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Childcare Issues & Expert Advice to Avoid Them

back to work expecting first months with baby Feb 22, 2023

We had the opportunity to ask some common & advanced childcare questions of Wendy Sjaardema, the 2021 Nanny of the Year and Lead Consultant for Nanniest, a growing company dedicated to supporting working parents through all their childcare needs. Whether you’re expecting or already a parent, we hope Wendy’s unique insight will help you avoid common parental pains when it comes to childcare.

Topics covered:

What key factors determine the best childcare solution for a family?

When we work with a family to help them determine their specific needs, the first areas we address are:

  • Schedule Needs
  • Budgetary Restrictions
  • Personality Traits 
  • Parenting Styles

Schedule and budget are typically the largest determining factors and the others help fine tune best options.

For example, a family with variable work schedules like a physician or a firefighter will need a lot of flexibility in their childcare provider compared to a parent that works a standard 9-5 M-F. That need for flexibility likely will limit the family to either a nanny open to flexible work hours or a drop-in style childcare center or home daycare. Of those options, the next step would be looking at budgetary restrictions, as private nanny care is considerably more expensive than center-based care. If there is no budgetary restriction, we look at those personality traits and parenting styles to determine the best fit. 

A parenting team that values personalized care, ability to drop in occasionally, one-on-one attention, exposure to local activities and outings and more control over daily schedules and activities will likely prefer a nanny while a parent who values socialization, predictable schedules and privacy within their own home may prefer center-based care.

Each family has unique needs and it’s important to address multiple areas to ensure they are happy with their final decision.

What’s the ideal lead time to line up full-time childcare? Does the lead time influence the options?

The more detailed the specific needs, the longer it will take to secure childcare. I typically recommend starting the search about

  • 4-6 weeks ahead of time when considering a nanny with a regular, predictable schedule
  • 6-8 weeks when looking for a home-daycare setting.
  • Center-based care like daycares and preschools often have long waitlists, so I recommend researching those as soon as you know you will need a spot – sometimes even as soon as you are expecting and some parents even join waitlists before they are pregnant!

Add time if:

  • When a family has more specific needs, like flexibility in the schedule, part-time nanny care, nanny shares, travel support needs, budgetary restrictions, special needs children, etc. I recommend adding additional time to the search. 
  • In larger childcare markets, like Denver, Chicago, Austin, New York City, San Francisco or Los Angeles there is a lot more competition for childcare providers so those also may require more advance planning to ensure you secure the right childcare provider. When looking for a private caregiver like a nanny, often your candidate will be leaving another position and will want to give 2-4 weeks’ notice, so take that into account as well.

What questions do you wish all parents asked before committing to a particular childcare provider? What common issues do you see?

I know I am repeating myself at this point, but make sure you really understand your schedule and budget needs before you start your search! This will save you and your potential provider an enormous amount of time, as you can focus more time on interviewing and vetting candidates that are able and willing to meet your needs.

I see a lot of parents who don’t think about or discuss those things until after they’ve interviewed multiple providers and realize that they need to be more specific in communicating exactly what they are looking for.

Communication styles are another big one. 

  • If a parent prefers communicating by text and email rather than in person and likes to leave little notes when ideas occur so they don’t forget, they probably don’t want to hire a nanny who wants full freedom and autonomy with the day to day routines or who views notes and emails as passive aggressive.
  • Similarly, a parent team that values direct and straightforward communication won’t work well with a nanny who shies away from conflict and prefers to ignore it rather than deal with it head on.

These are important areas to address with your childcare provider, regardless of type, beforehand so that you don’t see resentment building within the parent/caregiver relationship with a childcare provider whose communication style clashes with your own. 

How can Nanniest help ease the childcare selection & management process? 

Nanniest’s passion is supporting working parents throughout their parenting journey in all things childcare related, but especially in answering those tough questions surrounding cost, needs, processes and regulations when it comes to hiring childcare providers for their children. A parent who is comfortable and confident that their children are safe and well cared for will have far more success and productivity in their career.

We are here to guide parents through every step of the process as they consider their childcare process, including how to start the search, their local market, legal considerations, interviewing, candidate selection and the hiring process, in addition to sharing our library of resources to assist throughout. We also provide ongoing support throughout the parenting journey, offering support, coaching and advice in areas like sleep, nutrition, behavioral issues and discipline styles among many others. 

Our number one goal is to make each and every parent we work with feel supported and heard and to help alleviate as much stress and worry as possible as we assist in finding the right solutions for their individual families and needs.

The childcare math in the US is depressing; childcare providers are not paid well, and costs are difficult for many families. I hear (and have personally felt!) comments like “I pay more to our daycare than for rent/mortgage” and “Most of my paycheck goes to childcare”.

What advice do you have for parents navigating this challenge?

Many families expect that a nanny will be less expensive than a daycare or preschool and expect to have much more flexibility in situations like a sick child or a family vacation, which is not always the case. 

When looking at costs, the least expensive option is typically a home daycare, followed by a center-based daycare and then a preschool program. Private caregivers cost considerably more than daycares and preschools, which is surprising to many families, and there are additional costs outside just the paycheck. Au pairs have additional expenses like agency fees, cost of setting up a private bedroom, meals and a vehicle for their use. Nannies are covered by the FLSA and are entitled to minimum wage and overtime for every hour worked, and nanny employers are required to track their pay, submit quarterly tax returns and annual W2’s, as well as paying the employer portion and deducting the employee portion of FICA (See IRS Publication 926 for more details).

There are many families out there that choose to hire a nanny under the table, and while this does often save money, it carries huge risk and the employer is liable for extensive fines and fees and even potential jail time if they are ever caught paying a nanny under the table. These positions also unfairly target immigrants and persons of color and perpetuate wage discrepancies for those caught in cycles of poverty. At Nanniest, we believe strongly in the Fair and Legal Pay for Household Employees movement.

The hard truth: Some find that their budget may only support one parent working until their children are school-aged, while others are able to find alternative solutions like a family member providing care, a remote position with flexibility within the workday, a trade of childcare services with another family or alternating work schedules between two parents so one is always available. There are also childcare centers dedicated to lower income families, though these often have long wait lists. Many companies now offer childcare services on site within their offices as an employee benefit, which is a great opportunity for working parents and something we hope to see more of in the future.

Any money saving tips to offer (while caring well for caregivers)? 

As far as money saving tips:

  • There are major year-end tax write-offs you can take advantage of. (Checkout some Childcare Tax Credit Info)
  • Employers often offer childcare stipends that can be used towards centers or private caregivers, so make sure to talk to your employer to see if that is an option. 
  • When employing a private caregiver, you can lower tax liabilities by offering tax-free reimbursements like healthcare benefits, dental and vision benefits, educational stipends and more.
  • Some nannies will also be willing to take a lower hourly rate in exchange for other benefits like more paid time off, a gym membership, food stipend, or the ability to bring their own child and/or pet to work. There are plenty of creative options to consider!

I see questions from parents asking broad questions like “I’m new to the area, looking for recommendations on daycare centers” or “anyone have immediate availability for a 9 month old”.

What advice do you have for parents in a crunch?

Do your research! Whether for a home daycare, private caregiver or center-based care, always make sure to fully vet your childcare provider before entrusting them with the safety of your child. The last thing you want is to rush into a decision out of desperation and be unhappy with the care provided, especially if you enter into a contract with them. It’s also important, if looking for a private caregiver like a nanny, to fully understand the responsibilities as an employer because many parents do not realize the legal requirements, which can be a very costly mistake down the line.

When a family is in a crunch like this, there is a risk of attracting candidates that are inexperienced, unprofessional or unreliable. To be successful in this approach, thorough vetting of candidates during the interview process, and verifying past references & work history are integral in a successful placement. Similarly, any center based care should be vetted to ensure they are properly licensed, have good reviews and don’t have a history of frequent turnover of employees or children in their care.

When I work with a family who needs a very fast turnaround or has major budgetary restrictions, I often recommend utilizing a temp service, drop-in center or a temporary nanny in the short term to allow them to take their time finding their perfect fit childcare provider.

For parents working with a nanny or au pair, what advice do you have to balance being the employer AND the parent? Any tips to set a strong relationship with a childcare provider?

One of the most difficult parts of the caregiver/family relationship is learning how to set and respect boundaries, both for the parent and for the childcare provider. Working in a private household, it is so easy to blur the lines between professional and personal relationships. It is only natural, when working in such a private setting, that relationships grow past the point of a typical employer/employee relationship. It is common for private caregivers and parents alike to discuss wanting the relationship to be more like “one of the family” than a strict professional relationship.

However, there is a huge risk on both sides if there are not certain boundaries that are respected by all parties to keep the relationship professional. Take a look at most adult relationships with their family and close friends – these are often the people you can be completely yourself with, who will stick by you no matter what, but they are also the people who can push your buttons the most or who take advantage of you. The positives in this type of relationship can seem perfect for a nanny/family or au pair arrangement, but the negatives become much more difficult. When these employment relationships become too comfortable, it is very common for both parties to take advantage of the other and addressing issues becomes more difficult. The truth is, either side could leave the arrangement at any time, leaving the other in a bind with a lot more heartbreak than the parting of ways in a typical employment relationship.

My number one recommendation when helping a parent and/or caregiver start a positive employment relationship with long-term potential is to set professional boundaries early on and maintain effective communication throughout the contract

  • This starts with the search process, where parents ensure that they know their needs and goals before they start the search. 
  • The interview part of the process is a perfect time to talk about those goals and needs as well as bring up conversation about how to set and respect boundaries to ensure your childcare provider is on the same page.
  • I always recommend a detailed employment contract that places all of these points in an easily understood format for all parties to refer back to when those lines do get a bit blurry. 
  • Finally, once the position has begun, have frequent check-ins. I often recommend formal check-ins at the one month mark, the 3 month mark, the 6 month mark, and then at a bi-annual or annual review thereafter. Having a set time to check in with everyone helps avoid the build up of any frustrations to ensure a positive working relationship moving forward.  

About Wendy 

Wendy Sjaardema is a CACHE certified Newborn Care Specialist (NCS) with both Master® and Elite™ NCS qualifications and a seasoned Professional Nanny with over 20 years of private childcare experience, as well as the recipient of the International Nanny Association 2021 “Nanny of the Year” (NOTY) award. Wendy is the Lead Consultant for Nanniest, a growing company dedicated to supporting working parents through all their childcare needs. Over the course of her career, Wendy has provided hands-on care for more than 30 families and 40 children as an NCS and nanny, and has supported countless families, nannies, newborn care specialists, postpartum doulas and others within the private caregiving field as a consultant. Wendy started her own consulting company, Nanny Consults, in 2019 with a mission of offering targeted coaching for both caregivers and parents with a focus on promoting professionalism within the private childcare industry, as well as assisting private childcare providers in creation of professional documents such as resumes and contracts. She works closely within nanny networks, professional organizations and agencies and is passionate about supporting, training and coaching both caregivers and their employers in the private childcare industry. She has worked as administrator of the Denver Area Nanny Association for over 10 years, leading a group of over 2,000 local nannies. She has also presented for various annual International Nanny Training Days, International Nanny Association conferences, Newborn Care Solutions “Real Talk” episodes and other speaking engagements in addition to offering her time, experience and mentorship to private caregivers just starting out in the industry.

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