Child Care Showdown: Nannies vs. Day Care

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Are you stressing about finding the right child care for your kids? We break down your options, as well as how much you can expect to pay.

Of all the things parents agonize over, child care has to top the list. It doesn’t matter whether you can’t get back to the office fast enough or are weeping at the thought of leaving your little ones. Everyone seems to worry about finding a safe and dependable provider.

If only it were as easy as finding a provider you like. You also have to find one you can afford!

Assuming you don’t have doting grandparents nearby who can baby-sit for free, your choices likely boil down to a nanny, family day care or a day care center.

To help you navigate these options, we’ve broken down the basics of each choice and what you can expect to pay.

For some expert input, I contacted several associations representing child care providers. While the National Association for Family Day Care and the National Child Care Association did not respond to my requests for an interview, Kathy Webb, co-president of the International Nanny Association, was happy to chat about how nannies can benefit families.

We’ll start with a recent video we produced about saving on babysitting. Check it out, then read on.

Now, on with the comparison.

Nannies: Not just Mary Poppins

Your view of nannies is probably skewed by movies such as “Mary Poppins.” You may envision a nanny as the live-in governess who sings, smiles and practically serves as an extra parent. However, in reality a nanny is simply a child care worker who comes to your house to care for your children exclusively.

While some modern nannies will still move in with you, Webb reports that “come and go nannies” are the most common. In fact, the 2013 INA Salary and Benefits Survey found that 90 percent of nannies say they live outside their employer’s home.

For parents already stretched thin, a nanny can simplify life. There’s no need to wake sleeping children at 6 a.m. There’s no need to rush from work so you can reach the day care center by 5:59 p.m. Depending on their work agreement, some nannies may also do light household work in addition to watching the kids.

Before you run out and hire the first nanny who comes your way, Webb advises caution.

“It’s gotten a little scary with the online world,” she says, noting there are few if any regulations in most states, which means anyone can call themselves a nanny. “Families need to be very careful and do their due diligence,” she says.

That due diligence includes very careful screening and reference checks. You’ll also need to do a background check, and not the kind you can pull up instantly online for $30. Spend a little more time and money, if needed, for a broad-based check that looks at criminal records in all states where your prospective nanny previously resided.

Webb also recommends asking behavioral interview questions such as inquiring into how a nanny would address a child screaming in a public place. Once the right nanny has been found, a written agreement should be drawn up to include:

  • Compensation.
  • Benefits.
  • Hours.
  • Expectations.
  • Confidentiality clause (i.e., what the nanny sees in your home stays within your walls).

As a final note, Webb adds: “Be realistic about expectations. She can’t mop the floor at the same time as she’s playing with your child.”

How much it costs

People think that nannies “only work for the rich and famous,” Webb says. Not so.

It may be true that middle-class families use nannies, but that doesn’t mean they come cheap. According to the 2013 INA Salary and Benefits Survey, 55 percent of nannies get paid hourly, and their average wage is $17.44 per hour. The median wage is $16. Wages can, of course, vary by region.

That means you could pay upward of $2,500 a month for a full-time nanny. Definitely not chump change, but it could be money well spent for some families.

Family day care: Home away from home

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