How to Choose Nannies and Au Pairs
Decide which you require - au pair or nanny? Nannies generally have some formal qualifications (NNEB, CACHE, GNVQ level 3 or 4, ADCE), and many people feel more secure about having a nanny to look after babies and very young children. Au pairs are cheaper and do not have formal childcare qualifications. They will expect more integration into family life, and are generally considered suitable for school-age children.
Decide whether you're going to go with an agency or try to find someone yourself. If you're going to use an agency, try and find a word-of-mouth recommendation. An agency should be responsible for performing CRB checks, checking references and screening applicants, but some agencies are barely adequate, and will swamp you with unsuitable candidates.
If you are employing an au pair from abroad, it is common to use an agency thats will assess your needs and select a suitable candidate. It is vital, therefore, that you feel comfortable with the agency, and that they are able to supply you references from satisfied clients.
If you're going it alone, you may want to initiate CRB checks yourself, and you should certainly take up references. Talk to former employees, and be as probing as possible.
Check out ads on appropriate websites, or talk to friends, to assess what most au pairs/nannies in your area require (bathroom, broadband, television etc.).
Make it very clear at the interview stage if you have any absolute prohibitions; smoking, boyfriends staying overnight etc. It will save you having awkward confrontations later.
Try and explain as much as possible about your family - routines, likes and dislikes, mealtimes, television-viewing habits, number of computers, leisure activities, family activities. Your potential employee will be able to judge whether they'll fit in to your household.
Show it as it is. No last-minute rushing around with a hoover, or attempts to create an ideal home ambience before the interview. A hyper-organised nanny might be traumatised to discover the horrible, chaotic truth…
Ask your prospective au pair or nanny her reasons for leaving her last job. Changes in the family's circumstances bode well; evasive mutterings do not.
Show the prospective au pair or nanny her room and the bathroom set-up. Gauge her reactions, and reassure yourself that she seems happy with the facilities. You don't want to be fielding complaints when she's moved in.
Outline the tasks you expect her to perform in detail (it helps to write them down), and check out explicitly at the interview stage that she is willing to take responsibility for them. If you're a routine-freak, who feels happiest if the children are adhering to a strict timetable, this is the time to tell her.
Explain exactly what hours she will be expected to work, and check out what other commitments she has. Some au pairs do language classes, or may even have a part-time work schedule. Be aware that this may reduce her flexibility in the case of a crisis, or sudden change of schedule (if that's something you're prone to).
Introduce her to your children and watch how they interact. It's probably over-ambitious to expect instant bonding, but she should at least attempt to communicate with them.
How about a trial period? It's good for both sides to assess the situation after, say, three months.
Trust your instincts. This is an employee who is going to be spending long periods of time in the bosom of your family. If you're at all uncertain, it's best not to risk it, and just keep looking…