Nannies: a viable alternative to traditional childcare

The benefits of having a nanny ...
The benefits of having a nanny ... Photo: Getty

Once thought only to be an option available to those with a large income, nannies could soon become more affordable for Australian families.

The Coalition is currently considering a proposal that would allow the use of nannies to be included on the rebate list for childcare options. But what does a nanny actually do and are they more beneficial for families than the current childcare system?

Australian nanny, Erin Holmes* first got into the childcare industry at the age of 17.

“I worked in the one centre for seven years, first as an assistant and then I studied and worked casually to become a qualified childcare educator,” she says.

“I worked with all age groups at this time, with the ratio of carers to children being 1:5.

“After seven years I needed a change and more money, so I moved into private nannying. I became self employed and worked full time for three different families over a five year period.”

Erin points out that there are a number of beneficial differences between traditional long-term daycare and being a nanny.

She highlighted one-on-one care as the “biggest and most important difference” as well as a stable home environment, and more interaction with the community through daily outings.

A typical day for Erin would see her starting work at 8am, getting her young charges dressed and prepared for the day ahead. Between 9am and 11am, Erin would take the children on an outing, including park visits, the library or play dates before returning home for lunch.

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While the children are sleeping, some light house duties may be done, including dishes and clothes washing. The afternoon is full of outdoor play, along with crafts and activities. Between 4pm and 6pm Erin said she would normally “prepare dinner, bathe the kids, ensure dinner is eaten, tidy up and read stories until mum and dad arrived home”.

During her years as a professional nanny, Erin said she has worked for a variety of people from varying social and economic backgrounds. The main family she cares for currently, consists of a father who works full time and a mother who works three days a week. They employ her to nanny during the three days she is at work.

“(They are a) middle-class family who once told me that they would rather pay a higher rate for quality care for their kids than go on family holidays each year."

Erin also nannies for another family where both parents are doctors but the mother works part time and enlists Erin's services while she was at work. She also casually nannies for a family who own their own business, the father works full time while the mother is a stay at home mum who "just needed an extra set of hands at times" says Erin.

Perth mother of four, Sonja Bennetto said her family has used the services of nannies on and off for nearly eight years. The choice to employ a nanny came down to a personal preference for Ms Bennetto.

“I am not comfortable sending children to daycare until they are over two, preferably closer to three,” she said.

“As I don’t have family around to look after sick kids, the benefit of a nanny is, I can still work if the kids are unwell.

“I work school hours and have the nanny stay on until after dinner and bath [time] to help at that frantic time of day.”

Ms Bennetto said she would like to see households able to access a rebate for nannies, but was quick to clarify that it would not affect her decision to employ one.

“Employing a nanny requires more give than take than if you have a child at daycare - which I have also done,” she explained.

“They have to fit in with your family, and if you have fundamental differences it can make the working relationship tricky. The more professional the employment relationship is, the better for everyone.”

Professionalism is also something that Erin believes should be upheld in a nanny-family working relationship and in particular, she would like to see the industry become more regulated in the future.

“In terms of becoming more regulated, I hope so. It’s such an important time in terms of mental development for children,” she said.

“In recent years the government has ensured that all childcare workers [assistants] hold at least a Certificate III in Early Childhood Development. It would be great to see the same system in place for the nannying industry.”

Erin said her qualifications helped put her ahead in the employment field.

“When I went for my position as a nanny, my qualifications were very important to the perspective family,” she explained.

“This Early Childhood Education background allowed me to provide the best possible care for their children as I was able to nurture their interests, education and emotional wellbeing, all while staying in a healthy home environment.”

*Name has been changed.

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