THE NEW AMERICAN NANNY

Dallas families are finding quality child care close to home

For years, having a trained English or otherwise foreign nanny to look after the kids was de rigueur for the wealthy American elite. But, with increasing immigration and visa tangles and frequent homesickness, finding-and keeping-a foreign nanny is a job in itself. Today, frustrated parents can forgo the legal and emotional entanglements, thanks to a growing trend in child care across the country: the new American nanny.

In Dallas, the Childcare Alternative and Parent Education (CAPE) Center and the new nanny school slated for next spring at Brookhaven Community College are working to meet the increasing demand for certified nannies. And Dallas parents are enjoying the advantage of nannies who are legal workers, have a driver’s license, speak the language, and, most importantly, understand the culture.

’Americans don’t want to give up ’ownership,’ ” says Dr. Judith Schneider of the CAPE Center. “The English nanny takes over. The American nanny is an aide, assistant, right arm. But the basic control is with the parents.”

American nannies have varied educational backgrounds. Some have two- or four-year college degrees, and, to be certified, they must train at least an average of six months or 250 hours in an accredited child development program, taking courses in child development, CPR, nutrition, in-home care, and child care. Many have held previous jobs before getting their certifications. They can earn up to $30,000 annually at the top of their profession; most earn between $12,000 and $18,000.

But are nannies just for the rich? No, says Dr. Judith Bunge of North American Nannies, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. “It’s the dual-career families who are not wealthy who sacrifice part of their salaries to get quality child care.”

What can Dal-lasites expect to pay for a certified nanny? A hefty amount. Expenses for a live-in or live-out include:

* $750 to $1,000 for a school or agency placement fee

* $1,000 to $1,500 monthlysalary plus paid vacations andholidays

* 7 1/4 percent in Social Security plus withholding tax andunemployment compensation

* benefits ranging from roomand board, car and gas, vacationtravel, and health insurance.

Optional arrangements include hiring a nanny intern or sharing a nanny with another family.

Two things that seem to attract women into the nanny profession are a great love of children and a desire to do more than work the usual routine of a nine-to-five office job. As one Dallas nanny who spent six years in such a job before turning to nanny school says: “It’s rewarding besides being fun. I got tired of sitting behind a typewriter and a terminal.”

Another nanny school graduate formerly worked in accounting at a mortgage company. “I liked the work but not the routine every day. I’m so glad I changed. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to an office job,” she says. Since she did not have a college degree and felt the pay at day care centers was too low, she chose to attend the CAPE Center. “I decided to go through school and do it right. I learned so much; I feel much more capable of doing the job and I feel like I am a professional.”

Parents who place their own advertisements for nannies need to keep their eyes wide open. Look for “an individual with warmth and a giving quality, forthrightness, openness, an adequate level of assertiveness, and who understands when you draw the line and when you don’t,” advises Dick Hughes, who evaluates nanny candidates for one Dallas agency.

One Dallas nanny, who earns $18,000 annually and doesn’t do windows, urges parents to be honest about their home situation; if there’s an impending divorce or child custody squabble, the nanny should know what to expect. And parents must decide if they want a housekeeper or a nanny. One recent Dallas classified ad sought a nanny to work seventy-plus hours per week in addition to housework and errands; that’s “way too much” work, she says. Bob Johnston of Dallas agrees. He describes his nanny’s role as “only taking care of the baby, not our laundry.”

Although there’s still a “certain prestige to a British accent,” according to Bunge, when the chemistry is right, American families are finding what they want right at home.

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