Childcare is one of the biggest challenges for any working mother.  It is emotional, logistical and often confusing.  What is the difference between an Au Pair and a Nanny anyway?  Childcare has to be reliable for you and nurturing for your child.  Here is some information to help.

Daycare. Defined broadly as childcare not in your home, daycare comes in many shapes and sizes.

Types of Daycare

  • Center Based Daycare
    • Large Network: These centers are part of a large network of daycare sites.  Examples include Kindercare™, Kiddie Academy™, Bright Horizons™, etc.   These providers may also be affiliated with large employers for daycare at work.
    • Local, Independent: Typically small in scale, this type of center has only one or few sites.   The site is a designated facility not a family home.  It is typically part of a residential community and caters to local needs.
    • Family day care: Family daycare offers childcare in the home of the childcare provider.  Regulation of family daycare varies from state to state, but typically a site with several children is subject to state licensing requirements.
    • After school care: Most schools now have “aftercare” programs.  The programs are hosted by the school or administered in cooperation with a local organization such as a church or the YMCA.  There is typically a fee for afterschool care that is comparable to hourly babysitting rates per child.

Regulation of Daycare.

It is important to ask questions about licensing and accreditation as you select a daycare option for your child.

  • Licensing: Driven at a state level, licensing helps to protect the safety of children in an out-of home care environment.   The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care is a terrific resource on daycare licensing.  For the nrckids checklist for daycare selection click here:
  • Accreditation: Accredited facilities go beyond state licensing to meet national standards.  Typically, the teachers in an accredited center are expected to pursue continued education and training in early childhood development.

Additional resources for information on daycare selection:

In-home Care. Defined as a designated caregiver in your home.

In home care can create angst because there is not regulation and accreditation in the same way as daycare.  Take the time to ask careful questions of your prospective caregiver.  There are wonderful people out there.

Types of In-home caregivers

  • Au Pair: An Au Pair is a participant in a foreign exchange program using the J1 visa (intended for educational and cultural exchanges).  There are specific rules that govern the Au Pair Program.  For example, Au Pairs must be between 18-26 years old.  There are a limited number of hours that an Au Pair is permitted to work weekly.  This is an important consideration for a family who needs lengthy hours from their caregiver.  The stipend (salary) is predetermined by the program. Typically an Au Pair is more affordable than a nanny.  The total cost to employ an Au Pair includes the upfront visa and travel fees and the weekly stipend.  There are authorized agencies that administer the Au Pair program.  These are the agencies that connect Au Pairs to prospective families and process visa documentation.  The program is sponsored by the State Department.  Make sure that you are working with an authorized agency.   Don’t be misled by an unauthorized agency or an individual caregiver seeking work as an Au Pair.  For more information from the US Department of State Website, click here:
  • Nanny/Governess: A nanny is someone who is hired to care for your child or children as a full or part-time position with duration.  For more information on management of healthcare, tax-withholding, etc., you can refer to
  • Babysitter: A babysitter is typically employed part-time or intermittently.

Interviewing a potential caregiver

Take time to plan your interview with a potential caregiver.  Here are some obvious and not-so obvious questions that are important to ask.

  1. Why do you want to care for my child(ren)?  Seems obvious…but you will be surprised with what you hear.
  2. What is your family like?  You want to listen for someone who shares family values with you.  If you have a large family, you want someone who understands and can handle that dynamic.
  3. What makes you happy?  How do you like to spend your free-time?  This will also tell you a good deal about fit.  If your family is rugged and outdoorsy, it may be challenging to have a “bookworm”.
  4. How is your driving record?  (if driving is required)
  5. Do you have CPR/First Aid Training?
  6. Can you swim?
  7. How would you spend tomorrow with my child(ren) if it was your first day?
  8. Always ask for at least three references.  Ask for references from former employers and established institutions (a school, church, etc).  Call the references to ask follow-up questions.  Click here for a sample reference form.
  9. Listen to how prospective caregivers ask questions of you.  You want someone who is most interested in the needs of your child and your expectations for working together.  Beware of someone who is interested first in salary and vacation time.

Make sure to communicate job expectations before hiring your nanny…cooking, cleaning, driving.  You want to ensure a good match.  It is much better to take the time upfront to find the right person.

Staying Organized: Click here for a system to keep childcare organized and communication flowing with your caregiver (and partner).  Update this before the start of each week and keep it in a place in your home where everyone can use it.  This system will help to keep everyone on the same page.  I have even found that as kids get bigger, they use the system to inform themselves, input their own activities and feel more connected with family logistics.