Highlights from Nannypalooza

I’ve just returned from the Nannypalooza conference in Cleveland, Ohio with a head full of new ideas and insights. Nannypalooza is an American organisation dedicated to supporting nannies through education and networking, and I was very grateful to be invited to their conference representing an agency. Very few agencies are involved in this conference as it really is all about the nannies.

Two sessions really stood out for me while I was there. One was on interview skills for nannies, and the other was on the role of nannies in child protection.


Interviewing skills for nannies

Cleveland is a city that was hit very hard by the global financial crisis, which really put the pressure on anyone looking for employment, let alone nannies. It became increasingly tempting for nannies to accept ‘cash in hand’ work, often with working conditions below the minimum legal level and including little or no insurance. (A shocking 85% of nannies in the USA are said to work ‘cash in hand’.)

The main point of this session was to encourage nannies not to accept the first job that comes along but rather to look on interviews as an opportunity for them to interview their prospective employer as much as the other way around. A nanny should spend a little time looking for the right ‘fit’, in just the same way that parents look for the right nanny.

There was a lot of emphasis on making sure there is a good match in values, which could be anything from religious beliefs to approaches to discipline to smoking. Nannies were encouraged to learn as much as they can about a potential employer by using tactful questioning techniques.

For instance (and perhaps more an issue in the US than here in Australia), it was suggested that rather than saying, “I belong to the Pentecostal church,” they might say, “I am a Christian, how would that fit with your values?” Similarly, instead of saying, “I dislike smoking,” a nanny might say, “I prefer that no one smokes around children – would that be a problem for you?”

The bottom line was that nannies should see interviews as a chance to find out what they need to know in order to be comfortable in a job – a point that is just as relevant in Australia as in the US.


Child protection

It was interesting to get the American perspective on the role of nannies in child protection.

In most US states, nannies are legally mandated to report suspicions of child abuse. This is not the case in Australia. In Victoria, child care workers and teachers have such a mandate, but not nannies.

Our view is that, nevertheless, there remains an ethical, if not legal, responsibility for nannies to report any suspected abuse of a child (or, of course, for parents to report abuse by a nanny). Our agency’s policy is that where abuse is suspected, the nanny or client should report their concerns to our office, and we in turn will contact the Child FIRST office at the Department of Human Services.

One of the points made at the conference, with which I agree completely, is that agencies need to be quite clear about what their policy on child protection is, and be open about this with both nannies and clients.


A quick final note about the Productivity Commission investigation into in-home care that is currently underway and has been in the news a bit lately. The commission is reputedly looking at all elements of the child care system in an effort to find ways to increase the availability and reduce the cost of child care.

Our view is that all the pieces are already in place. There is ample opportunity to extend the availability of in-home care through the offering of more funded places. Provided those places are funded through an accredited agency, with nannies being legally employed and provided with a clear, professional job description (as I’ve discussed before), the availability of child care would increase quickly without the need for spending on more child care facilities.