By Raising Children Network
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Mum with baby and preschooler

Home-based or informal child care means directly employing someone to look after your child, usually in your own home. Options include babysitters and nannies. Here are some things to think about when you’re looking at home-based child care arrangements.

What is home-based child care?

Home-based or informal child care is when you directly employ someone to look after your child, usually in your own home. The main options for home-based child care are babysitters and nannies.

Babysitters look after children every now and then, and usually only for a little while. For example, they might look after your child for several hours during the day or evening while you go out. Some babysitters have completed training in looking after children, but not all have. Read more about babysitters.

Nannies usually work longer and more regular hours – generally 20-40 hours a week. As well as looking after children, a nanny might cook or clean for you. Nannies often have formal training in working with children. Read more about nannies.

To find a babysitter, try asking friends, family or people in your local neighbourhood, or using an agency. Finding a nanny might involve going to an agency or asking other parents for recommendations.

Finding the right carer

Whether you’re looking for a full-time, live-in carer or an occasional babysitter, you need to be sure that:

  • your child will be safe in that person’s care
  • you and your child will get along with the carer
  • there’s a good fit between the carer and your family’s budget, values, routines and rules.

Even if you know your carer, or the carer comes highly recommended, you might consider the following.

Think about when you might need a carer. If you need regular help and/or live-in assistance, you’ll need someone with full-time availability. If you require only occasional assistance, you’ll need someone with flexible availability. Alternatively, you could consider using a babysitting agency.

Always agree on costs with the carer before any child care takes place. Check with other parents for an idea of the going rate for babysitters and nannies. You could also ask an agency for their rates. In fact, it can be a good idea to ask an agency for standard rates before you start your own selection process.

You might need to adjust costs depending on your carer’s qualifications and experience. For example, a nanny with credible qualifications and a lot of experience will charge a higher rate than an occasional teenage babysitter.

Experience and references
Look for some background information about your carer, including references. Find out:

  • whether you know anyone who has employed the carer previously and what their experience has been
  • whether the carer has experience with children the same age as your children
  • whether the carer has looked after children without help before, and how many children the carer has looked after at the one time
  • how many years of experience the carer has.

Ensure that you carefully check any references provided by the carer. If the carer doesn’t offer references, ask for them. You might want a nanny with child care or teaching qualifications, but be prepared to pay a higher rate for this. In some states or territories, nannies or babysitters employed through agencies will be required to have a Working with Children Check card.

Other qualifications
You might prefer to employ someone with a first aid or CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification. You might also need your carer to have a current driver licence. A nanny who has wider responsibilities, such as cooking and cleaning, would need to demonstrate some experience or expertise in these areas. 

Personal fit
Trust your instincts, but also try to find the right fit for your family. For example, if you want someone who’s going to follow your rules in relation to bedtimes, food and discipline, a loving aunt who likes to spoil your children might not be the best choice.

Your child
Your child will be a good judge of whether the carer will work out for you. If you can, introduce your child to the carer before the child care takes place. When hiring a full-time nanny, this step is essential. It’s a good sign if the carer can communicate well with your child at the child’s level. The carer should also be able to understand your child’s needs, whether it’s comfort for a baby or conversation for a two-year-old.

You can watch for your child’s reaction to the carer before, during and after a care session. Note whether your child appears happy or withdrawn, or is just acting normally. Talk to your child after the carer has gone about how your child found the care session.

Babies, young children and older children all need different styles of care. For carers employed to look after babies, experience in the care of a baby is vital. Generally, the younger your child is, the more experienced the carer should be. If your carer is under 18, you might be legally responsible for the carer as well as your own child if something goes wrong.

Establishing house rules

Your carer and your child both need to know what house rules apply when you’re out. Your normal house rules might still apply, or you might relax them to help make a babysitter’s visit special or establish a special relationship with a nanny. Either way, give your carer clear instructions about the rules and what you expect. Here are some suggestions.

Let the carer know what you expect about food, bedtime and television (for your child). The carer will also find it helpful if you outline how you normally manage your child’s behaviour and handle conflict (for example, when sibling fights get out of hand).

Bending the rules
To make the child care time special, you could bend your usual rules. For example, your child might be allowed to stay up an extra half-hour before bedtime, have an ice-cream during an outing, or play a special game.

Smoking and drinking alcohol
Smoking is harmful for children so it’s best to consider a non-smoking carer. Even if the carer smokes outside, smoke particles cling to clothes and can be brought inside. Also, make it clear to your carer that no alcohol or other drugs are to be consumed while the carer is looking after your child.

Your home and possessions
For example, if you prefer people to eat and drink only at the table or in the kitchen, say so or write it on a checklist.

It’s important to know your child will be safe, happy and well looked after when you’re not at home. You might decide you don’t want the carer to be responsible for riskier activities such as bathing your children or driving them around in a car. If the carer will be responsible for all activities, you could consider introducing the following safety topics and rules:

  • Bath times: the carer should stay with your child at all times and make sure the bath water is a safe temperature. Read our article on bath safety for more information.
  • Mealtimes: children should be supervised in the kitchen and while eating. Hot drinks should be kept well out of reach.
  • Bedtimes: the carer should know and follow the rules for safe sleeping.
  • Toddlers: the carer will need to be able to keep up with your child’s energy and speed. Also let the carer know to keep a constant eye out for the toddler tendency to put interesting objects into nostrils and ears.
  • Transport: if the carer will be using your pram, tell the carer how to open and use it. If driving your children is allowed, ensure the carer follows your rules about car safety.
  • Ovens and stove tops: if you’re allowing use of the oven or stove top, provide instructions on how to use them properly.
  • Health issues: give the carer information about giving your child medicine if required. Also let the carer know about any other medical issues, such as your child’s asthma plan.
  • In case of emergency: have the 000 emergency number clearly displayed, as well as phone numbers for the local doctor and poisons information. Show the carer where you keep your first aid kit, fire extinguisher or fire blankets.

Concerns about carer behaviour

If you have concerns about the carer’s behaviour, you have a few options. You can either express your concerns and clarify your expectations about the behaviour, or tell the person you won’t be using him or her again.

For example, you might find out that your carer is:

  • doing things you don’t want your child to see or hear, like swearing or downloading inappropriate material from the internet
  • breaking your house rules or causing an expense, like making long-distance phone calls without your knowledge.

If you suspect behaviour that’s in any way damaging to your child – yelling, hitting or any kind of physical abuse – you have every right to ask the carer to leave immediately. You should also report your experience to any agency, centre or person who recommended the carer. Consider whether the situation should be reported to the police.

  • Last updated or reviewed 09-08-2011