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Child Care: Nannies/Au pairs

Kathryn Patricelli, MA

A nanny is a professional caregiver of any age and level of experience who will work in the parent’s home to care for the child. He or she may or may not live with the family. An au pair is generally a younger person, often a college student, who will live with the family for a few months to a few years to provide care for the children. Au pairs are often students from other cultures who travel abroad in order to experience family life in a different part of the world. While the au pair does provide care for the child or children and may do light housekeeping tasks, they are generally seen as a member of the family rather than as a paid caregiver. Therefore, this article will focus on nannies as they are more comparable to the other childcare settings explored throughout this article.

family on beachAs stated above, a nanny may live with the family or may live on his/her own and commute to provide care. Some nannies agree to perform light household tasks in addition to providing child care (such as doing the family’s laundry or preparing meals). Such an arrangement can provide an advantage to busy parents over and above what other types of childcare arrangements can offer.

Another advantage of a nanny is that the child remains in his/her own home, rather than needing to commute to another location. This eliminates the need for the child to spend time in a vehicle and also reduces parent's commuting time. Parents can simply leave for work each morning without the additional stop at a day care location.

Typically, the nanny only takes care of the family’s child or children, and therefore, his/her focus is not divided among a larger group of children. The child receives much less exposure to germs and illness, and because the nanny will care for the child when sickness does occur, there is no need for a parent to miss work for minor illnesses.

However, there are disadvantages to nanny arrangements as well. First, as with a family care provider, backup care must be arranged when the nanny is ill and unable to care for the child. This can lead the parent to miss work unless a backup provider is in place. Second, a nanny may not be as fully trained in curriculum and other educational strategies as alternative providers, and therefore, the child could spend more time playing on his/her own or watching television. Third, there is no participation in a food program, so parents must make sure that the nanny is providing appropriate and balanced meals to the child and must purchase all food on their own. Also, as discussed under financial considerations, nannies often receive weekly salaries that are higher than either day care centers or family care settings, and a family is generally required to pay taxes and benefits and act as an employer. This can be additional work for already busy parents. Finally, as with a family care provider, there can be increased parental concern that the child may be harmed as no one else observes the nanny’s behavior when the parents are out of the home. These concerns have led to a whole industry that provides “nanny-cams” (hidden video camera systems) and other tools that allow parents to have concrete proof of the care that their child is receiving.

Reader Comments

More Info on Au Pairs - Emily D - Mar 17th 2009

Great comparative article between nannies and day care!

 I'd like to clarify some points on au pairs.  Yes, they are considered family members - and that's a positive in many cases.  Your children are cared for by a loving older sister or brother.

Many people misunderstand the au pair's purpose, however.  The main job for the au pair year is childcare; au pairs work up to 45 hours per week.  There is an educational component to the au pair program, but it is only 6 credits for the whole year so school is not a very big obligation.

 As a cost comparison, au pairs with our company, Cultural Care Au Pair, cost about $320 per week for EVERYTHING!  That's less than $7.50 per hour, as opposed to the base nanny salary in many states of about $15 per hour.

Hope this helps you all in your important search for the right childcare for your family!