Every family needs to figure out childcare, but not all childcare options are for every family. Here's how to consider if a nanny, au pair, or daycare is right for yours.
Finding regular child care can be overwhelming, and the process will differ depending on each family’s unique needs. While many people look immediately to daycares, a nanny or an au pair may be a better match for a specific family situation (or budget). Each has its benefits and drawbacks, but it’s an unfortunate reality that the biggest limit to choice will be the price. In many cases, it may simply come down to the cost of an au pair cost vs. a nanny or daycare. Because one thing is certain: the cost of child care — be it daycare, an au pair, or a nanny, is considerable.
“Child-care costs are often the second largest family expense,” says Elizabeth Malson, president of the Amslee Institute, a licensed online technical school with a childcare curriculum specifically designed for childcare professionals. “The salary you can afford to pay is one of the most important elements of finding great help.”
Pros, Cons, and Costs of Daycare Centers
The first option many parents consider is daycare. This includes both private-residence family child care and more commercial (and therefor regulated) daycare centers.
Daycare centers have a larger staff and more children than in-home providers, nannies or au pairs. One benefit of daycare is that i gives children more opportunities to socialize, which helps them develop emotional intelligence and language skills. In the best case, some daycares provide pre-pre school learning. This varies from center to center, so parents will need to do some comparison shopping. But many state regulations require child-care centers to have a certain number of early childhood education (ECE) units. On the downside, daycares are also little cesspools of bacteria that will get your kid, then you, then your spouse, sick at least 30 times a year. (But there is some evidence that while kids who attend daycares get sick more often for the duration of daycare, they get sick less often later in their childhood, up until age 13.)
On the other hand, some daycare centers may have minimum age restrictions. And though having a professional staff means that they can provide care even when one of their employees are out sick, it also means they are less flexible about their rules and hours. And introducing a baby or toddler to a new environment — one without their parents — can be pretty rough.
The cost of daycare varies widely by state, but it’s going to be expensive. A flex spending account can help defray some of the costs.
Pros, Cons, and Costs of Nannies
Most nannies aren’t magical miracle workers or no-nonsense reality TV stars; they are professional caregivers who work in the home, under contract, with a consistent schedule. “Responsibilities include preparing meals and supervising activities for the children, but also include scheduling outings and providing additional support such as transporting children to and from school, from school to clubs, sports practices, play dates, and other activities,” says Malson.
While there are training programs and state requirements for daycare workers and teachers, no qualifications are required for nannies. That’s why it’s important to find a good one. “Great nannies have invested in education and have at least two to three years of paid child-care experience,” explains Malson. “At a minimum, nannies should have current CPR and First Aid certifications, which are affordable and available online.”
According to the 2017 International Nanny Association survey, the average hourly rate is $19.14. That means a nanny will cost roughly $861.30 for a 45-hour week. Again, that can vary by state, community, agency, and qualifications. Elite nannies often have a college degree in early childhood education; this can create a salary requirement that includes student loan repayment.
Pros, Cons, and Costs of Au Pairs
“Au pairs are part of a one-year culture exchange program where a host family in the United States provides room, board, a weekly salary, and a class,” explains Malson. “In exchange, an au pair provides child care as well as household duties pertaining to the children.” They’re trained and certified by the State Department, and in many cases might be the cheapest childcare option, providing you have a spare bedroom and don’t mind your kid getting weird Swedish ideas in their head.
While there are certainly risks associated with au pairs, considering all the legal issues that have surfaced in the past years, the benefits offered by an au pair are similar to those a nanny would provide, as well as contributing a kind of special cultural education. Au pairs are generally expected to act as a member of the household. That includes taking on a share of light household chores and around 45 hours of child care a week.
Most au pairs have to return to their home country after one or two years. If a child hasn’t started school yet, this can be a difficult goodbye, particularly since the au pair lives with the family.
“Au pair costs are different as they often require an upfront investment with an au pair agency and travel costs in addition to a weekly stipend,” says Malson. “The U.S. State Department requires minimum stipends based on the type of program, the most common of which requires a weekly stipend of $195.75.”
How to Calculate the Costs and Benefits of Nannies, Au Pairs, and Daycares
- Child care is expensive: It’s often the second-highest cost that families bear.
- Daycare Center Pros: With their large staff, daycare centers don’t call in sick, and a large number of children give kids plenty of socializing opportunities. They are also regulated more closely.
- Daycare Center Cons: Their schedules and rules can be inflexible. Kids get less one-on-one attention, and dropping off a baby in a new environment can be emotionally distressing.
- Nanny Pros: Kids get plenty of one-on-one attention, and having the care in the home can make kids more comfortable.
- Nanny Cons: Nannies aren’t regulated the way daycare workers are, and well-trained, well-educated nannies can cost a premium. And kids get fewer socialization opportunities at home.
- Au Pair Pros: Au pairs live in the home, contribute (reasonably) to household chores, and become temporary, hip, international older siblings.
- Au Pair Cons: The programs end after one or two years, which can lead to some difficult goodbyes for little kids.
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