In-house solutions to childcare dilemma
It’s costly and is a very big undertaking if done properly – but having the kids cared for at home is ideal for some
No bundling small children out of the house early in the morning – for many in-house childcare is the best solution
No bundling small children out of the house early in the morning; no breakneck dash to the crèche before it closes; no pretending children are well when they’re not . . . Most working parents lucky enough to have a happy in-house solution to the childcare dilemma swear by it.
It ranges from the elite-sounding “nanny” – professional but expensive – to an au pair, who is cheap but not intended for full-time childcare. (We’re leaving stay-at-home parents or unpaid relatives aside for this article.)
However the in-house carer is not for everybody. Full-time nannies should be paid at least €500-€600 a week so cost rules it out for many – although with two or more young children it may be no more than crèche fees.
Some parents admit they couldn’t bear their child getting overly attached to another “mother” figure. And, with an au pair, even if you have a spare room and don’t mind a “stranger” living in, placements will always be relatively short.
Being responsible for selecting the one, right person to whom you will entrust your child is daunting.
You can go it alone, or pay for the services of a nanny or au pair agency that will already have done interviews and background checks on qualifications, criminal record, referees, etc.
When Teresa Boardman of recruitment agency Parenting Solutions is selecting candidates to offer clients, she always looks for somebody who has a real desire to work as a nanny. They must have formal qualifications and two years’ experience or at least four years’ experience and an up-to-date first-aid course.
“For me it is all about passion – I know this person is still going to be looking after children in 10 to 15 years’ time.” The agency matches possible candidates with families’ needs and she recommends parents interview at least two, even if they really like the first one.
She would advise any family to interview a candidate twice – the first time without the children and the second one with the children present, to see how she interacts with them.
Like most agencies, Parenting Solutions offers a sample nanny contract to guide parents. (It also places au pairs and other childcare professionals such as night nurses.) Towards the end of the first three months of a new hiring, Boardman will visit the home to see how the nanny has settled in and make sure both sides are happy
If it is not working out, “we would give the family a refund or change the nanny during a period of up to six months”. But she would hope that, with her support, any teething problems could be sorted.
Christine, a Co Clare mother of two children aged five and three, says finding the right childcare has been the most stressful aspect of being a parent. A crèche was working out well for the older child but when the younger one started at six-months-old, she kept getting sick.
“Every day I was dropping her in, I was seeing other parents dropping in sick children with medicine bottles; they couldn’t take time off work so were leaving sick children to be minded.” Her baby’s immune system couldn’t cope with the constant exposure to bugs.
“It was an awful time; she got pneumonia four times and almost died with septicaemia,” she says. With 10 admissions to hospital within a year, Christine had to take leave from work and vowed never to put her youngest back into the crèche.
She tried an au pair next, spending months looking for the “right one” before choosing a 30-year-old teacher who wanted to come here to improve her English. Her CV was “amazing”, they Skyped several times, but now she says: “I should have known she was the wrong one as she never once asked about the kids during the interview process.”
She lasted five days – walking out when Christine asked her to interact with the children more, rather than being on the computer all day.
“I was so distraught my neighbour offered to mind our children until we could find somebody to replace the au pair.”
Christine was overwhelmed by the number of applicants after she advertised for a nanny and found it hard saying no – “I am no Alan Sugar! ” – but her advice is go with your gut instinct. She found a woman but, as it turned out, her neighbour had become so fond of the children she wanted to continue – much to the delight of the family.
The thought of sorting tax and other employer liabilities “terrified” Christine, so she is very happy to pay an accountant to look after all that for an annual fee of €500.
Christine says she could not have continued working if she wasn’t happy with her childcare and she knows how lucky she is to have found somebody who is perfect for them.