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The Cry For Nannies Is Growing

“The Nanny Network’s Susan Stimmel, right, pulls fingerprint

from nanny Natalie Ryan at Ryan’s Berkeley apartment.”

¢ Experts recommend going through an agency and checking references carefully.

By Yvonne Condes

Nannies might not have English accents or sing in harmony, but for some families having one can be practically perfect. “To me it’s an absolute joy,” said Sabine Hathaway, who runs a translation business from her Moraga home. Having a nanny is easier for Hathaway than taking her 19-month old daughter, Claire, and 4-year-old son, Adam, to day care. In Contra Costa County, the number of families calling the county’s Child Care Council inquiring about nannies has grown, said Executive Director Kate Ertz-Berger.

About a million nannies work in the United States, according to the International Nanny Association, a non-profit clearing house for in-home child-care information. They can be 18-year-old college students to career child-care providers in their 50s. Hathaway found several candidates by advertising in the newspaper. The Sunday Times recently had 56 ads seeking nannies or after-school child care. One nanny and a baby-sitter sought jobs.

Susan Gilleran of Orinda didn’t have much luck when she advertised for a nanny. “People were extremely rude,” she said. “When I said how much I was willing to pay, they acted offended.” In Contra Costa County, nannies can make from $8 to $12 an hour, but if they live with a family, they can earn $800 to $1,800 a month, including room and board, depending on experience. Nanny agencies generally take a placement fee from the family.

Think it over

The Child Care Council recommends going through a nanny placement agency and checking references carefully. “We encourage (parents) to think about issues such as who would get along with the children and about safety,” Ertz-Berger said. “Is this someone I’m going to trust my most precious baby with?”

Gilleran went to The Nanny Network in Walnut Creek and said she was impressed by the agency’s thorough background check on the nannies. For each Nanny Network candidate, Susan Stimmel checks references and visits the nanny at her home to see how she lives and interacts with her family. “I do what I call the mom test,” said Stimmel, who started the agency in 1996. “Is my instinct telling me I don’t feel comfortable with this person? Would I hire this person to take care of my children?” Stimmel uses Trustline, a California registry of in-home child-care providers who have passed a background screening. The screening through the State Department of Justice and the FBI checks for offenses such as rape and elder abuse. I take this very personally,” Stimmel said. “It’s scary out there.” She writes a biography of the person, complete with references and a picture, and gives it to the client. The nanny gets a one-day tryout with the family.

Robin LeGrand, owner of A Nanny Connection, said her business is growing. Many of her clients are college students, putting themselves through school, like she did. A college student is exactly who Hathaway is seeking. She doesn’t want Alice from “The Brady Bunch” but a student or “someone who has a life outside of being a nanny,” she said. She also wants someone who speaks English proficiently. She is raising her children to speak German and English. It’s very important that they are exposed to someone who speaks accent-free English, unlike me,” Hathaway said.

Specific Requirements

Parents are specific when it comes to language. In advertisements in the Times, one family seeks a nanny who speaks excellent English; another ad says Spanish speakers are OK. Although parents are specific about what they want, so are nannies. “It’s as hard to find a good family as it is to find a good nanny,” said Casey Patterson. The mother of two adult daughters is a nanny for a 5- and a 7-year-old in Pleasanton. She interviews the families and gives them a questionnaire before she takes a job. Part of the interview is to make sure the duties are clear and Patterson and the family have the same values. “I don’t usually have a problem with the children,” she said. “Children are children.” And she doesn’t just take care of children. She plans meals, does laundry and cleans up. It may sound like hard work, but Patterson doesn’t think so. “I don’t consider it work,” she said. “If I turn out a good kid, it makes a difference in the world.”

¢ Published in The Contra Costa Times on Sunday, August 22, 1999

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Last modified:  February 5, 2009