Are your children looked after by a nanny or helper?
Making sure your child is safe, well-cared for and happy is one of the most vital concerns for any parent.
This section is for you if you are thinking of employing a nanny. It also provides some useful pointers if you are considering other types of childcare in the family home. Nannies provide childcare in your own home and are a popular choice for many families. They can look after children of any age and should provide plenty of fun and learning opportunities in a safe environment. Nannies can often work flexible hours and can be a suitable option if you work at times when other forms of childcare are not available.
Employing a nanny is an important responsibility. There are no legal requirements on a person applying to work as a nanny. It is up to you, as parent and employer, to make sure that you are employing a nanny who will look after your children well.
Although this guidance offers useful advice, it does not provide any guarantee that your choice of a nanny will produce a favourable outcome. Remember, it is your responsibility as the employer to ensure that you are completely satisfied with the person that you employ.
What is a Nanny?
They are employed by parents to look after children in the family home, usually while parents are working. They can provide high quality, flexible childcare in the familiar surroundings of the family home. Not all nannies are trained and there are no legal requirements for a person applying for a job as a nanny.
Types of childcare
Live-in nannies live with the family they are working for, who provide them with food and a private bedroom in addition to their salary.
Daily nannies come to the family home each day. Baby-sitting in the evenings might be arranged as part
of the terms of employment, or in exchange for extra pay.
Nanny-share – an arrangement whereby a nanny is shared by two (or more) families.
Other types of childcare in the home
Mother’s helps usually work alongside the parent helping with childcare and general household work. Mother’s helps are unlikely to have formal childcare qualifications, but may be experienced.
Maternity nurses are specially trained to take care of new babies for up to three months after the birth. They generally live with the family.
Au pairs are single young people, who come from a member state of the European Community or one of a limited number of other countries. Au pairs come to the UK to study English and, whilst staying with families, help in the home for a maximum of five hours a day. They must have at least two full days off each week, and be provided with meals, an allowance and their own room.
Au pairs are not usually trained to work with children and therefore are not generally considered as being suited to looking after pre-school children while parents are at work. However, they can be a good option for providing after-school childcare.
Childminders look after children on domestic premises, usually the childminders own home. To look after children under the age of eight they must be registered with and be inspected by their local authority social services department. Although social services will expect childminders to meet required standards of care, it is up to parents to negotiate with them the exact terms and conditions of their employment.
Nannies can provide families with high quality, stable and professional childcare, for which they need good working conditions and a well thought out job description. It is recommended that you prepare a contract of employment for your Nanny.
You will need to decide:
(a) what duties you wish the nanny to perform;
(b) what hours you will need the nanny to work;
(c) whether you want a live-in or daily nanny;
(d) Whether you have any special requirements, for example:
• are you occasionally away from home overnight?
• will your children need baby-sitting?
• do you want a non-smoker?
• is more than one language spoken in your home?
(e) whether your nanny should –
• like pets;
• be a driver;
• own a car;
• have experience of children with special needs.
(f) how much you intend to pay –
• in wages or salary;
in any extra costs that are associated with employing a nanny, e.g. for outings and leisure activities, which your nanny will organise for your child, or mileage expenses for a nanny using her own car whilst performing her duties.
(g) on the terms and conditions of employment.
Talk to other parents or join local parents organisations, like the National Childbirth Trust
What to look for:
Draw up a list of attributes to look out for:
(a) Skills and knowledge:
• Childcare and child development experience
• ability to plan and arrange safe, fun learning opportunities
• nutrition – planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks
• first aid training
• driving experience if required
• organisational skills
• Interest in children as individuals
• resourceful personality
Experience of working with children (ages and settings) Questions to ask could include:
• How long have you been a nanny?
• what ages of children have you worked with?
• why do you enjoy working with children?
• what do you think are your particular strengths when working with children?
have you undertaken any training in childcare and development and, if so, how long were the courses?
• what qualifications do you have?
• are there areas of your work that you plan to improve?
• what would you do if...(invent a family crisis)?
• what aspects of this particular job do you think you will enjoy?
• how might you spend the day with my child?
• do you think your childhood helped you to become a good nanny?
• why did you leave your last job?
• what difficulties have you experienced as a nanny with parents or children and how were they resolved?
• what are your views on families sharing a nanny? (If you want to set up a nanny-share)
• how many days have you had off sick in the last 12 months?
This list of questions is not meant to be comprehensive. Add questions on other topics that will be important to you. For example, you may wish to ask about the potential nanny’s attitudes to sweets, television, etc.
Discuss with your potential nanny:
• the wage or salary (with details about tax and National Insurance arrangements);
• how payment will be made, monthly or weekly, by cheque or directly into a bank account, etc;
• the hours and duties of the job;
• when you would want her to start;
• what do you think are your particular strengths when working with children?
• holiday entitlements and whether she would be willing to take them at certain times – e.g. to fit with school terms or your annual leave;
• length of probationary period;
• positive discipline strategies – a trained childcare worker would never use physical punishment as a form of discipline;
• child safety: in the home (including dealing with pets); when using public transport; and where appropriate when using the car (seat belts, car’s capacity, etc.)
Always ask for:
(a) Proof of identity
Proof of identity (two of the following: passport, driving licence, birth certificate). Insist on originals, as photocopying can disguise forgeries. At least one of these forms of identity must carry a photograph.
Always ask for at least two referees, even when the nanny is from a nanny agency. One referee should be the nanny’s last or present employer. If your potential nanny is a student straight from college, you should ask not only for a reference from the college tutor but also for a separate reference from their final year placement.
Contact referees with ‘open questions’. You should ask:
• for a description of the nanny’s work for the time they employed the nanny;
• how they rated the care of the children;
• why the nanny left;
• what her strengths and weaknesses were;
• if they foresee any difficulties if the nanny is to be left in sole charge of your child;
• about health problems and sick leave taken during the period of employment;
• whether they would re-employ her.
Follow up written references with a telephone call or by visiting the referees if possible. People may be reluctant to admit to concerns on paper, but will sometimes share them ‘off the record’.
c) Medical check
Ask your prospective nanny if they have any health problems and how many days off sick (s)he took during the last period of employment. Cross check this information with referees. Would the potential nanny be prepared to obtain a GP’s letter confirming their fitness to work with children?
- Employ a nanny without checking references and employment history.
- Ignore unexplained gaps or discrepancies – always check them out until you are completely satisfied as to the reasons why.
If in doubt, ask your nanny for a second interview, again with a trusted friend, your partner or a relative. Prepare your questions before the interview. Continue to explore gaps in employment history. If you are inviting a candidate for a second interview, ask them to bring along any evidence that will confirm what they have told you about the gaps in their employment history.
You and Your Nanny
You and your nanny need to work together to help your children learn, play and enjoy themselves in a safe and secure environment.
• the nanny to respond to children’s individual needs;
• a resourceful approach to working with children – the nanny should look for new ideas;
• planned activities from day to day and week to week;
• plenty of fun opportunities for children to learn – to develop their strengths and overcome their weaknesses;
• regular feedback from your nanny about the children’s well-being, the activities of the day, etc. and the job in general;
• your nanny to tell you if there is a problem and to ask for help when necessary;
• trust and respect for you as a family and confidentiality concerning matters private to your family.
You should provide:
• clear details of hours and duties;
• good working conditions and a well thought out job description;
• a written contract of employment (see Part Four: Factfile on page 14)
• a safe, clean home with plenty of ‘fun-to-learn’ equipment, like dough and paint;
• information about local parks, playgrounds, nanny clubs and drop-in clubs;
A Nannyboard - the emergency organiser to provide contact numbers for you, your partner, a relation or another responsible adult who knows the family well; details of the family doctor; contact numbers for the school(s) of any older children; clear guidance on your child’s health (including allergies, medicines, diet, and sleep preferences), discipline, special routines, favourite toys and games, etc.; (click here for more details)
• written permission to administer medication to your child and to seek medical advice when necessary;
• a regular time to talk with and listen to your nanny;
• employer and public liability insurance – you can get this from your house insurers.
Listen to your children
Inevitably there will be ups and downs, but listen to your children and give them the opportunity, without interrogating them, to let you know how they feel about their nanny. Your understanding and support will help the nanny to help the children. With babies and younger children pay attention to how they are feeling and be aware of any behavioural changes. A quiet time with you can give your children the chance to let you know about any troubles or worries that they may have. Your children need to know that you trust their nanny. They also need to know you will listen to them and will take action if necessary.
Listen to your nanny
Plan time at least once a week when your nanny can tell you how things are going. This is in addition to the times each day that you and your nanny exchange information on handing over the care of your child or children to each other. Your nanny should let you know what is going well and if there are problems that may need your attention.
Ask questions about issues such as tantrums, crying babies or mealtimes.
A well trained nanny deserves your trust, respect and confidence in her abilities at all times. However, if either your nanny or your children let you know that there are difficulties, it is important that you try to resolve the problem.
If you sense that your children’s safety is at risk, make alternative childcare arrangements immediately – do not leave your nanny in sole charge of your child while you explore the nature of the problem.
In all other cases, where your child is definitely not at risk, you should try to help your nanny to address the problem. Generally, in dealing with any difficulties you should:
• ask for more information
• listen and uncover the nature and extent of the problem
• try to find out if external factors are the cause of, or are aggravating, the problem (e.g. your nanny’s mother is ill, your child is worried about starting at playgroup)
• decide what help you can offer
• check that this resolves the problem
If there is a problem which is affecting the children’s well-being, ask yourself: Can the problem be dealt with by the nanny alone? Can we overcome the problem together? Can the nanny help the family/children cope with the problem?
Finally, if all attempts to resolve the problem have failed to do so, and you are faced with a difficult decision-making meeting, offer your nanny the opportunity to bring a friend, and have someone there for you too. If the situation can not be resolved, negotiate an end to the work agreement that is minimally disruptive for all parties involved.