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The key to finding the right nanny for your child? Be willing to keep looking until you discover the person who will be the best fit for your family. Don't compromise on this issue one bit – and know that it could be a long search.
You'll need to be patient and resourceful, and consult everyone from friends and family to nanny agencies to find possible candidates. Here are the steps to take to find the nanny of your dreams.
Step one: Identify your priorities
First, decide what you want. Talk to your partner about what your ideal nanny would be like. Do you want someone older who's mature and experienced? Is a nanny with a degree in early childhood education your top choice?
How much independence do you want your nanny to have in caring for your child? Do you want a caregiver who will be responsible only for feeding, bathing, and providing transportation? Or do you want a nanny who will be more of a parenting partner?
Make a list you can refer to when you start interviewing applicants or talking to nanny agencies.
Step two: Do your research
Get the word out. Have friends and family let their contacts know you're looking for help – personal references can be the most reassuring. Put a notice in school newsletters and post on your local online parenting message boards or chat groups.
Go to the pros. Find out if there's a nanny training program in your area, then call the staff for referrals. In many communities, nanny and babysitting training programs are run by community centers, charities, and other organizations that may not be easy to find online. Also ask friends and neighbors or call your local community recreation organization.
You can also contact a private nanny placement agency. These firms screen candidates before agreeing to represent them and can help you find candidates who meet your criteria.
They verify a nanny's work experience and should check for any driving violations or a criminal record. Some also require nannies to have a physical exam including blood and tuberculosis tests.
You'll have to pay a hefty fee for this service – from $800 to $8,000 or more, depending on where you live and which services you want – but you'll save time.
Go online. Try websites such as 4nannies.com and enannysource.com. Online nanny referral services like these – which post listings from parents and prospective nannies – are less costly than local agencies, but not free. Fees start at less than $100 and go up from there, depending on how long you keep your listing active and the type of service you need.
Basic services usually include helpful guidelines and forms, with background checks available for additional fees. Some services make you pay a finder's fee. But websites sometimes offer free trial periods or run promotions to waive fees or offer discounts, so check back from time to time.
The website nannynetwork is a clearinghouse for many online agencies and offers helpful guidelines and forms, information about taxes, and any special offers available from its members. Also, the International Nanny Association has valuable resources and tools for families considering professional nanny services.
And if you're interested in hiring an au pair, remember that au pairs differ from nannies in the kind of care they provide. For example, au pairs need adult supervision when caring for infants. If that works for you, try newaupair.com or aupaircare.com.
Advertise your position. As a last resort, advertise online or in newspaper classifieds. But realize that the flood of responses from strangers can be overwhelming. If you go this route, be very specific about what you're looking for and list anything that would disqualify applicants. (For example, make it clear if you require a nonsmoker.)
Then put an outgoing message on your voice mail asking potential candidates for the names and numbers of their references. That way you can prescreen your candidates and decide which ones you want to interview.
Step three: Interview
Talk to as many applicants as you can. Ask specific questions about their work experience and childrearing philosophies as well as personal interests, after-work activities, driving record, and background. Use our nanny interview sheet.
It can be very informative to include your child when you meet with interviewees so you can see how they get along. Listen to your gut. If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't.
"One candidate said all the right things, but barely spoke to our sons," says Susan Webb, a mother of two boys. "I hired her anyway because I was desperate, but when she quit a month later to take a job as a teacher's assistant, I wasn't all that surprised."
Step four: Check references
Once you've narrowed it down to a few good applicants, call their references – even if they're from an agency. If you already did this as part of the prescreening process, feel free to call again and ask more detailed questions or for additional references.
Be sure to ask former employers about the nanny's strengths and weaknesses and why they no longer employ her. Don't skip this step – you'll want to hear how she has and hasn't worked out for other families.
Step five: Do a trial run
Ask finalists to come to your home one at a time for a few days' trial run. Pay each for her time and observe how she interacts with your child. There's no better way to make a decision than to see for yourself how a nanny is on the job.