Finding a Nanny or Mary Poppins for your baby

Your child is precious to you, so finding the right nanny or au pair is one of the more important, and difficult, decisions you may have to make as a parent. I am fortunate to have the nanny who looked after me as a baby now caring for my daughter. I grew up with Jemima, and have no qualms about leaving my baby in her capable care. But most parents have to start the often-daunting search for a suitable person from scratch. Tiffini Wissing of Old School Cool advises parents to follow their gut instincts, irrespective of the person’s qualifications or recommendations, when hiring a childminder. “There is a motherly instinct for a reason,” she cautions.
Fortunately there are reputable agencies that will help you find the best nanny, or au pair, to look after your child.
Parents must first decide whether they want a nanny or an au pair. South Africa is strewn with “misused terms in this field”, says childcare consultant Stephanie Dawson-Cosser. A domestic child worker is someone who does general domestic chores and looks after your children, while someone who only does domestic work directly related to the children is referred to as a childminder or a professional nanny. She says the terms used may vary from one agency to another. It is best to look at the person’s qualifications when deciding on the correct term to use. Hayley Eaton of Au Pair Professional Placements describes a nanny as a domestic childminder who will also clean, cook and do washing, while an au pair is someone whose only responsibility is to look after and stimulate your child. An au pair is usually more expensive than a nanny. Some students take on au pair work to pay for their studies or to be hosted in another country. The au pair will probably have a driver’s licence, can help with homework and will take your child to activities during the day, says Eaton.
Hiring a nanny
  • Refrain from hiring someone just because she has been recommended to you. Rather look for someone with the relevant qualifications, such as first-aid training. Also, ask about her nutritional knowledge. Does she know what brain food is, for example?
  • Follow up all references. “Qualities to look for are a good attitude, honesty, reliability, initiative and a willingness to communicate and to do the tasks the mother’s way,” says Karin Thomsen of Super Nannies. “Skills can always be taught.”
  • Thomsen recommends that you give yourself at least two months to find a nanny. This includes a one-month trial to build a relationship with her.
  • Get as much information as possible about the candidate before hiring. If this is not possible for busy parents, or parents needing to replace a nanny at short notice, hire a temp until a suitable candidate is found. “Hiring a nanny is such an important decision, as whoever you hire will be responsible for looking after your most precious angels, your children. For this reason, don’t rush the decision,” says Nicky Hartel of Nannies in Training.
  • Be aware of the legal implications if the person fails to take care of your child properly.
  • Draw up a proper contract with your nanny and pay her a market-related salary.
  • Find out about the nanny’s previous job and ask her why she left?
  • Ask the nanny how she will discipline your child.
  • Find out if she has children of her own, and if there are any health issues you should be aware of. You may ask if she is on chronic medication and whether she visits the clinic regularly but she is not obliged to disclose her HIV status.
  • Test her reading and writing skills, in case she has to take messages or read instructions. Dawson-Cosser says the nanny’s language skills are also important, as they could affect the development of your child’s language.
  • During the interview, assess whether the nanny is physically capable of handling the job, if she is comfortable and competent with your children and whether she is reliable and can get to work on time. Give her a trial – usually two or three days – at your home to see if she fits in with the family.
  • Check that the nanny is conscious of hygiene. Does she wash her hands regularly and will she wear gloves if she or your child has an open or bleeding wound?
  • Discuss your views on watching TV, as well as expectations for your baby’s sleep and eating routines.
  • Ensure that there is constant communication with your nanny. Thomsen suggests a monthly meeting to discuss any issues that may arise.
Hiring an au pair
  • Double-check all references. “We advise that parents personally follow up references and check the information that is given by the agencies. References are easy to forge, as are IDs,” says Wissing. She says most agencies will do a criminal check on someone for you.
  • If possible, use a reliable agency. While costly, the agency will do thorough background checks and ensure that candidates have a suitable CV. Try to forge a good relationship with the agency, so that it knows exactly what type of person you are looking for.
  • Families should consider a three-stage interview. First discuss experience and expectations with the au pair alone, and then introduce your children at the second interview. Allow them to ask questions and interact with the au pair. The third interview could be a trial day when the au pair is left alone for a few hours with your children. “Children don’t lie and, after all, it is the children who will be spending their time with the au pair,” says Eaton. If the child is not old enough to communicate with you, Eaton suggests that you observe how the au pair commands your child’s attention.
  • Ask the au pair about his or her plans for the next year or so to establish how long the person will be able to work with the family, says Clara Brazao of Just Au Pair Recruitment.
  • Find out how the au pair would discipline your child. Be clear about what forms of discipline you would prefer to be used.
  • Find out what motivated the candidate to become an au pair.
  • Ask what activities she will do with the children once their homework is done.
  • If the au pair is still studying, find out if there will be any future changes to her timetable that could have an impact on the family.
  • Will the au pair be able to work during the school holidays?
  • Does it matter if the au pair is not the same religion, ethnicity or nationality as your family?
  • Find out about the au pair’s driving history, such as recent accidents. Does the au pair have her own transport, or will you be expected to provide a car?
  • Ask if the au pair is a smoker.
  • Does she have first-aid or any other relevant qualifications? Eaton says first-aid for someone looking after a baby or toddler is “a must”.
  • Set up a clear contract of the au pair’s duties, notice period, length of employment, working hours, remuneration and sick leave. “The best advice I can give a family is to always follow their gut. Never take a person you are not 100 percent happy with. Rather take the time to find the right person,” says Brazao.
  • Communicate regularly with the au pair about your respective needs. “It is important to understand that an au pair does not replace you as a parent. In most cases, au pairs are students and do not have as much life experience as you do,” says Sheli Berger of Au Pairs and House Sitters for Africa.
HIV/Aids and your carer
It’s not something parents like to think about, but the health of the person looking after your child is naturally a concern.
Many parents worry about the HIV-status of their nannies or au pairs. But legally, an employee does not have to disclose their status. You may also not demand that your nanny or au pair be tested.
Debbie de Beer of Edubabe adds that a person may not be refused employment, or dismissed, for being HIV positive. But Dawson-Cosser says you may insist that the person you hire is healthy and you can ask her to go for a general medical examination, at your cost. You can also insist that she gets tested for TB, which is highly contagious. Tania Schrire of Village Nannies says, “If she has TB she will lose the job as she will have to go on treatment for six months and it is not advisable to work with children, even during treatment.”
TB is not an “absolute indicator” of HIV, but the two are often linked, cautions Dawson-Cosser.
Sugar & Spice Nanny Training suggests that parents speak to their medical practitioners if they have any concerns. HIV is spread by exposure to infected blood, unprotected sex with someone who has the disease or via an infected mother to her baby. It is unlikely that your child will be at risk in the home.
“The chances of contracting Aids from a nanny are extremely small, but TB can be easily transferred,” says Schrire.
Simple measures, such as keeping a box of latex gloves handy in the house in case of an accident, will provide some peace of mind, says Dawson-Cosser. “It is advisable for the family to have certain hygiene routines in place for everyone, such as washing hands regularly, putting a plaster on an open cut and wearing disposable gloves when changing the baby’s nappy, especially if the baby has nappy rash,” says Schrire. Some placement agencies offer their candidates HIV/TB awareness, and teach protection and prevention as part of their training courses.
How much to pay?

The salary depends on the conditions of employment and the person’s qualifications, as well as what the family is able to pay. Dawson-Cosser says a domestic childminder, living in or out the house, should earn between R2 000 and R4 500 per month depending on the hours she works, her qualifications and her job requirements. A professional nanny or au pair, who has a minimum of 18 months training, can expect a salary of between R5 000 and R6 000 per month for an eight- to 10-hour working day. The hourly rate for an au pair is between R35 and R60 depending on her qualifications. A monthly salary would be between R4 000 and R6 000.

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I am living my dream while working with mums and babies. I see mums when they are 34 weeks pregnant and then go to their homes once they go into labour. I stay for the full duration of the labour and after the birth I assist them with breast feeding. I do another visit after the birth to see that all is well and to help where I can.  Mums are always welcome to call me in the event that they have any questions, whether before or after the birth. I am passionate about my work as a doula and I care and love all the families with which I work. Once you have been present at a birth you feel part of the family and it’s wonderful to hear news of the new baby’s life as he or she grows.

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