Our beloved nanny arrived in much the same way as a fairy godmother: out of the blue, on our front lawn, smack in my moment of need. Watching my nine-month-old daughter playing on her blanket, I was worrying about my fast-evaporating mat leave, and looming child-care bind: A decision to leave my full-time job to start a small business in my east Toronto neighbourhood meant all the downtown daycares I had registered for were out. None of the centres near me took kids under 18 months. And while I had no idea how predictable my new job would be, I knew it wouldn’t be nine to five. I needed a nanny—and that put me in foreign territory.
Suddenly, Anne, a Scottish woman in her mid-60s, whooshed out of the house next door. A chat revealed that she had nannied for more than 20 years and had been given notice by our neighbours, whose kids had grown up. She was looking for a new job, lived nearby, didn’t mind doing laundry or cooking and had a lovely but firm personality. I couldn’t believe my luck.
Of course, having Mrs. Doubtfire land on your doorstep is not the norm. It’s also not necessary. Thanks to a slew of online resources, it has never been easier to find, screen and hire a great nanny. Do tell neighbours about your need—that can’t hurt. But before you really start knocking on doors, get online. In addition to entire (free!) Facebook groups devoted to city- or neighbourhood-specific nanny-family matching, there are professional agencies and services that will connect you to a bank of candidates. Fees for these services vary and depend on the agency’s level of involvement in your search. Nannies on Call, an agency operating in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia, helps with everything from pre-screening candidates to interview coaching for parents, background checks (for criminal records, driver abstracts, emergency first aid) and contract negotiations. Fees typically run between $3,000 and $5,000 for a full-time hire. At CanadianNanny.ca, a website that offers a forum for parents and prospective nannies to meet and connect (not unlike online dating), a 30-day subscription costs $39. Parents can peruse any of the site’s how-to guides for free.
Martha Scully, the BC-based founder of CanadianNanny.ca, says parents usually interview up to five candidates, on average, before finding The One. Your search should begin no more than three months before you need care. “Hiring a nanny is just like hiring any other employee. You look closer to the time you actually need somebody,” she says.
The exception to this is if you are hiring a live-in nanny from overseas, Scully says. Changes in the government’s Live-in Caregiver Program mean it can now take nine months to two years for a caregiver to arrive; families must spend $1,000 to apply to the program and pay the full cost of a nanny’s travel to Canada, plus lodging and health care once she is here—huge deterrents. A nanny who is already a permanent resident (or working toward permanent residency) is a more popular choice.
Regardless of where your nanny lives, she won’t come cheap. Live-in nannies are paid $12 to $15 per hour. The going rate for full-time live-out nannies is between $15 and $22 before tax, says Kate McGeachin, the Vancouver-based placement manager for Nannies on Call. By law, employers must also pay Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance premiums, and a minimum of two weeks’ vacation and, depending on your province, take out workers’ compensation insurance. If that sounds like a lot of red tape to manage, that’s because it is. Several online services have sprung up to allow families to outsource these tasks.
Still, for families with two or more kids, employing a nanny can be more economical than daycare. It offers more flexibility: Morning and evening rushes are eased, sick kids can stay home, and occasional evening babysitting is seamless and stress-free (date nights!). Some parents worry nanny care will mean fewer social opportunities for their child, but McGeachin dismisses this concern. “If you hire the right nanny, she will be taking your children to playdates, swimming lessons and library storytime. They will get that interaction.”
Yes, employing a nanny does mean adjusting to having an extra person in your home, but the upsides can outweigh the frustration of finding forks in the wrong drawer or feeling awkward about being “the boss.”
“She was a third parent in a sense,” says Meredith Donaghey, a Toronto mother whose nanny, Benita, lived in her house for almost a decade. “My kids knew Mommy, Daddy and there was Benita as well. She became a part of our family.”
A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2016 issue with the headline, "How to hire a nanny," p. 70.