Child Care in Your Home
If you want your child to have one-on-one attention, child care in your home can be a good choice. There are two basic types of home child-care providers: nannies and au pairs. Many people think the two are basically the same thing, but there are many important differences.
Nannies and Nanny Placement Agencies
A nanny takes care of your child in your home. She may live in your home or live out of it. Many nannies have formal training in child care and child development. Others have no formal training but rely on life experience.
There are many agencies that will, for a fee, help you find a nanny. While agencies vary in their screening and training processes, they should, at minimum, do a complete background check of potential candidates (including a police check), provide you with references, and find you at least a couple of candidates to choose from. Fees vary, but in larger cities nanny agencies may charge you fees of $1,000 or more (although if your first choice doesn't work out, the next search may be on the house).
What if you don't want to pay a nanny agency?
Ask your relatives, friends, or neighbors if they can recommend someone. Or, place an ad in your local newspaper. Specify the number of children, their ages, whether you want live-in or live-out care, whether the nanny will need a car, the town you live in, and the minimum amount of child-care experience you would prefer.
Be Prepared to Pay
Nannies are in high demand in most areas and you will need to offer a competitive salary. Live-out nannies working in major metropolitan areas typically earn $14–$20 an hour, depending on their level of experience. For full-time nannies, this can mean a monthly salary of $2,600–$4,000, in addition to medical benefits, paid sick leave, and vacation time, and a variety of other benefits such as health-club membership or travel discounts.
If you're working through a nanny placement service, it's usually the agency that takes care of the nanny's benefits out of the fees you pay them for the nanny's services. You'll pay less if you can find a live-in nanny (you'll need an extra bedroom for this option) who will take part of her compensation as room and board.
Be Realistic in Your Expectations
Keep your expectations realistic. Outside of hands-on child care, a nanny should be able to prepare your children's meals and perhaps do a little light housework that pertains to their care (like picking up toys or doing your children's laundry). She is not going to clean your house from top to bottom and cook gourmet meals for you while your baby naps.
Despite popular misconceptions, an au pair is not a nanny. She is typically a college-age, 18- to 26-year-old foreign student who comes to this country for a year to experience American culture. Au pairs agree to commit to living with a family for a year's time and provide child care and light housework in exchange for room, board, a stipend, and sometimes tuition expenses. Since they are also students, their workload cannot be more than 45 hours per week.
If you are considering hiring an au pair, keep in mind that the program was not created to provide child care for Americans. Instead, it was designed to provide a foreign living experience for young people. You should also keep in mind that in other countries, au pairs generally have fewer responsibilities than they are often expected to assume in this country, and they rarely serve as the sole care providers for children while their parents are out of the house.
You will need to hire an au pair through an agency. The agency is supposed to do a thorough background check and provide you with references. It is also supposed to provide the au pair with a certain amount of child-care training, as well as CPR training. Make sure you know in advance exactly what experience and training you can expect an au pair to have.
While you will probably not have the opportunity to interview a potential au pair in person, you can ask some of the same questions you would ask when interviewing a nanny over the telephone. Try to get a sense of the person's experience and interests, and whether the person is interested in and likes children.
A More Affordable Option
A main attraction of au pairs is cost. If you have an extra bedroom, this is almost always the least expensive child-care option short of your relatives. Even when agency fees and an au pair's transportation and tuition are factored in, costs rarely exceed $300 a week, plus room and board, for a maximum of 45 hours of child care and some light housework.
You should be aware that while you may end up with a wonderful, nurturing, experienced live-in child-care provider, you may also spend a year trying to train a homesick teenager in the rudiments of baby care. You can always ask for a more experienced au pair prior to making a commitment to the au pair agency.