Nannies, also known as au pairs, are caregivers who care for children in the parents’ homes. The children usually range in age from infant to 10 or 12 years old. The nanny’s responsibilities may include supervising the nursery, organizing play activities, taking the children to appointments or classes, and keeping the children’s quarters clean and intact. They may be responsible for supervising the child part of the day or the entire day.
In a large and growing percentage of American families, both parents hold full-time jobs and require full-time child care, which has resulted in increased employment opportunities for nannies. In many other families, parents are opting for part-time work or running businesses out of their homes. Although this allows the parents to be with their children more than if they worked a traditional job, the unpredictability of children’s needs makes a nanny’s help welcome. A growing segment of parents prefer that their children be cared for at home as opposed to taking them to day care or a babysitter. Thus, the nanny has become a viable and often satisfactory solution.
Nanny Career History
Nannies have been a staple of European staffs for hundreds of years, often epitomizing the upper-class British childhood. They have captured our imaginations and have been the basis for fictional characters ranging from Jane Eyre to Mary Poppins. In the United States, nannies or nursemaids have worked in the homes of the very wealthy for centuries. Only quite recently, however, has the role of the nanny entered into the lives of the middle class.
Because of the steadily increasing demand for highly skilled, reliable, private child care, nannies have gained such popularity that schools have sprung up across the country to train and place them. However, the vast majority of nannies come from overseas. Young women and men from the West Indies, the Philippines, Ireland, South Central America, and other regions often emigrate to the United States to become nannies because of the poor economic conditions in their own countries. These nannies are often taken advantage of by the people they work for. They may be paid next to nothing, and be expected to be completely at the disposal of the family, even at a moment’s notice, and they usually receive no health insurance or other benefits. Unfortunately, they put up with this sort of treatment mainly because they are afraid to lose the income, a large part of which they often send home to relatives in their native country.
With proper training and placement, however, nannies can find their jobs to be pleasant, satisfying experiences.
Nanny Job Description
Nannies perform their child care duties in the homes of the families that employ them. Unlike other kinds of household help, nannies are specifically concerned with the needs of the children in their charge. Nannies prepare the children’s meals, making sure they are nutritious, appealing, and appetizing. They may do grocery shopping specifically for the children. Nannies may attend to the children during their mealtimes and oversee their training in table manners and proper etiquette. They also clean up after the children’s meals. If there is an infant in the family, a nanny will wash and sterilize bottles and feed the infant. It is not part of a nanny’s regular duties to cook for the adult members of the household or do domestic chores outside of those required for the children.
Nannies are responsible for keeping order in the children’s quarters. They may clean the bedrooms, nursery, and playrooms, making sure beds are made with clean linens and sufficient blankets. Nannies may also wash and iron the children’s clothing and do any necessary mending. They make sure that the clothing is neatly put away. With older children, the nanny may begin instructions in orderliness and neatness, teaching children how to organize their possessions.
Nannies bathe and dress the children and instill proper grooming skills. Children often seek the assistance of their nanny in getting ready for family parties or holidays. As the children get older, nannies help them learn how to dress themselves and take care of their appearance.
Not only are nannies responsible for the care and training of their charges, but they also act as companions and guardians. They plan games and learning activities for the children and supervise their play, encouraging fairness and good sportsmanship. They may be responsible for planning activities to commemorate holidays, special events, or birthdays. These activities may center on field trips, arts and crafts, or parties. Nannies may travel with families on trips and vacations, or they may take the children on short excursions without their families. Nannies must be detail oriented when it comes to the children entrusted to their care. They keep records of illnesses, allergies, and injuries. They also note learning skills and related progress as well as personal achievements, such as abilities in games or arts and crafts. Later, they relate these events and achievements to the parents.
Nannies act as the parents’ assistants by focusing closely on the children and fostering the behavior expected of them. They are responsible for carrying out the parents’ directions for care and activities. By setting good examples and helping the children follow guidelines established by their parents, nannies encourage the development of happy and confident personalities.
Nanny Career Requirements
From an educational standpoint, nannies usually are required to have at least a high school diploma or equivalent (GED). Helpful high school classes include health, psychology, and home economics. English and communications classes also are useful, as they provide skills that will help in everyday dealings with the children and their parents. Nannies usually must also have a valid driver’s license, since they may be asked to chauffeur the children to doctors’ appointments or other outings.
There are several schools that offer specialized nanny training usually lasting between 12 and 16 weeks. These programs are typically accredited by individual state agencies. Employers generally prefer applicants who have completed an accredited program. Graduates of accredited programs also can command higher salaries.
Two- and four-year programs are available at many colleges and include courses on early childhood education, child growth and development, and child care. College course work in nanny training may also focus on communication, family health, first aid, child psychology, and food and nutrition. Classes may include play and recreational games, arts and crafts, children’s literature, and safety and health. Because nannies may be responsible for children of various ages, the course work focuses on each stage of childhood development and the particular needs of individual children. Special emphasis is given to the care of infants. Professional nanny schools may also give instruction on family management, personal appearance, and appropriate conduct.
Certification or Licensing
Nannies who have graduated from a nanny school that is accredited by the American Council of Nanny Schools can use the title certified professional nanny. Certification shows potential employers your commitment to the work as well as your level of training.
Nannies must possess an even and generous temperament when working with children. They must be kind, affectionate, and genuinely interested in the child’s well-being and development. Good physical condition, energy, and stamina are also necessary for success in this career.
Nannies must be able to work well on their own initiative and have sound judgment to handle any small crises or emergencies that arise. They must know how to instill discipline and carry out the parents’ expectations.
They should be loyal and committed to the children and respect the families for whom they work. In some cases, this is difficult, since nannies are often privy to negative elements of family life, including the emotional problems of parents and their neglect of their children. Nannies need to recognize that they are not part of the family and should not allow themselves to become too familiar with its members. When they disagree with the family on matters of raising the children, they should do so with tact and the realization that they are only employees. Finally, it is imperative that they be discreet about confidential family matters. A nanny who gossips about family affairs is likely to be rapidly dismissed.
Exploring Nanny Career
Babysitting is an excellent way to gain child care experience. Often, a babysitter cares for children without any supervision, thereby learning child management and personal responsibility. Volunteer or part-time work at day care centers, nurseries, or elementary schools can also be beneficial.
Talk to a nanny to get further information. There are several placement agencies for prospective nannies, and one of them might be able to set up a meeting or phone interview with someone who works in the field.
Gather information about nannies either from the library or from sources listed at the end of this article.
Mid- to upper-income parents who seek in-home child care for their children usually employ nannies. These opportunities are generally available across the country in large cities and affluent suburbs. Most nannies are placed in homes by placement agencies, by employment agencies, or through government authorized programs.
Most schools that train nannies offer placement services. In addition, it is possible to register with an employment agency that places child care workers. Currently, there are more than 200 agencies that specialize in placing nannies. Some agencies conduct recruitment drives or fairs to find applicants. Newspaper classified ads may also list job openings for nannies.
Prospective nannies should screen potential employers carefully. Applicants should ask for references from previous nannies, particularly if a family has had many prior nannies, and talk with one or more of them, if possible. There are many horror stories in nanny circles about past employers, and the prospective worker should not assume that every employer is exactly as he or she appears to be at first. Nannies also need to make sure that the specific duties and terms of the job are explicitly specified in a contract. Most agencies will supply sample contracts.
More than half of the nannies working in this country are under the age of 30. Many nannies work in child care temporarily as a way to support themselves through school. Many nannies leave their employers to start families of their own. Some nannies, as their charges grow older and start school, may be employed by a new family every few years. This may result in better-paying positions.
Other advancement opportunities for nannies depend on the personal initiative of the nanny. Some nannies enroll in college to get the necessary training to become teachers or child psychologists. Other nannies may establish their own child care agencies or schools for nannies.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, child care workers providing residential care (a group that includes nannies) had median hourly earnings of $8.15 in 2004. A person making this wage and working full-time at 40 hours a week would have a yearly income of approximately $16,950. The department also reports that of all child care workers in 2004, 10 percent earned less than $5.93 per hour (approximately $12,330 per year), and 10 percent earn more than $12.55 per hour (approximately $26,100 per year).
In reality, however, nannies often work more than 40 hours per week, and their pay may not be based on an hourly rate, but rather be a flat amount that may range from $250 to $400 or more per week. These weekly earnings translate into yearly incomes ranging from $13,000 to $20,800 or more. Income also depends on such factors as the number of children, length of time with a family, and level of previous experience. Some employers provide room and board but in return offer lower pay. Presently, the highest demands for nannies are in large cities on the West and East coasts. High demand can result in higher wages.
Some nannies may be asked to travel with the family. If it is a business-oriented trip, a nanny may be compensated with wages as well as additional days off upon return. If the travel is for vacation, a nanny may get paid a bonus for working additional days. Some employers choose not to take their nannies along when they travel, and these nannies may not earn any wages while the family is gone. Such situations can be a financial disadvantage for the nanny who has been promised full-time work and full-time pay. It is recommended that nannies anticipate possible scenarios or situations that may affect their working schedules and wages and discuss these issues with employers in advance.
Nannies often have work contracts with their families that designate wages, requirements, fringe benefits, and salary increases. Health insurance, worker’s compensation, and Social Security tax are sometimes included in the benefits package. Annual pay raises vary, with increases of 7 or 8 percent being on the high end of the scale.
No other job involves as intimate a relationship with other people and their children as the nanny’s job. Because nannies often live with their employers, it is important that they choose their employer with as much care as the employer chooses them. All necessary working conditions need to be negotiated at the time of hire. Nannies should be fair, flexible, and able to adapt to changes easily. Because nannies work in their employers’ homes, their working conditions vary greatly. Some nannies are live-ins, sharing the home of their employer because of convenience or because of the number or age of children in the family. Newborn babies require additional care that may require the nanny to live on the premises.
It is also common for nannies to live with their families during the week and return to their homes on the weekends. When nannies live in the family’s home, they usually have their own quarters or a small apartment that is separate from the rest of the family’s bedrooms and offers some privacy. Sometimes the nanny’s room is next to the children’s room so it is possible for the nanny to respond immediately if help is needed.
Nannies who are not live-ins may expect to stay at the home for long periods of time, much longer than a traditional nine-to-five job. Since it often is the nanny’s responsibility to put the children to bed in the evening, a nanny may not return home until late evening. Often nannies are asked to stay late or work weekends if the parents have other engagements.
The work of a nanny can often be stressful or unpleasant. Many employers expect their nannies to do things unrelated to their job, such as clean the house, run errands, walk dogs, or babysit for neighborhood children. Some employers may be condescending, rude, and critical. Some mothers, while they need and want the services of a nanny, grow resentful and jealous of the bonds the nanny forms with the children.
Nannies have very few legal rights with regard to their jobs and have little recourse to deal with unfair employers. Job security is very poor, as parents have less need for nannies as their children get older and start school. In addition, nannies are often fired with no notice and sometimes no explanation due to the whims of their employers. Leaving behind a job and the children they have taken care of and grown close to can be emotionally difficult for workers in this field.
The work is often strenuous, requiring a great deal of lifting, standing, and walking or running. The work is also mentally taxing, as young children demand constant attention and energy. However, it can be very rewarding for nannies as they grow close to the children, helping with their upbringing and care. In the best cases, the nanny becomes an integral part of the family he or she works for and is treated with professionalism, respect, and appreciation.
Nanny Career Outlook
The U.S. Department of Labor predicts employment for all child care workers to be about as fast as the average through 2014. The department notes, however, that job opportunities for nannies should be particularly good. The continuing trend of both parents working outside the home ensures that nannies will remain in demand. Even if many of these parents switch to part-time jobs, there will still be a need for qualified child care providers. Presently, the demand for nannies outweighs the supply, and graduating nannies may find themselves faced with several job offers. In addition, the long hours and low pay make for a high turnover rate in this field, and replacement workers are in steady demand. It may be years before the gap between the number of positions open and the availability of nannies diminishes.