Help wanted! Your fail-proof guide to hiring a nanny or au pair

Mary Poppins

If you’re going back to work you might be considering using an in-home carer such as a nanny (as opposed to preschool, daycare or before/after school care). But how do you go about it? Which one do you choose and what can you expect? Here are our top tips for hiring a nanny or au pair.

Nanny vs au pair

It’s common to think nannies and au pairs are the same thing but they’re not. Professional nannies are educated specifically in child care and are often highly experienced. They need to be paid at least minimum wage with all tax, super, benefits, insurance and other requirements met (unless they manage this themselves and might charge a higher rate), and often will have their own car and established networks. Unless otherwise specified, their duties will also remain solely on the children and they can be live-in or not.

Au pairs on the other hand are young, international travellers who generally have little to no training in child care or experience, and are generally here short term to learn and experience our culture while earning some money. There are restrictions on their stay and work visa conditions, with rates of pay often being different as they’re not regulated by the government, and they will need to live with you. Many au pairs will be happy to do other non-childcare tasks such as cleaning, but it’s rare for an au pair to have their own vehicle.

Finding a carer

There are many online sites where you can view profiles or post advertisements for nannies and au pairs, or you can place your own ad in a local newspaper or job website. Another good option is to ask for referrals from friends, other local mums or putting a request on social media community group pages.

The benefit of using a nanny agency is they will have done all the necessary safety checks and other requirements for you, and will often handle the payment system and other administration. If your nanny is sick, on leave or needs replacing they can also assist in this area.

Pre-hire check-list

This person will be spending a great deal of time with your children so it’s important to make sure they are a responsible and caring individual who also fits in with your family and expectations, whether they’re living with you or not.

As a guide here are all the considerations to cover off prior to hiring a nanny or au pair:

  • Previous employer and background/character reference check
  • Police safety / working with children check
  • Trained in first aid
  • Illegible to work in Australia
  • Formal child care / education training check – if this is important to you
  • Drivers license and/or car – if you’re expecting them to drive your children places
  • Conduct a thorough interview before hiring to discuss all elements of the job (even if via Skype or Facetime)
  • Issue a detailed work contract including all particulars such as agreed salary package, allowances and benefits (e.g. superannuation and living arrangements), pay schedule, work hours, required notice for leave or termination, list of expected duties and anything else such as a confidentiality clause
  • Additional insurances such as car, domestic work cover and health – not always essential
  • Consider installing a nanny cam – you will need to notify your nanny or au pair
  • Issue a trial probation period and have them spend a few hours in the home interacting with the kids first while you are there
  • Trust your gut – they’ll be taking on the role of second mum basically so you need to make sure they’re a good fit for your family and not just look good on paper (for example are they kind, responsible, honest, reliable?)

Babysitter with toddler

What you need to provide

Each family situation is different but generally you will need to give your nanny or au pair the use of a car, pre-paid bus pass, or reimbursement for petrol and car mileage (if using their own car). You will also need to provide food or meals for them (during time spent with the children) and cover any child-related expenses (such as purchases or swimming lessons).

If they are a live-in carer  you’ll also need to provide:

  • All food, meals and other household living expenses
  • Access to internet
  • Their own bedroom (and ideally bathroom)
  • A safe working environment (physically and emotionally)

What you can expect from them

The primary role of a nanny is to care for your children – so feeding, bathing, playing, watching them and anything else that you would be doing for your kids yourself if available. However, you can also ask them to do several other tasks relating to the kids and household. It doesn’t mean they will always say yes, but if you specify your requirements at the beginning and make them part of the job description, then the expectations are set.

Tasks that can also be done by the nanny/au pair include:

  • Taking children to and from daycare, school, appointments and other activities
  • Helping children with homework
  • Cooking meals for the family
  • Washing and laundry
  • Other light housework – such as doing dishes, vacuuming and tidying the children’s rooms and cleaning their bathroom
  • Walking pets
  • Babysitting and house minding
  • Accompanying the family on holidays

The pros

There are many benefits of using a nanny or au pair, as opposed to another form of daycare, such as:

  • When the children are sick they’re not excluded (meaning you can still go to work)
  • You only need to get yourself dressed, fed and organised in the morning – they will sort out the kids
  • Children are in their own home environment getting dedicated attention – particularly helpful if they have special needs
  • Kids can be taken on outings to the park, zoo and library rather than being stuck in a centre all day
  • Often there is more harmony in the home as they will also ensure the kids are fed, homework done and rooms tidy, etc.
  • Children can be exposed to another language (if using a foreign au pair)

Some considerations

Before you go running off looking for the next Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee, it is also important to look at some of challenges and other factors to consider. These include:

  • It can be more expensive – Unless your nanny is a registered child care provider you are not eligible for any government child care benefits. However, if you have lots of kids even without this it can work out to be more cost effective (particularly if they also do housework)
  • Having a stranger in your home can take some adjusting – The safety of your family is paramount so it’s natural you may be anxious about trusting your children with a virtual stranger. Having another person around the house (and using your car and other possessions) can also be intimidating if you’re a private or particular person too.
  • Your children may become attached – Don’t be too upset if your child goes to your nanny over you if they are crying or hurt, it is simply due to the amount of time they are spending together.
  • It may not work out – If not using an agency, often nannies and au pairs can resign without notice or go outside of the agreed work arrangements which can cause conflict, upset children and sudden change in family environment and child care needs. So it’s important to put all the appropriate documents in place, communicate frequently with your nanny, and recognise early on if you need to change to a different one.

What’s your experience with a nanny or au pair? Would you consider getting one?

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