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How to Get What You Want from the Nanny

Finding a Nanny
Nanny placement agencies claim that it takes four weeks to find a nanny if you use their services and eight weeks if you do it on your own. Most parents use the agencies or the grapevine to find a nanny, but there is a third option for those who have the time: the park observation method. Go to your nearest park at midday, any time between 11:00 and 2:00. Observe the group of nannies and children you see there. After several days, you may notice one who seems particularly good with the children in her care. Approach her and ask if she happens to be looking for a job. Although this may seem underhanded – you'll be taking her away from her current employer – it is an excellent way to prescreen a nanny. You'll be able to see how affectionate she is with the children, how quickly she runs to them if they get hurt, whether she is attentive and playful with them or more interested in chatting with her friends. It's also instructive to observe a group of nannies together and get a sense of the general level of attention they pay to the children.

If the nanny you approach is open to working for you, you will need to ask for references and do a background check just as you would for any candidate. As for stealing her from someone else, it's no different than when someone is called by a corporate headhunter from a competing company. If the nanny is happy with her current employers, she won't leave. Also, the nanny's job may be ending soon anyway – many nannies must look for work when the child they are caring for enters preschool.

The grapevine is an even better way to locate a nanny because the person you hire will have already been employed by someone you know. However, good nannies tend to stay with the same families for several years, so unless you have a very wide circle of acquaintances you may come up empty with this method. That leaves nanny placement agencies, a generally reliable, if pricey, way to find candidates. Just be sure that the agency itself is reputable. It should belong to an organization such as the International Nanny Association, which maintains a list of approved agencies. It's also wise to choose an agency that has been in business at least a few years. When you're calling around to various agencies, ask them:

How many nannies do you place in a month? A good agency will place at least three to six nannies every month.

How do you screen your nannies? The agency should be able to provide you with information about the nanny's previous employers, her references, and the general impression she made on the people she has worked for. The screener who works for the agency should also offer her own impression of the nanny. Ask also about the screener's background; top-notch agencies and some nanny training schools employ screeners who have degrees in social work and/ or child development. Most agencies will not do criminal background checks until you have selected a nanny and she has agreed to work for you.

What are your fees? They vary dramatically across the country, from around $500 to more than $3,000. If you hire a nanny through a placement agency that is part of a nanny training program, such as the English Nanny and Governess School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio (the Big Kahuna of nanny programs), the fee may be calculated as a percentage of the nanny's yearly salary. Whatever the fee, get it in writing. Most agencies offer a 90-day replacement policy, but few will agree to refund your fee if the nanny doesn't work out.

How do you support and train your nannies? If the agency is part of a nanny training program, they will have a comprehensive description of the training each nanny receives and will provide her with plenty of books and other reference material to take on the job. Other agencies give their nannies a package that includes child-rearing information, daily logs, food and nutrition tips, and toilet-training strategies.

Do you follow up after the nanny is placed? One great advantage to using an agency is that they can help facilitate a good relationship between you and the nanny after she begins working for you. The agency should call you the first week and check in periodically thereafter. Ask about their policy in this regard. If you are having trouble with the nanny or if she has concerns about you, the agency can serve as middleman and help iron things out.

From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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