How to Find A Great Au-Pair or Nanny

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By Ellie Barker

You thought you had it all sorted. Parenthood wasn’t going to stop your career.

Better than that, you feel more focused (you have a family to keep after all), your boss is supportive and you think you have found a way of sharing the chores with your partner to make it work for both of you.

Only you have looked into the local childcare, which would be okay – as long as you work 9-5, which you don’t.

What are you going to do?

I only have to do my own unscientific study of a small number of my friends to see what an enormous problem this is. There is the Lawyer, the Product Manager, the Banker. We also have the Marketing Manager, the A&E doctor and the Cardiac Arrest Nurse. That is before I look around the newsroom where I work at ITV. There’s me, and countless other colleagues who all have to be at work when we are on air at 6pm, some often nowhere near home.

Our school gates are filled with frantic looking parents. The ones red-faced and covered in sweat having left a meeting early to frantically cycle here, only to still arrive ten minutes late, face the shame of the naughty book and another ten-pound fine. Or the others trying to hustle three, exhausted, hungry children across the road while attempting some thoughtful input on the office’s daily conference call.

And these are the lucky ones. They haven’t had to abandon all those years of study, late night working, the endless photocopying and making the tea. We were told we could have it all, weren’t we? Career - tick, partner - tick, babies - tick. Only along the way someone appeared to leave out ‘as long as it is 9-5’ tick.

The figures support this too.  In its 16th annual survey The Family and Childcare Trust found that not only are many families spending over 45 per cent of their disposable income on childcare costs, but only half of areas have enough childcare for parents working full-time. The gaps are even bigger for parents who do not work typical office hours where only one in eight areas have enough care.

Stella Ziolkowski, Director of Quality and Workforce Development of the National Day Nurseries Association says in some places this is starting to be addressed. Yes most do shut at 6pm but there is an increase in the number of nurseries near hospitals or big factories staying open longer and on Saturdays.

She says most private nurseries try to be as flexible as possible but have to comply with ratios of staff to children. There is also a recruitment crisis for nurseries who struggle to recruit qualified candidates when inadequate government funding for ‘free’ hours means they can only afford to pay the Minimum Wage or National Living Wage.

So what can you do? There are still options like a nanny, au pair or childminder, but how and where do you know find the right one?

My afore-mentioned lawyer friend and mother of three found her after-school help via Gumtree. She and her husband, also a lawyer, needed someone they could trust to pick their children up from school, give them dinner and help them with their homework.

“I was told most nannies use Gumtree even though they also register with an agency, not that agencies aren’t great, but they can be expensive. I did interview one candidate who said “well you know, I would never actually hurt a child but sometimes they do makes you so cross inside your head.” Honest, but not what I wanted to hear. So my advice is to trust your instinct. Always remember you are the best judge of who is best to look after your children.”

Our other tips for finding a good au-pair, nanny and/or childminder are:

  1. Many childminders will try to accommodate different working hours. Speak with other parents in your local area and get recommendations.
  2. Be open from the beginning about what you want and expect.
  3. Check, check and check again. Do a criminal record check, ask for references, follow these up. Google them. If you are seeing lots of pictures of them drinking or acting irresponsibly they are probably not the person for you.
  4. If you are interviewing nannies, try to get a shortlist of three candidates and interview them face-to-face.
  5. Prepare a list of questions and ask them all the same ones, making notes all the time.
  6. Make sure they are legally allowed to work in the UK.
  7. If you are unable to meet, i.e. if it is an au pair you are interviewing overseas, then do it via videophone. Let the person interact with your kids and see how that works.
  8. Au pairs are more likely to be short term, so base more emphasis on their personality as they are unlikely to have much childcare experience. See if you ‘click’, check their interests, ask them how they see themselves fitting into your family life? If they want to come to the UK to learn the language and be part of your home great, if they are using your place just as a base so they can come and party, not so great.
  9. Look at local social media or web pages. Many nannies and childminders advertise their services.
  10. Above all trust your instincts. If there is something niggling you from the outset the chances are this will grow into something more significant. Don’t be scared to admit it and move on to someone else. 

What's your tip when it comes to choosing an au-pair or nanny?