For parents wanting or needing in-home childcare, filling the position is more than hiring an employee, it’s like adding a new member to the family. After all, this primary role involves spending concentrated, one-on-one time with a child, so the hiring process should match the importance of the job.
Choosing in-home care versus daycare comes with notable benefits, such as scheduling flexibility when needing help during specific hours, especially if those hours are earlier or later than what standard daycare facilities offer. Another advantage is personalized care and the ability to tailor your childcare setup to meet the needs of family obligations, such as sporting events and after-school activities. Additionally, an in-home caregiver can be hired at a certain rate for multiple children (though adding new children warrants a conversation surrounding pay rate), whereas daycare facilities charge by the child with totals reaching unattainable costs for many families.
But finding that needle-in-a-haystack caregiver isn’t as simple as finding someone to care for your lawn or clean your gutters. A quick Google search may render thousands of results, but how do you actually go about employing someone to come into your home and take care of your precious pride and joy(s)?
“If you lay the appropriate foundation, with clear expectations and regular communication, you should feel comfortable leaving your child,” says Suzanne Barchers, EdD, vice president of curriculum at Lingokids, and former vice president of LeapFrog Enterprises who served on the PBS and Association of Educational Publishers Advisory Boards. Dr. Barchers is an expert in early childhood education with a doctorate of education and curriculum, and she has written over 250 educational books for teachers and children. “Part of your job as a parent is to help your child adjust to various people and personalities [while being able to] socialize and connect to others. If carefully chosen, a caregiver can enrich your child’s life.”
Read on for Dr. Barchers’ guidance on hiring quality childcare and helping facilitate a successful transition for everyone involved.
Determine Your Ideal Candidate
A good place to start is to identify what you’re looking for in a potential caregiver. This list of preferences will vary from family to family depending on personal needs and values, but the following categories can be used in helping organize desired qualifications.
Experience and education
Look for someone with a genuine interest in children and a general understanding of childhood development. It’s advisable that candidates also have a few years of in-home childcare experience with a previous family (which will help with a solid reference) or in-home experience combined with other childcare work, such as a daycare employee, camp counselor, or a teacher. From there, determine what additional qualifiers are needed.
Does your child have special needs? What about life-threatening food allergies? Does your caregiver need to be comfortable with different-aged children or multiple kids at the same time? Will they be responsible for helping with homework or school projects?
And speaking of schooling, decide if you want someone to foster an educational environment for your kiddo at home. For example, if you desire for your toddler to begin learning another language, search for someone who is bilingual and willing to speak in both languages with your child.
Education can also come in the form of everyday tasks, and inviting a little one into those activities.
“[Plan to] ask for examples of how the applicant incorporates literacy in everyday activities,” says Dr. Barchers. “Would the caregiver let a toddler ‘help’ by cracking eggs or measuring flour to make muffins or cookies, even if it takes longer and is messy?” These interactions are skill-building exercises that can be a focus for your caregiver if you specify expectations beforehand.
Additionally, important completed training should be included, such as infant and child CPR, and first aid certification. If you have a pool or are located near water, a water-safety certification is also a good qualification to list.
Map out an ideal childcare schedule with days and times that are non-negotiable. Do you need someone during standard work hours from 9–5 each day? Will they need to handle daily drop-offs and pickups at school or daycare? If you do require daily drop-offs and pickups, you’ll need someone with a driver’s license. But will you require them to have their own car, or do you have a car that you’ll allow them to drive for this purpose?
If also looking for help during non-office hours, do you need someone available to work weekends? Is your job predictable, or will you occasionally have to come home late? How flexible does your caregiver need to be about a start and end time?
You may also want to consider putting a minimum time commitment on your list, such as one year, to avoid having to repeat the process in the near future. Recognize that blending two schedules is never seamless, but identifying your must-have timeslots and nice-to-have blocks during the week will help further narrow down candidates.
You know your child best and what’s needed to care for them in a loving way. Patience is a given in this area and should be expected, but note other traits or characteristics you feel are important, such as an optimistic outlook, a warm tone, an empathetic presence, or a calm confidence in times of tension.
Will your caregiver need to feel comfortable in a high-energy environment? Or will an introverted personality be a better fit? Do you want someone who tends to work through conflict by having a face-to-face conversation, or do you value the ability to give a child space when needed?
Your caregiver’s temperament should be an extension of your parenting style or values and how you typically run things at home. According to Dr. Barchers, this allows your child to feel that you are in partnership with your caregiver, and the two of you are a team that wants the best for your family.
Identifying similar interests between your little one and their prospective caregiver is a great way to foster a relationship and help with the transition of childcare.
Make note of activities your child enjoys, whether it’s playing outdoors, reading, doing arts and crafts, building with blocks or LEGOs, engaging in imaginative play, etc. There’s a big difference between a child who wants to be regularly engaged and a child who is more comfortable playing alone. Know what makes your kiddo tick, and seek someone who will enjoy what they enjoy, too.
Additionally, Dr. Barchers notes that it’s a good idea to make a list of acceptable places to visit during the day, such as the library, park, museum, or a nature trail. This will help your caregiver create a schedule that’s pleasing to your child while offering variety and entertainment.
Like any job, there are “other” skills that can set a potential hire apart. Does your caregiver need to be organized or have good time-management skills? Do they need to be proficient in modern technology? Would you like someone who can cook more than macaroni and cheese?
You may also want a caregiver willing to do light housekeeping when possible, but be prepared to compensate appropriately for these separate tasks. Rates for childcare vary by location, the caregiver’s experience, and family dynamics, but asking local families with caregivers about payment or using an online pay rate calculator is a good starting point.
Find Quality Applicants
There are different methods of finding care for your child, including relying on word-of-mouth suggestions or using an online resource.
No matter which route you choose. Dr. Barchers says doing some initial research is step one by asking and checking for references, asking other parents who or which service they recommend, and if using a service, checking general reviews to gather information on parents’ experiences.
Online hiring services like Care.com or Sittercity.com use a marketplace approach to matching families and prospective caregivers based on interest and compatibility. After making a profile, parents can easily browse listings, check references, request background checks and driving records, start conversations with caregivers, compare pay rates, and more.
Another option is going through an agency like Au Pair International, a program that places young people from other countries into caregiving roles in the U.S. in exchange for room and board and a small stipend. Housing an au pair is a great opportunity to offer your family exposure to a different culture, language, and way of life.
If you are hoping to get connected through word-of-mouth, expand your reach beyond your closest mom-friends by joining local Facebook parent- and childcare-groups and asking anyone and everyone if they have referrals.
Cassidy, 32, from Atlanta shares her experience on finding her perfect fit. “When asking around I noticed that there were several middle-aged women with empty nests looking to fill their time with something rewarding. That’s how we found [our caregiver], and we couldn’t be more grateful for her!
“It’s important to find someone who doesn’t treat it like a job and who loves your littles like their own family. [My caregiver] has always made me feel supported as a working mom and business owner. I tell her everything and feel like we co-parent well together. Since we hired her, I have had several conversations with other women expressing how much they would love a similar job situation.”
Another possible route is checking with local daycare or preschool staff to gauge interest in picking up additional work, pending schedules can be coordinated. Amelia, 33, from New Jersey explains, “If you can find someone currently working in a [daycare] facility, then you know that they have been vetted, to an extent, and have had a background check.
“Aside from getting someone in the industry to go private, seek young adults who have plenty of exposure to kids. Think older siblings in big families, someone with a lot of babysitting experience, local college-age adults going into the field (they have practical hours to complete), or retired caregivers who may be willing to pick up a school year while you continue to look.”
Note that it’s important to always thoroughly vet potential caregivers with background checks, references, reviews from previous employers, and internet searches, especially surrounding their personal social media accounts.
Once you’ve gathered your potential candidates, it’s time to conduct interviews. If possible, meeting in person is the preferred method in order to get a better sense of who the candidates are and whether or not they will complement your family’s needs.
“When interviewing caregivers, have your child present for at least part of the interview,” suggests Dr. Barchers, “Observe how the caregiver interacts with your child(ren). If the person immediately interacts with pertinent questions at the child’s level, you have someone who has an interest in your child as a person. If the applicant acts reserved or doesn’t interact warmly with your child, the applicant may be more interested in a job than in your child.”
Have a list of thoughtful interview questions ready to go before you sit down with each candidate; Dr. Barchers recommends including the following questions in your interview process.
- What is the longest period you’ve spent with a family?
- What is the shortest? Were you asked to leave? If not, why did you leave?
- What’s the most challenging experience you’ve had as a caregiver?
- What special interests or skills do you bring to the position?
- What is your preferred discipline and consequences system?
- How do you handle tantrums? Distraction? Redirecting? Time-outs? When a child is pining for attention? (Be sure you’re in sync with the decisions in this area.)
- What do you think is an appropriate schedule for (insert age)? When do you think it’s appropriate to deviate from the schedule?
Other questions to consider include:
- What age groups have you cared for in the past?
- Do you have other work or life experience that helps you as a caregiver?
- What was the typical daily routine with your last family?
- Have you ever had a childcare emergency? What happened?
- Are you vaccinated against COVID-19 (and up to date on other immunizations)?
- Are you looking to stay long-term, or what is your ideal timeframe?
Above all, when it comes to meeting possible caregivers, Dr. Barchers says the most important thing is to trust your instincts. “If something seems off, it probably is. Move on.”
Help Transition Your Child and Caregiver
Once you’ve hired someone, set them up for success by ensuring your child feels safe and knows what to expect moving forward.
“A warm personality helps with that initial connection to a new caregiver,” says Dr. Barchers. “You, as a parent, should exude confidence in the caregiver and communicate that verbally with positive statements and [affirming] actions. Be sure your child realizes this is an important new member of the family.
“Be sure to also schedule time for the handoff from parent to caregiver. Some days will naturally be rushed, but if you take time in the first days and weeks to collaborate on both transitions, they will become natural.”
She also encourages parents to communicate directly with their child when preparing to leave, keeping it brief with phrases like:
- I’m going to work. I’ll be home by 5:30 this evening. [Your caregiver] will be here while I’m working. They already have plans for things you’ll do together. Have fun!
- I’ll miss you today, but I know you’re going to have fun with [your caregiver]. When I get home, I’m going to ask you both to tell me three special things you did together.
These interactions don’t leave room for the exchange to get overly emotional (for you or your little one). It’s also imperative to communicate directly with your caregiver at the beginning and end of the day to make sure they’re aware of any changes that may affect their work, such as your child not sleeping well the night before.
If your kiddo is having a particularly hard time adjusting to their new caregiver, Dr. Barchers suggests upping the incentives.
“While we don’t want our children to expect treats or bribes every time a caregiver comes or goes, it certainly helps in the beginning to have a new stuffed animal or a special naptime blanket that’s only used when [their caregiver] comes over. I often [suggest] beginning the week by setting out some enticing supplies for projects that will be used later on. There’s nothing like a new box of crayons—even if you already have hundreds—for a new coloring or art project.”
Other ideas include leaving surprise love notes for your child around the house, like placing a sticky note by their bed for naptime or having a designated time where you video chat each day. Additionally, Dr. Barchers recommends keeping routines as consistent as possible during the weekdays, so that the weekends as a family can be totally free of expectations and filled with reconnecting.
Even with quality candidates, it might still be worthwhile to create a margin for error and change, especially if this is your first time hiring for in-home childcare.
“I recommend, when possible, setting the expectation of a 1-2 day trial period so that you can see how your child and the caregiver interact,” says Amelia. “This gives you the chance to make sure you are comfortable and gives your kid(s) a chance to meet the new caregiver while allowing you to observe that dynamic. You will know before you are ‘stuck’ if this is a person you feel you can trust with your child.”
Cassidy echoes similar sentiments about implementing a few trial days before committing, but once she knew she wanted to move forward with in-home care, it was important to her to approach the transition as a team.
“Having had employees at work before, I know it’s better to lay out all expectations in the beginning. Open up that dialogue so that it’s fair to both your caretaker and your family.
“I also reminded myself that it takes a village and that her way of doing things makes my children more well-rounded. This [perspective] helped me relinquish all unnecessary control, and the more I trust her with the day-to-day decisions, the happier she is and the easier my life is, too.”
Lastly, you may need to change caregivers for one reason or another, and that’s OK.
“Sometimes there are personality conflicts that just can’t be overcome,” says Dr. Barchers. “It can be a lot of work to find that perfect caregiver, but the right choice can provide benefits that last a lifetime.”
It may take some trial and error to find the right fit for your family, but once you do, that caregiver could become a beloved extended family member, and you may not be able to imagine what you ever did without them.