Family Life


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How to find a nanny

Woman swinging a toddler

You’ve probably watched the 1964 Disney classic many times. Now that your family needs a nanny, you may well wonder if there’s a Mary Poppins in your future.

Mary poppins illustration - how to find a nanny
In my years as a nanny, I have had good and bad experiences. The negative ones were the result of my profession being misunderstood. A good experience begins with a clear understanding of what services a nanny can, and should, deliver.

A nanny is not a babysitter. Nor is she a maid or housekeeper. She is responsible for the safe and nurturing care of your children. One family’s expectations of a nanny’s responsibilities may be entirely different from the next, so be sure to state your expectations up front.

But first, you need to figure out what kind of nanny you’re looking for: Live-in or live-out.

The live-in nanny

Live-in nannies earn about $400 to $550 every two weeks, depending on where you live, with money deducted for room and board.

They become part of the family, sharing in many of your activities. Many families choose to hire a live-in caregiver from abroad who wants to work in Canada. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will issue a work permit for a person who has a job offer from a Canadian sponsor. To be eligible to hire a nanny from abroad, an employer must apply for and receive a positive Labour Market Opinion from Service Canada. A live-in caregiver must work for you in a private home on a full-time basis, live with you and have a private, furnished room within your home. You must pay for her health insurance, enrol her in provincial workplace safety insurance (also known as workers’ compensation), and pay for her travel costs to get her from her country to Canada. (Visit the CIC website for more on the Live-in Caregiver Program.)

This was the choice for Sandra Bratty, a mother of four from from Kettleby, Ont. She began her search in January, 2011 and didn’t connect with her candidate until September. The process is tedious and involves lots of paperwork, along with security and immigration approvals.

Nanny Robina, the resident nanny on The Mom Show on Slice TV says, “I was a live-in nanny with many families for almost 30 years and, in my experience, you really become part of the family. When hiring a nanny from overseas, however, take into consideration what culture she comes from. She may come from a country that has a lifestyle that is quite different from Canadian culture.”

On the other hand, exposure to a different culture is often a plus of hiring a nanny from another country.

Calgary mom Joll Drader worked as a nanny (or au pair) during her university years. Now she employs nannies from France to care for her son, Jake. “An au pair from Europe is the logical choice for our family,” she says. “In our neighbourhood there are babysitters and daycare centres, but the centres close at 6 p.m. and I’m not always home from work by that time. An au pair has been the answer for us because it has provided safety and security by having someone who has become part of the family. My son is comfortable with her and she knows our routines and lifestyle.”

The live-out nanny

The wage for a live-out nanny can vary beween $10.25 to $18 an hour, depending on the nanny’s experience, qualifications and where you live. If you are looking for help for, say, $50 a day, then a nanny may not be in your budget.

Live-out nannies arrive at a designated time in the morning and leave at a specific time at the end of the day. Nanny Robina notes that live-out nannies are increasingly hard to find. Further, you have to cope with their bus being late or their car being stuck in the snow.

The search

Unfortunately, your nanny won’t float down from the sky with suitcase and umbrella in hand.

She may arrive, however, by way of a great recommendation from a family or friend. Nanny Robina agrees that the happiest relationships come from word of mouth recommendations.

Ironically, my current family lives on a street where, in the initial interview, we discovered we both knew some of their neighbours. This was a great start for both of us!

Besides word of mouth, here are some surefire ways to start building your list of candidates:

  • Visit This lists nannies across Canada along with their profiles.
  • Ask for referrals from other nannies, especially from those who are in happy situations.
  • Check out an agency. “I have always gone through agencies because of their screening process and security,” says Sandra. “The agency is the best one I have experienced.” Beware of agencies that don’t always have nannies available or who place nannies who are inexperienced.

Agencies interview and screen potential candidates and then put them on a database. Families are then given a list of matches that best suits their needs. Most agencies charge a one-time fee of 10 percent of the nanny’s annual gross income.

The interview

Prepare your questions. This is a time for full disclosure on both sides as to expectations. Ask…

  • Why did you apply for this position?
  • What is your past experience? (Ask for references.)
  • Describe any difficult problem in the past and how you handled it?
  • How do you handle aggressive behaviour between children?
  • How do you handle children who refuse to eat?
  • How would you handle someone at the door who claims to be a relative and wants entry?
  • How do you handle children who cry endlessly and are inconsolable?
  • Will you contribute to keeping the house tidy? What chores will you do or not do?

The qualifications

Check the specifics. Does she have training in first aid, CPR, early childhood education or child development?

And then there are the intangibles. Does she seem responsible, mature and, maybe most important, does she have a sense of humour?

The decision

Trust your instincts and first impression as to whether the nanny is a fit for your family. When you reach an agreement on expectations and duties, the days and hours of work, wages, overtime pay, and vacation time, put it all in a contract. This is for the protection of both you and your nanny. Have an accountant or financial advisor set up a business number, too. You are legally required to remit payroll deductions for taxes, EI and CPP on your nanny’s behalf.

Benefits of hiring a nanny

  • One-on-one attention and stimulation for your children.
  • Nannies can accompany children to extracurricular activities such as play groups, swimming lessons and library programs.
  • Children, when ill, are cared for in the home.
  • Parents escape the morning rush of dropping children off to daycare programs.
  • Less exposure to illness than in daycare centres.
  • Tax write-off.

Melissa Martz is a freelance writer in Kitchener, Ont., and was a nanny for 14 years.

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Originally published in ParentsCanada, May/June 2012

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