THE NANNY NETWORK, INC.
CONTRA COSTA TIMES
DANVILLE – Marissa Murley, an 18-year-old from Pleasant Hill, is working as a nanny while she studies at Diablo Valley College. Robin LeGrand, owner of the placement agency A Nanny Connection, is interested in both aspects of the young woman’s life.
“They could give you more hours if you do more errands,” LeGrand told Murley last week as they chatted about potential employers at LeGrand’s home office. “But with school I don’t want you to get too busy.”
Murley said the long hours on weekdays suit her fine.
“I do most of my studying on Sundays,” she said. “It’s like my whole day.”
The nanny placement business is a deeply personal one, as agency operators form relationships and attachments to both families and nannies while acting as brokers between the parties. For owners of nanny referral agencies in the East Bay, most of whom are independent small-business people, the work can be all-consuming.
“I’m up at 5:30 checking e-mail and getting organized for the day,” LeGrand said. “I work on vacations; I never get a break.”
Nanny placement agencies began opening in large numbers in the United States in the early 1980s in response to more women entering the work force and other social and economic factors, said Pat Cascio, president of the International Nanny Association.
The agencies are businesses that tend to rise and fall along with the economy as a whole because they reflect how families respond to employment trends. However, the industry has shown some patterns of its own in recent years, Cascio said.
“The level of professionalism is increasing,” she said.
LeGrand agrees, saying that the nannies she works with are now more likely to have advanced degrees or certificates in child care and education than the nannies she worked with when she started her business a decade ago.
Susan Stimmel, owner of The Nanny Network, a Walnut Creek-based referral agency, said the higher standards reflect a more demanding consumer base.
“I think we’re busier now because parents are being more cautious,” saidStimmel, who started her agency in 1996.
Stimmel cited a pair of recent high-profile criminal cases in Contra Costa County. Police arrested Mariana Monticalvo in Walnut Creek in March, accusing her of passing herself off as a home child care provider in order to scam families out of money. Former nanny Jimena Barreto is awaiting trial in connection with an incident in late 2003 in which she allegedly ran over and killed two Danville children while driving under the influence.
“These stories have put a lot of fear in parents, so I think they’re turning more to a professional nanny agency to find child care because we do all the due diligence,” Stimmel said.
Stimmel’s Nanny Network and LeGrand’s Nanny Connection both have elaborate screening procedures for their nannies. They start by interviewing potential nannies over the phone, then in person. Those who make the cut are subjected to background checks, finger printing and disease testing. Their references and driving records are checked, and they enroll in CPR training.
“It makes my job a lot easier,” said Marci Byrne, a mother of four from Orinda and a client of A Nanny Connection.
Byrne, who works full time as a real estate portfolio manager, has a nanny take care of her children for much of the day. With nannies moving on to pursue their studies or other work after a year or two with the family, Byrne has been through a couple of care-givers from A Nanny Connection. She has paid the agency fees of $1,000 to $2,000, she said.
LeGrand charges families a fee that works out to five weeks of a nanny’s gross salary. The agency fee comes on top of what the nanny is paid, which LeGrand estimates at anywhere from $12 to $18 an hour in the Bay Area.
Stimmel of The Nanny Network charges a flat placement fee of $2,500 for a full-time nanny and $1,500 for part-time (with a different fee schedule for temporary nannies).
Both women say their businesses have been consistently profitable, while they decline to provide precise revenue figures. Both say they place an average of 15 nannies a month, and that their primary business costs are advertising and background check fees.
“It’s a lot of work,” Stimmel said. “You need a huge heart, and you need to love what you’re doing.”
¢ Published in The Contra Costa Times on Tuesday, October 12, 2004
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