By Betty Davis
Tips for Choosing an In-Home Caregiver You’re Comfortable With
Little is more anxiety producing for a parent than hiring a stranger to care for your children. The anxiety level is understandably raised a notch when parents consider care by a nanny. It appears to be a greater “leap” – someone in your home, unsupervised, caring for your children.
So, how does a parent reduce the stress of hiring a nanny and feel comfortable with the choice? The process of searching for, interviewing and hiring a caregiver should be the same as the process you would use to hire any employee. That is more easily said than done. A parent does not have the resources of a corporate HR department to make sure that all the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed. But, if a parent takes the time and effort, it can be done individually – or, if not, in partnership with a professional nanny agency.
To embark on a search for a caregiver yourself, you must first recognize that the process is complicated by the emotions involved. You also have to function as your personal HR department and hiring manager at the same time. To be successful, it is important to break down the process into three distinct phases: what to do before you begin your search, interviewing and screening potential caregivers, and managing your employee once you hire him or her.
Before You Begin Your Search
Children are not born with a “how-to” manual and nannies are not mind readers. If the caregiver knows what you want before you hire her, you will have a much better chance of finding a caregiver who will meet your expectations and provide the best care for your children.
To start your process, you should:
• Define the characteristics, personality, education and experience of potential caregivers you would consider.
• Describe your family and the interaction the caregiver will have with all family members.
• Describe your children’s personality, schedule, any special needs/medications, and the priorities for each child for the next 6 to 12 months.
• Define the job: what hours and flexibility do you need from your caregiver and what specific responsibilities.
• Describe the compensation you can offer, and what benefits you might negotiate.
Once you have described your family, your expectations and the specific job requirements, you are ready for the next step.
What to ask? Review our list of age-specific interview questions.
Interviewing and Screening
It is important to understand that you are searching for someone who will be a good caregiver for your children, not someone who necessarily shares all of your interests. In addition to experience, location, age, requirements, hours, salary and benefits, it is critical to evaluate and discuss the personality, lifestyle, child-rearing philosophy and “neatness quotient” of the caregiver.
Develop a list of questions to ask every potential applicant – if you don’t, they will all seem the same or you might gravitate to someone because of her mannerisms versus her capabilities. Just because an applicant was referred by a co-worker’s sister versus responding to an ad in the newspaper does not mean the caregiver should receive less scrutiny. This is a mistake that many parents make.
A caregiver’s strengths, weaknesses, future goals, hobbies and interests are all very important. Require all applicants to bring a resume or employment history (which includes dates, supervisor’s names and phone numbers) for the last five to 15 years (depending on their age).
The interview process should consist of at least two (preferably three) interviews:
• The first interview should not include the children. You are trying to decide if you even want to introduce this person to your children.
• The second interview is always at home and should be about two hours with all family members present. If you are still interested in pursuing the applicant, confirm phone numbers of references and tell the applicant you would require her to provide information necessary for you to do a criminal background check and driving record check (if she will drive your children). The applicant’s name, address, date of birth, social security number, driving license number and state, and her signature (in some states) are required. If she hesitates or says no, you should rule her out as a potential candidate.
In addition, you should provide the applicant with the draft job description you completed and have a preliminary discussion about compensation expectations. Confirm that you will be checking the applicant’s references. Encourage the applicant to call you if she has any questions and request that she call you before she accepts any other opportunities.
Call her references and tell them that your discussion is confidential to encourage them to be completely honest in their comments. At a minimum ask about the applicant’s creativity, dependability, strengths, weaknesses, self-esteem, why she left, would they rehire her, and her ability to communicate.
If your reference checks are successful, contact a private security company or nanny agency that provides nanny screening to perform the checks mentioned. If results are favorable, call the applicant to schedule a time to meet so you can make an employment offer and review the job description. It is always best to give the applicant a day or two to review the job description and accept or negotiate the offer.
If accepted, both you and the caregiver should sign the written job description as well as a summary of the financial terms of your offer. It is especially helpful to also include “house rules” related to the job regarding petty cash, phone use, where she can go (and not go) and what she can do with the children without asking for prior approval.
Managing Your Employee
A nanny (more so than other employees) is motivated by frequent and consistent feedback. A regularly scheduled meeting is the best vehicle to manage your employee. If you have provided an adequate job description, and you have spent a few days orienting her to your children and your requirements, you should not have to micromanage your nanny. But remember, a caregiver needs to hear a frequent “thank you” to keep motivated and happy in her position.
All caregivers should be given (and carry with them at all times) emergency phone numbers, a parental permission form in case of an emergency and written authorization if she is allowed to transport your children. A daily log of activities will keep you informed of your children’s day-to-day activities.
Scheduling a more formal evaluation every six months will ensure that your nanny is focused on the constantly changing issues and priorities that you have for your children and will enable both you and the caregiver to maximize your children’s experience.
International Nanny Association -- www.nanny.org -- Established in 1985, the INA is a non-profit, educational association for nannies and those who educate, place, employ and support professional in-home childcare providers. Membership is open to those who are directly involved with the in-home childcare profession including nannies and nanny employers. The organization's Web site features information and resources for families.
Betty Davis is president of In Search of Nanny Inc., a nanny referral agency. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and was a nanny employer herself for 13 years. A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of the Family Network News.
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