(ARA) – Mary Poppins dropped from the sky. On TV reality shows, childcare experts hand pick miracle-working nannies for families struggling with difficult children. In real life, finding just the right nanny is never that easy.Securing child care has become a primary issue for working class families. Many families are foregoing temporary babysitters or daycare in favor of a nanny, someone who will be a long-term employee committed exclusively to the care of their children.

Finding a nanny who fits your family doesn’t have to be a complicated, frustrating process. Kathleen Webb, president and co-founder of 4Nannies.com, an online resource that has helped connect more than 16,000 families with nannies since 1997, offers the following “Nanny 411:”

Step One: Envision Your Ideal Nanny

Parents should collaborate on a list of their expectations. What characteristics and experience do you want in your nanny? What duties must she be willing to take on?

“Put your requirements – including the ‘must haves’ and the ‘would-be-nice-to-haves’ – in a list that you can refer back to when you get to the interview phase of the process,” Webb says. “Also, establish your nanny budget now, so salary discussions won’t be a stumbling block later.”

Step Two: Choose Your Recruiting Tool

How will you search for your nanny? Common nanny search tools include newspaper ads, nanny agencies, networking with family and friends. Recently more and more families are turning to online resources as a low cost alternative. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the same objective – to help you narrow the field of applicants to a handful of likely candidates.

“Going it alone through newspapers or networking may save cash, but add a substantial cost in terms of time investment,” notes Webb. “Agencies can save you time in preliminary screening of applicants, but typically charge finder’s fees of $1,500 to $3,000. An online service, such as 4Nannies.com, streamlines the pre-screening work and charges membership fees of a few hundred dollars.”

Step Three: The Initial Contact

Once you’ve identified your candidates, you will want to further determine their level of interest and suitability. Depending on where you and the candidate are located, it’s likely this initial contact won’t be face to face. Increasingly, it’s made via e-mail, Webb says.

“By contacting the nanny online, you can have a conversation whenever it’s convenient for you,” she says. “You can send an e-mail at 10 p.m., when the kids are in bed, and probably have a response by the time you get home from work the next day.”

Use this step to further narrow the field to candidates whom you would like to interview in depth.

Step Four: The Interview

Remember your list from Step One? Now’s the time to use that list to craft questions for a personal interview of your nanny candidate. Most families prefer to conduct the interview in their home, but sometimes distance will make that impossible and you’ll have to settle for a phone interview, Webb notes. However you conduct your interview, be sure to ask open-ended questions designed to elicit more than a simple “yes” or “no” response.

“Behavioral interviewing will give you a better picture of a person’s childcare style,” she says. For example, consider questions such as: “How would you comfort/calm a fussy 2-year-old?” “If my toddler has a temper tantrum in the grocery store, what would you do?”

Step Five: Reference and Criminal Background Checks

This step usually takes place after you’ve picked a nanny and made an offer of employment. Contact two references, preferably work or character references, not related to the nanny.

Next, obtain a professionally done criminal background check. To do this, you will need the nanny’s full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number and a signed release. Typically a professional background check can be obtained for between $50 and $100. Beware of Websites that promise “instant” low cost background checks, Webb cautions. Often, these sites are searching online public records databases that are incomplete or out of date.

“The criminal background checks provided by 4Nannies.com are physical records checks that include a Social Security number trace and in-court criminal records search,” Webb says. “Typically, you will get the results of a physical records check in two to three business days.”

Step Six: Hire and Retain Your Nanny

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve found the right nanny, make sure the terms of your arrangement are spelled out in an employment agreement that will be signed by you and your nanny. Hire your nanny and orient her to your home, family and schedule. Make sure she has your office and cell phone numbers, as well as written authorization to pick up your children from school or obtain medical care for them.

Consider keeping a “Nanny Log” where your nanny can record the day’s events – how many times the baby’s diaper was changed, what your preschooler had for lunch, how long your toddler napped, etc. You can also use this log to communicate to the nanny important information like reminders of doctor’s appointments or if your child didn’t sleep well the night before. The log can also be a tracking system for reimbursing out-of-pocket expenses your nanny might incur throughout the day.

Finally, Webb suggests sitting down (without the kids) at the end of the first week for a “debriefing.” “Talk about what went right the first week, and what areas you will work on for the future,” she says.

To search an online database of more than 1,600 nanny candidates across the country, or for additional tips on how to find a nanny, go to www.4nannies.com.

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR’S NOTE: Photo Caption: Many parents are addressing their childcare needs by hiring nannies, professionals dedicated exclusively to the care of their children in the family’s home.

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