In the movie Mary Poppins, Mr. George Banks couldn’t have been more accurate when he declared: “Choosing a nanny for the children is an important and delicate task. It requires insight, balanced judgment and an ability to read character.”

A nanny must be both stern and fair, responsible and flexible, reliable and fun. Indeed, Mary Poppins was a wonderful nanny to Jane and Michael Banks. But contrary to what Hollywood would have us believe, nannies don’t ride parasols through tornado winds to arrive at our door the moment we need them. Finding a nanny is never as easy as just desiring one. However, with a clear and concise plan, any family can find a nanny who is “practically perfect in every way.”

Quality nannies are few and far between. Though it may seem that the most efficient ways to find domestic help is to post an advertisement in a newspaper or browse an Internet site, these are not always the best ways to find someone with whom you should entrust the welfare of your children. Ads and simple searches welcome complete strangers into your life and often yield few dependable applicants. Instead, consider word-of-mouth to develop a network for finding a quality nanny. Friends, family members and co-workers may be able to refer a great caretaker to you. If you are insistent on using print media to choose your nanny, keep your search local, focusing on colleges or religious institutions in the area.

Once you have gathered a substantial group of applicants, narrow down the pool by conducting telephone interviews. A phone interview can tell you a lot about a person’s personality, communication style and whether or not he or she meets your basic qualifications. Listen to the words the prospective nanny uses and the tone of voice. Does the applicant communicate effectively? Ask about prior experience with children. Is it adequate? Inquire about legal status. Does the applicant have U.S. citizenship? How about a valid driver’s license and a reliable vehicle? Also during this initial conversation, determine whether the applicant is available during the hours his or her services are required. By the end of the phone interview process, you should have a small but sufficient group of people with whom to meet in person.

Before inviting any prospective nannies to meet you face-to-face, create a questionnaire that will guide you through the interviews and serve as a “scorecard” upon which to compare applicants. The questions should be well-rounded to ensure that an applicant shares your values and morals. Feel free to use the questionnaire as an outline throughout the course of the interview, or ask the prospective nanny to fill out the form so you can review responses in the days to come. Avoid conducting these preliminary interviews in your home unless you are completely confident in the integrity of the applicant’s character. Instead, consider meeting at a coffee shop or any public location that is free from distractions. Remember your questionnaire and remind each interviewee to bring a childcare resume and a list of both professional and personal references.

By the time you have completed all of the initial face-to-face interviews, you should have narrowed your search to the top three to five possible nannies. At this point, invite the nannies into your home to meet your entire family. Observe the interactions between the nanny and your spouse, any other domestic help you may have and especially your kids. This encounter should provide your children with the chance to ask any questions they have and give you the opportunity to judge if good chemistry exists between the prospective nanny and the members of your family. Be mindful that both the nanny and your children may be nervous, making passive observation important during this meeting.

Hopefully after the in-house interviews, you have your eye on one or two favorite nannies. Before going any further, run background checks on all remaining applicants. Include a complete criminal background, DMV check and social security verification (explore local and state laws on this process). This is also a good time to contact some, or perhaps all, of the nanny’s references. If you are comfortable with whatever these investigations turn up, ask the preferred applicant if he or she will agree to a one-week trial run. If all goes well, you’ll have found a valuable addition to your family and a nanny who is “supercalifragilistic expialidocious!”

In order to maintain an outstanding relationship with your new nanny for years to come, consider completing a nanny/family application. This form dictates all duties and expectations. It outlines a pay rate, vacation schedule and in some cases benefits that both parties agree upon. The nanny/family application is an important document that averts conflicts and establishes a greater understanding of what each party expects from this new relationship.

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