Finding someone you can trust to care for your child is one of the most anxiety-provoking tasks a parent faces. "You can't be too careful when hiring and evaluating the performance of your child-care provider when you consider the person spends up to 12 hours a day unsupervised in your home with your child," says Kimberly Porrazzo, director of Southern California Nanny Center in Lake Forest, a clearinghouse of information.
That's why an entire industry has blossomed to help you with child-care hiring and management. New companies supply do-it-yourself nanny-hiring materials, do criminal and background checks, and sell in- home training programs. Once you've made your decision, companies can even provide home-surveillance equipment to help you determine if you've made the right choice. Most nannies are honest, conscientious, and loving people. But some parents may care to use the latest techniques to weed out that bad apple.
STRAIGHT TALK. As an inexpensive alternative to the one-stop shopping available from employment agencies, the Southern California Nanny Center publishes The Nanny Kit. This $18.50 comprehensive guide for parents hiring in-home child care includes screening and inter- viewing tips. It recommends creating a job application to formalize the hiring process, and keeping the relationship professional. Include past employment, child-care philosophy, previous addresses, and social security number.
Porrazzo's kit also suggests briefly screening candidates over the phone, then sending them the application, and using the completed forms as a guide for in-person interviews. Ask open-ended and hypothetical questions and avoid turning the interview into a social event. Once you have a candidate in mind, contact at least three former employers and three personal references. To catch people posing as references, ask trick questions such as: "The nanny worked for you for two years, right?" when you know she worked for three years.
Once you've completed your pre-employment screening, a background check will search the candidate's criminal history and verify the social security number. Several corporate-investigation companies have recently added background checks for child-care providers for about $65. "You want to make sure the candidate is who they say they are," says Frank Bucheit, manager of Background Research International in Falls Church, Va. The search takes four days and doesn't require the applicant's O.K. The applicant must sign a release for you to get a copy of a driving record and credit history.
Hiring a nanny is just the beginning. You must also train and manage your new employee. "It's ironic that parents can work confidently at the office but feel uncomfortable and insecure when managing their child-care provider at home," says Marcia Zaiac Wasser, chairman of Interactive Family Management. She and her partner, Nancy Adler Manket, recently developed The Nanny Training Program, which includes a video and workbook that reviews the caregiver's responsibilities and suggests the right way to do tasks. There is also an employer handbook with nanny-management tips and a computer disk with 13 worksheets, including a safety checklist and daily activity report.
TALE OF THE TAPE. Shortly after you hire your nanny, you'll want to evaluate performance. Come home unannounced, arrange for friends and family to make surprise visits, or--if you're really nervous--use hidden cameras. Sometimes, a nanny's interaction with the child stops as soon as a parent walks out the door. For about $250, Babywatch, a provider of videotaping systems, will rent a hidden camera for three days. Some parents prefer full-time surveillance, with cameras placed throughout the home. These systems average about $2,400.
Secret videotaping is controversial, and could damage the relationship with a trustworthy caregiver. However, if you're still interested, videotaping someone without consent is considered legal as long as no conversations are captured and the cameras aren't installed in bathrooms or bedrooms. That may change--so you may want to inform the nanny that she could be videotaped.
All of these tools just help you get through the selection process. Once you make it through that first stage, the most important part begins: the development of a bond between the nanny and your child.