Today's Parent - March 2002 issue
"The Nanny Chase - Using an agency to find good help" - an excerpt
by Ann Douglas

If you think hiring a nanny through an agency is no more complicated than picking up the phone and placing an order for Mary Poppins, Martin Walker* has news for you: She isn't that easy to find. Not only do you have to search out a reputable agency - no small task, according to this St. Catharines, Ontario, father of three - then you have to find the right nanny. And if you're lucky enough to find the caregiver of your dreams, there are still references to check, fees to pay and government red tape to wade through before she's happily in your home caring for your kids. "In the end," says Walker, "I managed to recruit a terrific nanny through a top-tier agency, but that was only after checking out a lot of other nanny agencies. You really have to be careful about who you're dealing with."

Laura Kelly*, a southwestern Ontario mother, agrees that you can't be too careful. She says the industry needs to pull up its socks for parents to feel confident in the quality of the nannies. Her family was forced to fire the part-time nanny they'd hired through a local agency just four weeks into the placement because the caregiver in question was so inept when it came to dealing with infants that Kelly felt her son's health and well-being were in jeopardy.

Rather than asking the agency to find her another caregiver, however, Kelly decided to forfeit the $180 placement fee and take matters into her own hands. "I had lost all trust in the agency at this point," she recalls. "I had assumed the candidates had been carefully pre-screened and that the agency would only send qualified people, but that's certainly not what happened in our case."

Like Kelly, Jennifer Fong had a disappointing experience with Toronto-area agencies. "If there was one issue that put a black cloud over my maternity leave, it was finding child care," she recalls. "One of the agencies simply flooded our fax machine with applications, none of which appeared to have been vetted at all." While one of the three agencies ultimately succeeded in finding a nanny for the family, the solution was only temporary: The woman changed her mind about the job two weeks before Fong was scheduled to return to work. Rather than going the agency route again, Fong decided to handle the recruiting herself and, in the end, managed to find a highly skilled nanny who stayed with the family until their recent move to Calgary.

Of course, not everyone who does business with an agency has a nightmarish experience. Walker, for example, is very pleased with the nanny he hired through St. Catharines-based Select Nannies Inc. The secret is to know upfront what to expect and the questions to ask. Here are a few tips:

According to Eva Knof, owner of the agency Walker ultimately chose, you can expect to pay approximately $235 a week for a live-in nanny in smaller communities and $290 a week in larger centres such as Toronto.

Do some quick number crunching and you'll discover this falls below minimum wage in most parts of the country. In Ontario, for example, where minimum wage is $6.85 an hour, employers are entitled to take up to $85.25 off the weekly wages of a live-in nanny to cover her room and board. Minimum wage rates and employment standards legislation vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so make sure you have a firm grasp of the rules in your province or territory before you commit to hiring a nanny.

A live-out nanny costs more - about $400 a week in Toronto and $275 in smaller communities - because you can't deduct room and board, but it's still less than what you'd pay for two full-time child-care spaces in a licensed daycare. These typically run between $200 and $250 a week per child. This is one of the reasons why nanny care has particular appeal to families with two or more children. Yet, it's a hefty fee to pay if you're looking for care for your one-and-only.

Agencies often charge a placement fee roughly the equivalent of one month of the nanny's salary (about $1,200, depending on where you live). And, what's more, you might also have to pick up the tab for the nanny's airfare if she's relocating to take the job. For its part, the agency should do some pre-screening - sorting through the résumés and getting rid of all the underqualified candidates so you don't have to do all that weeding yourself - run a criminal reference check on the nanny and provide some sort of placement guarantee. However, the onus is on you to ensure the agency actually follows through and delivers what it promises. This means getting an agreement upfront and ensuring the agency lives up to the letter of that agreement.

Something else to file under buyer beware: Be careful of agencies that collect fees from both families and caregivers. Some have been known to double-dip in this way, skimming money off the nanny's salary. Agencies should collect fees from families, not from the nanny herself.

Nanny agencies are covered by the relatively lax laws governing employment agencies rather than the more rigorous standards that apply to licensed child-care operations, according to Martha Friendly of the Childcare Research Unit at the University of Toronto. In the absence of any regulatory body overseeing nanny agencies, parents can find themselves left swinging in the wind if a problem arises.

You wouldn't expect an agency owner to agree with Friendly's take on the situation, but Knof stands behind Friendly's comments 100 percent. "You can run a nanny agency with little more than an answering machine these days," she says.

Or a Web page for that matter. One of the hottest trends in the nanny recruitment business is to charge nannies and parents hefty fees for accessing online databases, whether or not a placement actually occurs. Instead of getting the face-to-face contact and hand holding that occurs when you're dealing with a reputable agency, you can be left paying a sizable fee for what essentially amounts to a do-it-yourself service. (Some sites leave all of the pre-screening up to you, although others are willing to provide this service for an additional fee.)

Questions to Ask
  1. What services are included?
    No two nanny agencies have identical policies when it comes to screening applicants and conducting police and reference checks. According to Eve Lipsyc, a Toronto-based consultant specializing in child care, you should look for an agency willing to walk you through all the red tape associated with becoming an employer for the first time: registering as a business; obtaining a payroll remittance number from Canada Customs and Revenue Agency; arranging for your nanny's health plan; and meeting all immigration requirements if you're hiring someone from another country.
  2. What about backup?
    Let's say your nanny has to leave town in a hurry for a family funeral. Does the agency provide backup? Unfortunately, most don't, so don't be surprised if you have to come up with your own backup.
  3. How will you help the nanny settle in?
    Look for an agency genuinely interested in ensuring that both you and your caregiver are a good fit for one another. A good agency should also be willing to help her connect with other nannies in the community.
  4. Is there a placement guarantee?
    Nicky Holmes of Toronto used an agency to find a child-care provider for her two children, ages two and one. She ultimately chose the one that appeared most committed to customer service. "The agency agreed to provide a six-month placement guarantee rather than its standard three-month guarantee. If the arrangement didn't work out for whatever reason, a new caregiver would be provided without us having to pay a second placement fee." Fortunately, Holmes never had to take the agency up on that offer: The nanny was an instant hit with the entire family. "I can't say enough wonderful things about Juliet," she says. "She's been just amazing with the kids."
  5. What about references?
    While the lack of industry standards means there's always an element of risk, according to Sandra Griffin, executive director of the Canadian Child Care Federation, you can increase your chances of winning at agency roulette by asking friends and relatives for recommendations. If you don't know anyone who's actually used an agency, you'll have to settle for the next best thing: checking the references the agency provides. And do ask for references. "You are putting the care of your child in someone else's hands. You have every right to ask questions," says Lipsyc.
  6. Can I see your business licence?
    Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure the agency in question is operating legally. The challenge is in finding out exactly what laws apply to nanny agencies in your province or territory. According to Suzanne Potvin, team leader of the Foreign Worker Program at Human Resources Development Canada, there's "an absolute mishmash of legislation and standards" governing nanny agencies. Your best bet? Get in touch with your provincial or territorial ministry of labour and find out the rules of the game before you decide whether you want to play ball with a particular agency. * Names changed by request.
In An Emergency
If there's a Murphy's Law that applies to working parents, it goes something like this: "The odds of you making it into work on a given day are inversely proportional to the importance of your being there." In other words, your child will only break out in chickenpox on the day the Big Boss is flying halfway around the world for a special meeting with you.

It's a rare working parent who hasn't encountered this scenario, frantically hitting the speed-dial buttons at 7 a.m. in the hope of finding someone - anyone - who can pinch-hit on the child-care front. While some parents are lucky enough to have access to emergency services such as those offered through the Short Term Child Care Program (Andrew Fleck Child Care Services) in Ottawa, these programs are the exception rather than the rule.

Funded by a consortium of seven Ottawa-area employers, the program offers emergency child care to workers whose regular arrangements fall through. According to program manager Lyne Tremblay, parents using the service might be offered a temporary space in a daycare centre, a licensed home child care, or the services of an in-home child-care provider. The amount an employee is required to pay varies from company to company depending on how much of the tab the employer has agreed to pick up. An employee whose company has paid the annual access fee but not the hourly rate for in-home care can expect to pay approximately $9.50 for each hour of service.

As hefty as that may sound, it's a bargain compared to the fees charged for personal-support workers provided by home health-care agencies - another source of emergency child care in some communities. The going rate for such services can easily top $20 an hour.

And even if you can afford to pay for such services, there's no guarantee you'll find them available in your community. According to Sandra Griffin of the Canadian Child Care Federation, the shortage of emergency child care is simply an indication of "how piecemeal and fragile our child-care system really is."

Today's Parent - June 2005 issue
"The No-Nonsense Guide to Nannies - What it takes to find, hire and manage the right caregiver "
By Steve Brearton

Kate Wise and Simon Temple* needed a nanny soon after their son was born in 2003. Kate runs a small business in Toronto and, two weeks before a crucial deal would demand her full attention, they finally succeeded in lining up a caregiver. “She seemed extremely nice,” Simon says. But after accepting the job, she just dropped out of sight. “We had to practically stalk her to find out if she was still interested.” She wasn’t.

For parents who decide a nanny is right for their family, finding and training the right person is a big job. Here’s a step-by-step guide, with tips to navigate the process toward a happy conclusion.

Getting started
Ideally, give yourself plenty of time. If you plan to hire from abroad, line up an agency at least four months before you require care, says Jana McDermott, president of Vancouver-based ABC Nannies Canada. Hiring locally may not take quite that long, but Marna Martin, president of Trafalgar Personnel in Oakville, Ont., recommends giving yourself as much time as possible.

The first step is assessing your family’s needs. Do you work long hours and demand flexibility with your schedule? Are you looking for a child educator or a nanny who also does housekeeping? Does she need a driver’s licence to ferry your kids to school and other activities? Michelle Zeitler of Nannies on Call in Vancouver cautions parents about possible preconceptions: “A lot of people imagine employing the grandmother type, but come to realize they need a younger, more active person.”

How much do the nanny’s language skills matter? “If children are in the English-language training stages, it’s really important because she is with them for most of their waking hours,” says Martin.

Live-in or live-out?
A live-out nanny comes and goes from your home on a set schedule. Live-in nannies offer greater flexibility for unpredictable work schedules and weeknights and weekends (work hours are subject to provincial regulations). They almost always arrive from overseas through the federal Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP). The program directs that 70 percent of the work be child care specific, but that includes housekeeping related to children, such as meals and laundry as well as light cleaning of the kitchen and main traffic areas.

Cost-wise, hiring a live-in nanny is usually cheaper; if you live in Ontario or BC and pay your nanny $9 to $10 an hour for a 45-hour week, you could spend about $1,400 a month after deducting room and board. (Employees arriving under the LCP typically pay their own travel costs.) A live-out caregiver generally earns between $1,500 and $2,300 monthly, including benefits. If you have more than two children, some agencies recommend that you add a dollar per hour premium for each additional child.

Under government regulations, live-in nannies require a private furnished room with a door that can be locked, reasonably close to a washroom. The nanny must have her own key to the house, and members of the family should never enter her room without her permission.

Doing it yourself. You can navigate the hazards of hiring a nanny yourself — but no one suggests it’s easy. Some fortunate families find a caregiver through word of mouth. After a few false starts, Kate Wise and Simon Temple eventually hired a woman recommended by the nanny who worked for Temple’s brother. “We were so lucky,” says Temple. “She had seven years’ experience and already knew the network of nannies working in the community.”

Advertising is another route, even if you’re seeking live-in help (nannies who arrive under the LCP can change jobs). But prepare for an onslaught. “People are shocked by how many people respond when they put an ad in the paper,” says Michelle Zeitler. “They get 75 responses — and it’s not necessarily quality.”

Under the LCP, parents are required to advertise in a local paper before hiring, to ensure a worker living in Canada can’t fill the position. Language in the ad must conform to local employment equity laws — for example, you can’t specify that applicants have to be under 25. The LCP is currently under review and may undergo major changes in the next year.

Using an agency
There are no regulations governing nanny agencies in Canada, so be careful who you trust to select your child’s caregiver. Get word-of-mouth recommendations from other parents. Always ask what an agency charges, what they provide and how long they have been in business; ask if they have clients in your area to whom you can speak. Expect a thorough assessment of your needs; some agencies may send a representative to your home. “If an agency doesn’t take any information on what the family wants, that should be a red flag,” says Martin, who chairs the immigration and labour committee of the Canadian Coalition for In-Home Care.

Agencies often receive dozens of resumés each week. In screening candidates, good agencies verify employment references as well as educational credentials and do a criminal record check. They also generally require a first-aid certificate. Nannies on Call looks at the driving record of prospective live-out nannies.

An agency should explain the implications of being an employer and your province’s standards around pay, hours of work and vacation time. They will typically help with all required paperwork, including drawing up an employment contract with a detailed job description.

Select Nannies of St. Catharines, Ont., provides a 35-page Family Kit to parents, covering everything from welcoming a nanny into your home to the intricacies of payroll deductions. Most agencies offer at least a three-month guarantee on a caregiver — replacement or money refunded. Also, ask the agency what ongoing support they provide. Nannies on Call, for instance, will respond to clients (even former clients) within an hour — day or night — to clarify a family’s legal responsibilities or to suggest strategies for dealing with a conflict.

Finder’s fees for live-in caregivers vary; some agencies charge nothing, while others charge up to $3,000. But beware: If you’re not paying a fee, chances are the nanny is picking up the bill — a practice Martin says is often abused, with candidates charged exorbitant fees. “The person who can least afford it is paying. Two hundred dollars is a good job in the Philippines; how can they afford $5,000 to $8,000 US to get a job? They may borrow money at very high interest rates or sell a piece of family land.” Ask a firm why they’re not charging you a fee and decide whether you are comfortable with the answer.

Making the choice
Interview a minimum of three prospects. If your candidates are overseas, a telephone interview is crucial, says Eva Knof of Select Nannies. “Even over the phone, you can get a sense of someone’s tone and approach to child caring.” Also, ask to see the candidate’s interview notes from the agency or their overseas agent.

Ask caregivers about past experience, the ages of the children they have cared for, and why they left previous jobs. Ask about their motivation for working with children. Have them describe activities during a typical day, and how they would respond to challenges such as tantrums or sibling fights. Find out about their approach to discipline and whether it meshes with yours.

Meet local applicants for interviews twice, if possible — once with your children present. Call references, even if the agency has already done so.

As an employer, you are subject to federal and provincial regulations. You’ll need to register with the Canada Revenue Agency to receive a business number and open a payroll account; you’ll remit employee deductions as well as your share of Canada Pension Plan contributions and Employment Insurance premiums. You’ll also need to submit a T4 slip and T4 Summary Form. “It’s just jumping through the regulatory hoops and it’s not that bad,” says Mike Cohen, a Toronto father who successfully negotiated the process.

For those hiring a live-in nanny, you have to provide the Service Canada Foreign Worker office in your province with a contract they can vet, as well as prove you can “provide the wages, benefits and working conditions required by provincial or territorial labour laws.” If you’re using an agency, this is likely part of the service. The LCP provides some protection for employers by requiring applicants to have either accreditation from a six-month caregiver training program in their home country, or one year’s employment in related fields.

If you are drawing up your own contract, your province’s employment standard laws define your responsibilities regarding minimum hourly wages and hours worked, overtime, vacation time and parental and family medical leave. Employers are also responsible for paying workers’ compensation. Failure to meet employment laws can be expensive. Rob Ashley, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour in Ontario, cites penalties ranging from a $250 fine to 12 months’ jail time.

Setting expectations
Orienting your new nanny is an important part of easing her entry into your home. If she’s arriving from overseas, she’ll need time to adjust; be sensitive to cultural differences.

Review the contract and discuss expectations in detail. Spend a typical day with your caregiver and discuss the children’s developmental stages. Go over safety hazards and lay out what you expect in terms of discipline (and rewards), food and activities. Put things in writing where possible; no one can remember everything. You should also give the nanny a signed emergency medical treatment release form authorizing a doctor to treat your child in your absence.

A caregiver should respect family rules, keep matters in the home confidential and communicate any concerns about the children or her work. Open communication is the key to a strong relationship. In addition to daily discussions outlining your child’s day, it’s a good idea to schedule regular meetings with your nanny. If you think she’s doing a great job, be sure to let her know. If you have concerns, be direct. Conflicts shouldn’t be aired in front of the children; they’re likely to be confused and upset.

Above all, treat your nanny fairly. Says Martin: “A family that treats a nanny with respect will benefit 10 times over with the treatment of their children and themselves. She’ll bend over backwards for you.”

*Names changed by request.

Small-town blues
Live-out nannies can be difficult to find outside of large centres, says Krista McLean, assistant manager at International Nannies and Homecare, a Vancouver-based agency that specializes in finding care for families outside urban areas. For that reason, families in rural and small-town locales often rely on live-in caregivers hired from abroad. That too can pose issues. “Nannies are often willing to commit to anything before they arrive,” says Eva Knof of Select Nannies in St. Catharines, Ont. “The problem isn’t getting a nanny, but keeping a nanny.” Foreign caregivers are often attracted to bigger cities where community resources and support already exist. Knof suggests asking about a candidate’s activities and interests to decide if she would thrive in your small community.

Sharing the care
Because nannies are the priciest child care option, many families reduce the cost by sharing a caregiver with another family. Either her time is split between the two households, or she cares for all the children together. Individuals hired through the Live-in Caregiver Program can have only one employer.

No matter how well you know the other family, it’s important to work through all the details in advance, including discipline expectations, food and vacation plans. Michelle Zeitler, owner of Vancouver’s Nannies on Call, remembers a situation where two families with a shared nanny had very different parenting styles; one was happy with the nanny and one wasn’t. If one home is used as the “child care centre,” you’ll likely need to negotiate some sharing of related expenses. Employing a diaper service for young children will alleviate some of the inconvenience.

Nanny Nightmares
Here are a few real-life scenarios you don’t want to try at home

Walk out. Imagine a neighbour asking, “Did you have the afternoon off? I saw your nanny at the grocery store without your child.” It has happened in the past, reports one agency owner. In parts of Asia, she explains, it’s common for caregivers to leave the baby sleeping while they go to the market. The nannies simply didn’t know you can’t leave a child unattended in Canada.

Where there’s smoke... Sarah Rathburn* and her husband, Joe, knew their prospective nanny was a smoker. They found out in the second interview, even though they had asked the agency for only non-smoking candidates. With a few misgivings, they hired her anyway; after all, she came with glowing recommendations, and swore she would never smoke on the job. Then one day Rathburn arrived home to find that the nanny had dropped a lit cigarette on 14-month-old Mia, leaving a tiny burn on the baby’s chest. Rathburn fired her that day and angrily declined the agency’s offer to send a replacement (it refused to refund the couple’s $1,000 fee).

Sharing the pain. After returning to work last year, Monica Ling* and her husband, Howard, happily found themselves sharing a nanny with another family. In an unusual arrangement, the nanny was an employee of a child-care outplacement company, with whom the families had a 12-month contract. Earlier this year they learned the nanny was paid much less than they imagined. “The agency took roughly $860 of the $2,200 we paid monthly,” Ling says. “She couldn’t afford to keep working, and we thought we would lose the nanny we loved. We were shocked. And embarrassed.” After having a lawyer review the contract with the agency, the families bought the nanny out. Cost: $6,000.

Bad trip. In 2000, a Calgary woman was convicted of violating the Immigration Act after charging eight Filipina women $2,000 each to place them in Canadian homes as live-in nannies. When the caregivers arrived in Calgary, they were forced instead to work for the woman.

*Names changed by request.

Article Appearing in the St. Catharines Standard
"The Nanny Alternative"
By Elaine Smith - Standard Staff

With a husband in politics and a shift work casino job, Thorold's Rosemary Gabriel knew she would need round-the-clock help with her twin three-year-old daughters.

Her solution was to hire a live-in caregiver, a nanny to look after the children. "A lot of people think it's really expensive and that you have to be really rich," she said, "but to send two kids to day care costs almost as much."

Tanya Nan of Niagara-on-the-Lake came to the same conclusion, realizing that a couple with full-time jobs, lots of traveling and two young sons made for a complicated mix.

"We were trying to cope with before-and-after-school care and trying to plug the holes left by professional development days," she said. "At first I thought nannies were just something rich people do, until I thought it out and realized it was feasible. A lot of mothers and dads probably spend the same amount with all the extras - like takeout meals or days when the kids are home sick."

Both turned to Eva Knof of Select Nannies Inc., proprietor of a St. Catharines placement agency for live-in caregivers ( With her assistance, they were able to hire women from the Philippines who were experienced in childcare and were eager to come to Canada.
"It's not for everyone, and I explain that to families," said Knof, who has a nanny for her own children. "For one child, it's cheaper to go to a day-care center or someone's home."
Nor is everyone willing to welcome a stranger into their home. However, for those who do, it can be a real boon.

"It has surpassed my expectations," said Nan, whose nanny, Sonya, Arrived from a job in Hong Kong a couple of months ago. "I figured the ramp up would take time, but no. She's used to running a household, making sure lunches are packed and homework done. She came in and asked questions - they're great time-management people."

Nan says her life is much less hectic as a result, as are her children's.
"Their days used to be eight to five because of all the extended care, but now I pick them up after school and she takes them to the park and makes sure they have nutritious snacks and meals." Nan said. "They've really grown to adore her in a very short time."
So have Nan and her husband.

"We have life as a family again." She said. "Our lives used to consist of working all week, then spending two days getting things ready for the week. Now we can go out and enjoy bike rides with the kids.

"What I find now is that we have a lot more quality time."

Gabriel's satisfaction with her nanny, Teresa Paa, is evident. As she chats, Teresa sits on the living room floor, playing with Barbies with Alessandra and Arianna, three. They dress up the dolls and march them around. As Gabriel says, "She's like a second mother. The girls aren't upset when I leave. She's a constant for them and I feel very comfortable."

Gabriel plowed through a pile of resumes before narrowing her search to five women, all Filipinas working as nannies in Hong Kong, a rigorous training ground, but useful in perfecting their English. As Gabriel and her husband Bob listened, Knof interviewed each of the women by phone, asking questions about their discipline styles and their interests.

"It's really the luck of the draw, if someone picks up your file for some reason," said Gabriel. "My first choice from the paperwork had poor English skills, but I liked Teresa on the phone and she seemed very excited that it was twins."

As live-in caregivers, the nannies generally work a 44-hour week with a private, locked room and board provided. In addition to caring for the children, most are also asked to do some housekeeping and cooking.

"You go through what's expected and what's not," said Gabriel. "The No.1 priority for me is the kids. If the kids are looked after, I'm happy.
If someone has a fever and you don't do the vacuuming, who cares? I certainly don't expect more from someone I employ than I do myself."

That's not to say it's always smooth sailing, but in good situations, problems are addressed quickly. "If something is bothering you, you'd better say something immediately," said Britain's Sarah Barthorpe, 29, who is working for a family in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
"You find a way to iron everything out. After you live with them for a while, you learn their quirks and what to do, what not to do."

For many of the nannies from overseas, coming to Canada offers them the opportunity to make good lives for themselves. Those who enter the country as part of Immigration/Service Canada's live-in caregiver program have the opportunity to apply for permanent residence after two years of employment.

"I tried to come here to find my luck," said Paa.
"I've been dreaming of coming here since I was seven when I saw (a picture of) snow and wanted to see it."
Filipina Sarah Cabrera, 31, a nanny in Niagara-on-the-Lake, is also thrilled to be in Canada. "I plan to stay in Canada," she said. "I always want to meet new, interesting people and learn of their culture, and financially, it helped me, too. It's greener pastures."

To enter Canada under the live-in caregiver program, applicants are required to speak, read and understand English and have a high school education and some training or employment in caregiving or a related field, such as education.

"I've had a 90 per cent success rate with these women," said Knof. "They're a success because they have a sense of loyalty and a commitment to the family for giving them this opportunity."
They also truly love working with children, something Barthorpe says is a necessity.

"If you love kids and love playing, it's great," she said, noting that her days usually include swimming or roller hockey. "If you don't like kids, don't get into it. It doesn't even seem like a lob sometimes, because it's so much fun."

Picture this. You come out of the shower and smell the coffee brewing. The kids are already at the table being fed breakfast. Their school lunches are already made. And while you take little Jimmy to hockey practice after dinner, the nanny is making sure little Suzie does her homework.

Oh wait. Did I just use the N-word? Nannies are for the rich, you moan. We can't afford a nanny. Try again. More middle-class families are discovering that they can afford a nanny. Go ahead. Add up the daycare costs for three toddlers and see what you pay a month.

Through the federal government's Live-In Caregiver program, a nanny might not cost you more than the daycare bill, which can be as high as $1400 per month for one child in a public facility. You might actually save money. And the bottom line is what's driving the growth in the nanny business. There are more than 210,000 families in Ottawa who at one time or another have likely wished a Mary Poppins-like figure would appear and do everything from soothe their teething toddler to whip up something other than Nutela sandwiches for supper. The program allows you to hire a foreign nanny on a full-time basis. "The expense and wait list of child care in this country has pushed this program," says Shelley Grace, who runs the Ottawa office for International Nannies, a nanny agency. "A lot of people had the misconception for many years that it was too expensive, but more and more families are getting into it now, realizing it's an affordable option."

Wendy Peters has three children ages 2, 4, and 7. She got her Filipino nanny Florelyn Tolentino 18 months ago. She says the experience was so life-altering that she quit her job as a dental hygienist and became a nanny consultant for Select Nannies.

"The price of daycare is why I did it, going from two children to three children in daycare was just too expensive," she says. "I also found with daycare that my kids were sick a lot and we'd have to miss work all the time." The minimum nanny fee under the Live-In Caregiver program is $9.25/hour, less $85.25/week to cover the nanny's room and board. That works out to $1287 a month for a 44-hour work week. As with daycare, families with nannies can claim $7,000 of child care on their taxes for each child under seven years of age and $4,000 for each child between seven and 16.

Some say that without the Live-In Caregiver program, parents, especially those with more than one child, would discover that going back to work is just not financially feasible. "Many wouldn't be able to afford other types of full-time care or have a full-time career," says Guidy Mamann, an immigration lawyer from Mamann and Associates. "I really think this is a Canadian women's issue in particular, because this program makes it economically viable for a woman to return to work if she wishes."

Ninety percent of Canada's nannies are from the Philippines and range from about 25 to 45 years old--the vast majority are women. Under the program, all nannies are required to speak English.

After picking a nanny agency, families are given access to a database of caregivers that describe each nanny's experience and what she will and won't accept as part of her job description. Some nannies refuse to care for newborns, others have a cap on how many children they'll care for. Some know First Aid and CPR ... everything from allergies to swimming skills are included in the biography and it's up to each family to decide what their needs are. Most agencies require nannies supply child-care references and pass medical and criminal background checks as well. "They have to have at least one year live-in work experience that's documented or six months in-class training in a field related to caregiving," says Mamann. "Controls are quite good, Canadian embassies confirm with the institution they say they attended." Grace agrees that the controls are stringent. "We have our own office out there (in the Philippines) to interview them. But even if we didn't do as thorough a job as we do, Immigration certainly does."

Some agencies also provide additional support and training once the nanny gets to Canada. "We provide a nanny kit to our nannies that suggests things to do with children of different age groups in Canada," says Peters. "We also provide a sample schedule so the family can set up what they want their nanny to be doing each day with their children. Nannies also arrange for lots of play dates so you know your children are being socialized."

But don't write off daycare yet. There are still good reasons to have your kids in a daycare if the bottom line is better for you. "Licensed child care in Ottawa provides an enriched program for children with certified early childhood educators," says Francine Riopelle, Division Manager of Children's Services at the City of Ottawa. "The programs are specific to age and the stage of development. Licensed child care comes with very specific criteria and is governed ... Nannies have various sets of experience."

Don Giesbrecht, president of the Canadian Child Care Federation, agrees. "I'm not saying there aren't wonderful nannies, but in licensed child care, children are going to have an educational curriculum, social interaction, and there's no guarantee of that with a nanny in the home," says Giesbrecht. Still, Giesbrecht says licensed child-care costs need to drop. "We need to acknowledge that child care is an important function and that there should be some level of public funding for it," says Giesbrecht.

Both Giesbrecht and Riopelle agree that with the current high cost of child care, if it's only from a financial perspective, a nanny could make for a better arrangement. Although ultimately, the Live-In-Caregiver Program could simply be placating the families who can afford to take advantage of it, while the problematic high cost of licensed child care goes neglected by governments. For those who go the nanny route however, like almost 23,000 other families in Canada and more than 11,000 in Ontario, getting the nanny here is probably the biggest feat. Different countries also have different immigration wait times, and can vary from a few weeks to years.

Mamann says the long wait times are spelling loss of income and productivity for many parents, he hopes to see the situation remedied soon. "Many, many Canadian families are suffering because there's so much delay," says Mamann. "Canadian embassies that process these applications give these applicants very, very low priority." Ryan Henry, director of, a nanny agency with an office in Ottawa registered with the Better Business Bureau, gives this advice: "Look for a company that gives a realistic arrival time for your nanny.

"When you think 'nanny' some people think 'The Philippines', but people in the U.K. are doing that, and in the States, and in the Mideast, so processing times for a Filipino can be over a year, sometimes two." Once a nanny does arrive for the 7,000 Canadian families taking advantage of the program this year, a little apprehension is normal. Some parents may get visions of the horror flick The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. Others may worry about a possible nanny-husband affair ... and then there's the privacy issue.

"I have to say my husband was dead against a nanny initially," says Peters.

"We worried about privacy. But on their time off, nannies have very active social lives -- there's a very big network of nannies in Ottawa. Some nannies will even pool their money and rent an apartment together for the weekends." In 5-10% of placements, a nanny won't be the right fit for a home and besides being supervised by the family nannies are not regulated once they get here, which creates a vulnerability for both the nanny and her family. There are as many stories of families taking advantage of nannies as there are of nannies doing things to upset the families.

"In most cases things work out pretty well but once in awhile there are glitches," says Mamann. "Obviously it's impossible to check integrity. As long as Canadians use good common sense, what more can you do? If you need someone to look after your children, whether they're Canadian, foreign, or even a family member, there's a risk." Mamann himself has had nanny highs and lows. "My own experience is very telling. “We had triplets nine years ago, and we sponsored someone from China. When she got here we discovered that she had paid her agency to help her conceal the fact she had hepatitis. We had to keep her away from the children and reported it to the RCMP. "Since then though, we've had three nannies who each have completed 24 months with us, very successfully. The nanny becomes a member of your family and your kids will always have a little bit of these nannies in them, they become very attached."

If a nanny placement doesn't work out, the agency will try to find something else for the nanny, says Grace. "Nannies come here with great expectations and have invested a lot. There's a lot at stake for them." Grace says most nannies send money back home to their families and children but even more importantly, nannies who complete two years under the Live-In Caregiver Program can apply to have their families emigrate to Canada. Many nannies will leave a family after the two years to pursue a better job in the Canadian workforce and obtain a residence of their own with their family. And so, the nanny hunt begins again.

How the federal government's Live-in Caregiver Program works: What you pay: The minimum nanny fee under the Live-In Caregiver program is $9.25/hour, less $85.25/week to cover the nanny's room and board. That works out to $1287 for a 44-hour work week. What you need to do: Families need to register as a business and make Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance contributions. Anything above a 44-hour work week is subject to an overtime rate of $13.88/hour. Nannies are entitled to all stat holidays, three sick days and one week of vacation after a year. The nanny pays the airfare to Canada. Once a family has secured a nanny's immigration papers, they are obliged to provide a private, furnished bedroom. Most families include a TV and phone. Families need to provide a one-year contract for a nanny, but like any employer in Canada can give two weeks notice to terminate that contract. How to find a nanny: There are several nanny agencies located in Ottawa that will help recruit one. Placement fees can be as high as $2,000.

Workers Forge Local Connections – Ottawa Sun, February 24, 2008

"I like dealing with kids, I feel young when I deal with them--they're funny, they always make me laugh and that makes me happy." Florelyn Tolentino, 32, has been working at the Peters' family home in Kanata for about a year and a half. She's always enjoyed children and loved taking care of her nieces and nephews. After moving to Taiwan to work as a nanny, she started her own family and had a son. Tolentino misses her family back home in the Philippines but says her son is in good hands with her mother and husband. "It's hard but it's a choice. I do get homesick," she says. “If given a chance, I would like to bring them to Canada eventually. I'm thinking I'd even like to go to school here. When I retire, I'll probably go back to the Philippines."

At the Peters' house, Florelyn takes care of seven-year-old Emma, four-year-old Jackson, and two-year-old Caleb. "I love to play with them, go to playgroups and the park, teach them to write the letters of the alphabet, read them books ... and on PD days we all like to go tobogganing together. I really enjoy it. I wouldn't stay if I didn't." Tolentino says the network of nannies in Ottawa is fantastic. She pools her money with other nannies to rent an apartment for weekends and days off. "We like to go out, watch movies, have dinner together," she says. "When we're done work, we're done like anyone." Tolentino is looking forward to the spring when she'll take vacation and head back to the Philippines for her first visit since she arrived in Canada. No doubt she'll be missed by her children here in the meantime, whom she has grown so close to.

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