want to pay less than that.  Also, that $300 per week figure is a national figure.  A local agency in a high cost area might not even consider less than $400 or $500.  An agency will probably cost at least one month's pay as a referral fee.  Most agencies have some sort of upfront fee of $100 or $200 just to interview candidates and then only require the balance if you hire one of their nannies.
Live out nannies seem to go for NO LESS than $12.00 per hour, at least in Southern California.  You also may have to pay them mileage if you don't let them use your car.  Again, more experience, more maturity, and more education all equal more per hour.  Also, more than 40 hours per week may require you to pay overtime at whatever state law requires, I think time and a half.
You can get an Au Pair (foreign nanny in US on a student visa) for much less per week. ( When I looked into in, 6 years ago, they only got $139.00 per week.)  A couple of caveats to that: 1) They are statutorily restricted from working more than 45 hours per week; 2) the agency fees are huge, like $3K or $4K and maybe even an additional cost to fly them round trip from their home country; 3) they can only stay for one year; 4) they have to take something like 6 hours of college credit during the year and you'll have to pay for those classes (community college suffices).
 
Hope this helped.

ambrosia

I never considered getting a live-in nanny, and it was helpful to read your thoughts on the benefits.  I might actually look into it now.  Thank you.

Katie

Okay, so we've hired an au pair.  We went through an agency called Go Aupair (www.goaupair.com) and are extremely pleased so far.  They had over 100 applicants on file looking for work in the US and they matched us with 20 applicants right off.  We interviewed a hand full of these and chose a 20 year old woman from Germany.  The visa approval process was pretty fast and she was able to be here in weeks.  She has been living with us for about 2.5 weeks now and so far we are very pleased. 
So why did we go with an Au Pair this time?  Both kids are in all-day school now so we really just need help for afterschool and that totals only about 20 hours per week.  We need somebody who can drive them around as both kids do a few afterschool activities.  We still want the flexibility of live-in care.  We want to know that the person will be at work everyday and that there isn't anywhere she needs to get to after work.  We feel like as the kids get older we might need this comfort less and less but right now we want to stick to what we're used to and that's live-in care.
It is not realistic to find an American that will be a part-time live in nanny.  We thought about trying to find a college student but that seemed like it would be like finding a needle in a haystack.  We also found that an au pair is more affordable on a weekly basis than a live-out nanny who will likely demand upwards of $15 an hour where we live.
I will update the site with a more thorough comparison after more time elapses and we can compare this experience to that of having an American nanny.
UPDATE: One more thing, we hired our au pair under a state department program called "Educare".  Under this program she is limited to working 30 hours per week (no more than 10 hours per day).  She must take 12 credit hours of college during her year here (we have to pay for $1K of her tuition).  She must get paid at least $120 per week (we pay ours a little more).  This is a perfect program for somebody looking for afterschool care.  We actually like that she'll have to take more college; maybe she'll meet more people that way.  According to our agency, most au pair applicants don't apply for this program because they don't know about it but you can usually convince an applicant to switch to Educare once you find a good match for your family.  That's actually what we did.  Our au pair had applied to be a standard au pair but switched to Educare at our request.

Katie

So, the promised update…
Our au pair from Germany has been here almost a year now and will be returning home in September to go to college.  Our experience with an au pair this year has been great and we are currently looking for another to replace her.
When I tell people about our experiences with live-in care the response that I get is almost always that the person does not want to have a stranger living in their home.  While we are used to this after nearly 7 years of live-in care, I have found that I like it even better with an au pair than an American nanny.  I feel like the au pair is less demanding of us.  She doesn’t always want to get involved in family discussions; she doesn’t always want to have long conversations (both likely because of the langugage barrier that still exists) and she is still more appreciative of her accomodations than the nannies ever were and this leads her to respect our things and our family more, I think.  My kids love having her and still think it is fun to learn about her culture and traditions.
I think we’ll try to find our new au pair from a different country or even a different continent, just to mix it up and expand our cultural horizons some more.
 There is an article at cnn.com from last week that made me remember to write this update: http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/worklife/07/07/au.pairs.ap/index.html.

Karen H

The issue of an executive department nominee not paying taxes and hiring somebody not legally able to work in the US has surfaced again —how embarassing.
Don’t let this be you.  If you hire a nanny, do it properly and legally.

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