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.

To find a babysitter, try asking friends, family or people in your local neighbourhood, or using an agency. If you’re looking for a nanny, you might need to go to an agency or ask other parents for recommendations.

Finding the right child 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 like to think about the following issues.

Think about when you need a carer. If you need regular and/or live-in care for your child, you’ll need someone with full-time availability. If you need only occasional child care, you’ll need someone with flexible availability.

Always agree on costs with the carer before any  care takes place. Check with other parents for an idea of the going rate for babysitters and nannies. 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:

  • Has anyone you know employed the carer, and were they happy with the carer?
  • Does the carer have experience with children the same age as your children?
  • Has the carer looked after children without help before, and how many children has the carer looked after at the one time?
  • How many years of experience does the carer have?
  • Does the carer have a Working with Children Check?
  • Can the carer provide references? Check them carefully. If the carer doesn’t offer references, it’s OK to ask for them.

Other qualifications
You might prefer to employ someone with a first aid or CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certificate. You might also need your carer to have a current driver licence. If you want a nanny to cook and clean as well as care for children, you’ll need to look for someone with experience or expertise in these areas.

Personal fit
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, so it’s a good idea to 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 your child’s reaction to the carer before, during and after a care session. Note whether your child seems happy or withdrawn, or is just acting normally. You can ask your child later what he feels about the carer.

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.

House rules for child care in your home

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 screen time (for your child). The carer will also find it helpful if you explain 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 that no alcohol or other drugs are allowed 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.

If the carer will be responsible for all child care 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:   the carer should supervise your children if they’re in the kitchen and while they’re eating. The carer should also keep hot drinks well out of reach of children.
  • Bedtimes: the carer should know and follow the rules for safe sleeping.
  • 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 you need to. Also let the carer know about any other medical issues, like 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 child 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 expense.

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.