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A Tale of Three Nannies, Finding Good Childcare, Part II. What Are the Options?

June 2004

Approach the issue of childcare as you do other life and career issues: Identify priorities, do research, examine options, get advice (checking references is critical!). Finding good childcare demands patience and resourcefulness. Remember, you are not just looking for a "babysitter." If you work 40 hours/week, then the caregiver will be spending up to half of your child's waking hours with them!

1. Getting Started
The first step is becoming acquainted with the types of childcare options available.

In-home Care
There are two main options for in-home child care: nannies and au pairs. Nannies can be either live-in or live-out (day) nannies. All au pairs are live-in. Some potential pros and cons: It is tempting to think about having someone dedicated to caring for your child. Sometimes, a personal caregiver can provide more flexibility in terms of scheduling and working the odd extra hour or weekend or caring for a sick child. However, you need to also consider privacy issues. Remember, you will be interacting with this person on a daily basis.

Family Day Care
Provided in someone's home other than your own for a small group of children, usually of varying ages. The primary caregiver may or may not have an assistant depending on how many children are being cared for. Family daycare or centercare (see below) offer the advantage of increased social interactions, but also the potential of more early childhood infections. Most group daycare facilities will not take sick children, in which case back-up care must be found.

Center Care
Provided in a state-licensed, non-residential facility. Can be in a church, private home or a specifically built facility. Most state regulations require a licensed childcare center to provide a written statement to parents explaining their approach to caring for children.

Part Day Programs
This category includes playgroups, nursery schools, parent-run cooperatives and Head Start programs.

School-Age Care
This category includes before and after school care, latchkey programs, sports programs, after-school clubs, day camps and summer camps.

2. Identify Your Needs and Priorities
Talk with your partner. Consider your needs. Are you looking for infant care? This may already limit your options since many family and center care facilities do not take infants under the age of two. Then, what do you think will be best for your child, mindful of the irony that many consider a stay-at-home mother to be best. Consider:

By whom
If you have decided on a nanny, do you want someone older who's mature and experienced? Someone young and bubbly? Is having a degree in early childhood education imperative?

When
Do you need full-time childcare? When figuring out how many hours per day or week you will be needing, don't forget to figure in commute time. Also, given the unpredictable demands of patient care, you may need to find someone or a center that can accommodate variable hours, including the occasional weekend or evening.

Where
In your own home? Close to work or home?

How Much
What can you afford? In general, group options such as family and center day care programs, are cheaper than a nanny. However, the cost of a live-in nanny or au pair may be comparable to group situations.

3. Find Out What's Available

Word of mouth. Initially, this may be a problem if you are new to an area or don't know many people who have very young children in daycare. Now that we have been involved in a playgroup and gotten to know other families in the area, we have been extremely fortunate to get to know some outstanding nannies, one of whom works for us now.

Child Care Resource and Referral Organizations (CCR & Rs) The YMCA

Nanny Agencies
Both local and online, e.g., http://www.4nannies.com/ and http://www.nannynetwork.com/. Online agencies may enable you to avoid the high costs (often one month's salary) of local agencies and offer helpful guidelines and forms. The disadvantage is the inability to deal with the agency in person.

Placing an Ad
We have used this approach twice and been very successful. I don't recommend doing this if you are just starting out. However, in both cases we knew exactly what we were looking for, in terms of personality, philosophy, salary, hours, etc…. I used my answering machine to screen replies. Out of 50 applicants the first time, only ten or so bothered to state more than their name and phone number. Using this as a marker of initiative and common sense, I called each of these persons back. Using salary and hours as additional screening criteria, I whittled the list down to about five applicants, from whom I obtained a list of references. After calling every reference, I settled on three people whom I invited to my home for an interview.

4. General Considerations
Once you have decided on what kind of childcare you will be needing and begun identifying possibilities, rethink your priorities. Decide on what is non-negotiable and use these criteria to help you narrow down the choices before actually beginning the interview process. Previous experience, general approach to childcare (what kind of activities do you like to do with children, discipline, safety) is important. Is the applicant certified in child/infant CPR and/or first-aid? We paid for all of our nannies to take the local Red Cross course. What hours is the applicant available? How flexible is s/he? Would they be willing to care for your child if s/he is sick?

Useful links to help you get started:

  1. http://www.babycenter.com/general/toddler/toddlerchildcare/5932.html.
    Nice application form that covers many of the important factors you need to consider when hiring a childcare provider.
  2. http://www.babycenter.com/calculators/childcareplanner
    Childcare planner that is valuable to review job expectations when interviewing applicants.
  3. http://www.naccrra.net/
    Homepage for a National Network of Child Care resource and referral organizations (CCR & Rs).
  4. http://www.nncc.org/
    Homepage for the National Network for Child Care sponsored by the Cooperative Extension service of the USDA.
  5. http://www.naeyc.org/
    The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the nation's largest and most influential organization of early childhood educators and others dedicated to improving the quality of programs for children from birth through third grade. This organization sponsors an accreditation process for programs involved in early childhood education and care. They have a search engine to look for accredited sites in your neighborhood.
  6. http://www.nafcc.org
    National Association for Family Care provides technical assistance to family care associations. Also has a search engine for accredited providers of family care in your area.
  7. http://www.aupairinamerica.com
    Au Pair in America, the first U.S. government-authorized legal au pair agency, is the nation's largest provider of live-in childcare.
  8. (No link found) AuPair Homestay USA part of World Learning, is a designated U.S. government au pair sponsor. 1015 15th Street, N.W., Suite 750, Washington, D.C. 20005, Telephone: 800/479-0907 or 202/408-5380, Fax: 202/408-5397