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What overall considerations should I have to find the perfect nanny for my family?

Kathleen Webb of HomeWork solutions Inc. advises families that finding the perfect nanny in real life is never as easy as the Nanny reality style television shows would have you believe. She offers the following "Nanny 411."

Finding a nanny who fits your family doesn't have to be a complicated, frustrating process. Make the recruiting process an orderly one, advises Ms. Webb.

Step 1: Envision your ideal nanny. Parents should collaborate on a list of their expectations. What characteristics and experience do you want in your nanny? What duties must she be willing to take on? Put your requirements - including "must-haves" and "would-be-nice-to-haves" - in a list that you can refer back to when you get to the interview phase of the process. Establish your nanny budget now so salary discussions won't be a stumbling block later.

Step 2: Choose your recruiting tool(s). How will you search for your nanny? Common nanny search tools include newspaper ads, nanny agencies, networking with friends and family. Recently more and more families are turning to online resources as a lower-cost alternative. Each has advantages and disadvantages, but the same objective - to help you narrow the field of applicants to a handful of likely candidates.

Step 3: The Initial Contact. Once you've identified your candidates, you will want to further determine their level of interest and suitability. Depending on where you and the candidate are located, it's likely this initial contact won't be face to face. Increasingly, it's made via e-mail, Webb says. "By contacting the nanny online, you can have a conversation whenever it's convenient for you," she says. "You can send an e-mail at 10 pm when the kids are in bed, and probably have a response by the time you get home from work the next day."

Step 4: The interview. Remember your list from Step 1? Now's the time to use that list to craft questions for a personal interview of your nanny candidate. Most families prefer to conduct the interview in their home, but sometimes distance will make that impossible and you'll have to settle for a phone interview, Webb notes. However you conduct your interview, be sure to ask open-ended questions designed to elicit more than a simple "yes" or "no" response.

Step 5: Reference and Criminal Background Checks. This step usually takes place after you've picked a nanny and made an offer of employment. Contact a minimum of two references, preferably work or character references, not related to the nanny. Next obtain a professionally done criminal background check. To do this you will need the nanny's full legal name, date of birth, Social Security number and a signed release. Typically a professional background check can be obtained for around $100 - $150. Beware of Websites that promise "instant" low cost background checks, Webb cautions. Often, these sites are searching online public records databases that are incomplete or out of date.

Step 6: Hire and Retain Your Nanny! Once you're satisfied that you've found the right nanny, make sure the terms of your arrangement are spelled out in an employment agreement that will be signed by you and your nanny. Hire your nanny and orient her to your home, family and schedule. Make sure she has your office and cell phone numbers, as well as written authorization to pick up your children from school or obtain medical care for them. Consider keeping a "Nanny Log" where your nanny can record the day's events - how many times the baby's diaper was changed, what your preschooler had for lunch, how long your toddler napped, etc. The log can do dual duty as a record of days and hours worked (you are legally required to keep these records accurately and contemporaneously) and of out-of-pocket expenses your nanny might incur throughout the day for later reimbursement.

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