How to Find Quality In-Home Daycare

Whether you call them nannies, au pairs, or just babysitters, if you have children and are thinking of trying in-home childcare, there are several considerations to be aware of before you hire. Although we've all heard horror stories of the abusive or neglectful babysitter-leading to a rash of "nannycams" being put into homes-the truth is there are also plenty of loving, caring, just plain wonderful people out there who would love to give your child the very best care around. Your journey to hiring and keeping a well-qualified, trustworthy nanny can go much smoother if you are properly prepared.

Start Out With Realistic Expectations

One of the biggest mistakes most parents will make when looking for a suitable nanny is in not fully understanding the time and effort it takes. Most parents register shock when they realize that, unlike family child care or child care centers which are licensed and regulated, anyone, regardless of their qualifications or training, can call themselves a nanny. Studies show, however, that the longer a parent takes to research, screen and interview, the happier they are with the ultimate outcome and their choice of nanny. If you are working with an agency, allow at least four weeks to find your perfect nanny, and if you are doing it on your own, eight weeks is a more realistic time frame. If you are severely pressed for time, see if you can hire a temporary nanny from a service while you search for your very own Mary Poppins.

Should I Go Through An Agency?

If you live in a rural area or small town, this question may not apply as an agency for nannies may not even exist. However, if you live in a larger city, chances are there will be at least one nanny agency to help you find what you're looking for. Be aware, however, that nanny placement fees can typically range from $1,500 to $5,000, which is a prohibitive amount for many parents. Working through an agency can save you time and legwork, however you must ensure the agency you work with has a good reputation, a good record with the Better Business Bureau, and can provide you with at least three outstanding parent references. Make sure you read completely through the contract-even the small print-before signing with an agency. If you decide to find a nanny yourself, you might consider placing an ad in the local newspaper, or post it at your gym, church or community center. When you call potential candidates back, have at least five questions to screen them and determine which ones you want to interview in person.

Most Important Qualities

Probably the two most important qualities in a nanny will be knowledge of child development and emotional maturity, as nannies with a good understanding of why children do what they do will be more likely to respond in an appropriate manner. You need a nanny for your children who is quite capable of controlling her own emotions, making it much less likely she will become overwhelmed or suffer burn out. Children are volatile little beings, and if a nanny is incapable of marshaling her own emotions, it is unlikely she will be able to soothe children. Present certain scenarios to potential nannies and ask them how they would respond-this will tell you a lot about their overall character and capabilities. Make sure your potential nanny is interested in child development and has plans to continue her own professional development-something you might even consider paying for.

Now What?

Once you have narrowed down your selection, and, perhaps completely connected with a particular nanny-avoid the temptation of hiring on the spot. Try to maintain objectivity and ask for references as well as getting authorization from her to conduct a background check. Thoroughly check references and work history, and have a criminal background check done as well. Once you have completely screened your potential nanny candidate, offer the job with a probationary period of one to three months. This gives you an "out" should the nanny not work out as you hoped. Have her sign a work agreement which spells out the nature of the job-the responsibilities, salary, benefits, and house rules for both nanny and children. Include a date when this agreement will be revisited, and compensation can be renegotiated.


Successful nanny employers will tell you that the more you show respect and appreciation to your nanny, the better relationship you will have, and the easier it will be to navigate conflicts, no matter how large or small. Keep an open line of communication, and discuss all issues, no matter how small, before they become large issues. Yes, finding a nanny you can trust with the most important thing in your life-your children-can be difficult, but hardly impossible. The rewards are well-worth the time investments required.