The Most Important Hire You'll Ever Make
Melanie Lindner, 04.08.09, 6:00 PM ET
You're working even harder in the recession, but you have kids to raise too.
While computers, smart phones and other gadgets have made us more productive, there just aren't enough hours in the day to do it all. Hence the 1.3 million Americans who identify themselves as childcare providers, both in facilities and in private homes, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Not that all of those nannies can find steady work these days. Last year, unemployment for in-home childcare providers jumped to 13% from 8% in 2007, estimates the International Nanny Association. "There are many more out-of-work nannies now than six months ago because so many parents have been laid off," says Susan Tokayer, president of the INA. And fewer nannies who do have gigs are lucky enough to receive health benefits through their employers.
Nabbing a good nanny takes time, diligence and a little bit of cash--all worth the investment, given what's riding on the decision. The good news is that, in a recession, there's more talent to choose from.
Once you've decided to hire a childcare professional, you need to narrow down exactly what you expect him or her to do. Are you looking for a part-time or full-time employee? Do you want the person to live in your home? Will he or she be traveling with the family? Will there be any additional responsibilities outside of child care, such as laundry, cooking or errands?
"I spoke to one mother recently who wanted to know if it would be appropriate to ask her current nanny to start taking on some house cleaning, allowing her to let go of her cleaning lady and save some money," says Tokayer. "Generally speaking, that's something that should be worked out in advance. And any nanny with a college degree is going to hesitate to clean beyond messes made by the children." What is fair game: light housework, like the children's laundry, meal preparation and tidying up bedrooms and playrooms.
Before you get seduced by the convenience of live-in help, think hard about whether you'll want a non-family member around at all times. Many families can't make the adjustment. "Turnover rates for live-in nannies are extremely high," says Patricia Cascio, owner of Morningside Nannies, an agency in Houston, Texas.
The next step is to canvass the ranks. Word-of-mouth referrals are always nice, but they may not do the trick. Nanny agencies charge a $2,000 to $3,000 finder's fee, or roughly 10% of a nanny's salary, says Deborah Smith, president of Parents With Nannies, an industry group based in Brick, N.J.
If your budget is tight, you could always run your own advertisement in a local newspaper for a smaller fee than going through an agency. The downside: Running an ad will scare up all sorts of takers, whereas agencies offer "pre-screened, ready-to-go nannies," says Smith.
When evaluating candidates' qualifications, look for experience over a formal degree in early childhood education, says Susan McCloskey, vice president of Nanny Poppinz, a placement agency with 23 franchise locations throughout the U.S. At a minimum, you'll want your nanny to be certified in CPR and first aid (nearly 83% are, according to the INA's 2008 Salary and Benefits Survey).
Next comes the interviewing process, which has several components. Tokayer suggests meeting with potential hires at least three times before pulling the trigger.
The first meeting should take place without the children present. Ask about the candidate's experience, schedule flexibility and any heath-related issues that could hinder performance. The second meeting is often a "working interview," in which parents pay the nanny to watch the children for a few hours while they observe. The final meeting can cover a range of issues, from vacations to health benefits.
Even if you think you've found a perfect fit, don't go on instinct alone. Before you trust a nanny with your children, do a background check to ensure that their story adds up. Agencies earn their fees, in part, by doing such pre-screening. Aside from criminal-history searches, "we also run a search with the Department of Motor Vehicles and employment references before sending our nannies out to meet with families," says McCloskey.
If you'd sleep better knowing you did your own vetting, services such as Verifications Inc. and LexisNexis perform full background checks in two to three days for $50 to $100. While there are inexpensive online services that claim to do the job in 24 hours, Smith suggests going with an outfit that promises to send a representative to the courts to peruse official government documents, which generally takes a few days.
Once you're satisfied with your selection, put together a written work agreement that covers daily responsibilities, holidays, overtime compensation and salary. To determine the appropriate salary, consider the cost of living in your area, the number of children the nanny will be caring for and the responsibilities you'll be asking of the person, including overnight care, housework and errands.
Nannies polled in the INA's latest survey earn between $300 and $1,000 per week. Of those responsible for overnight care, 85% receive additional compensation ranging from $25 to $125 per night. Of those who travel with the family, 55% say they receive additional pay ranging from $50 to $175 per day.
As for taxes, the law treats domestic employment like a small business, so it's important to be sure to file the appropriate documentation with the government and your employee. As the employer, you are required to pay half the Social Security and Medicare taxes (7.65% of the employee's wages), as well as federal and state unemployment insurance. Services like GTM Associates and Breedlove and Associates can handle everything from payroll to taxes for your nanny. One last step: Make sure your new nanny is covered under your homeowner's insurance policy in case of an accident in your home or on your property.
According to Tokayer, the most common mistake parents make when hiring a nanny is "not being specific enough about their expectations." If you want the nanny to take vacation at the same time you do, come clean; likewise, she adds, if errands play a role, establish the specific means of transportation ahead of time: "Those kinks should be worked out in advance."
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