Among the multitude of decisions that parents have to make is, if necessary, what kind of child care they will need. Should they hire a nanny? Should they use a day care facility?
While it’s an important decision, it doesn’t have to be a stressful one if the parents understand the differences between using a nanny and enrolling in a day care. There are pros and cons to each, and all must be considered.
Here are the key differences between using a nanny and using a day care center.
When a family hires a nanny, they become the employer. They make the schedules, they decide on the duties that will be performed, and they provide specific instructions for the child’s care. They also negotiate the nanny’s salary and benefits, so they know the exact cost of using this kind of child care. Many families value having control over the situation; schedules can be changed as needed, and parents can ask the nanny to provide updates throughout the day.
Families with non-traditional schedules can hire a live-in nanny to care for a child in the evening and during the night. There are certain requirements a family must provide in this situation, such as a private place for the nanny to sleep with a bathroom. But for families that can accommodate one, a live-in nanny may be a good option.
Some families want their child to have one-on-one attention from a caregiver, which a nanny provides. The nanny can adjust their approach based on both your instructions and how the child reacts to different things throughout the day. There is no competition for attention; a child may form a real bond with their nanny, and some families consider that a key piece of the child care puzzle.
Having a nanny can mean less busy work for parents. Lunches and snacks don’t have to be packed in the morning; the nanny can handle getting a child dressed, something all parents know can be a laborious task. Winter weather can make it even more difficult to pack up and get a child out of the house; a nanny can handle that instead. Some families have their nanny do the kids’ laundry, light house cleaning, prepare dinner, or other simple but time-consuming jobs that a parent would be grateful to find done when they get home from work.
Families that hire a nanny through an agency have access to helpful child care resources, along with guidance and support from the agency, including back-up care should their regular nanny not be able to come to work.
Using a nanny for child care means families may be eligible to claim the Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) or Child and Dependent Care tax credit, which can help offset some of the cost of the nanny’s salary and benefits.
If a nanny calls out sick one day, or needs several days off due to an unexpected emergency, families that hire on their own (not through an agency) will need to find a replacement or take time off of work to care for the child. This can be disruptive for the parents, but also for the child, especially if they have started to form a bond with their nanny. Being dependent on one person for child care can cause these inconveniences.
Many families find nannies through online job boards; these nannies are not required to have any specific education credentials or certifications (such as CPR or first aid). A family searching for a nanny with all the qualifications they require can be time-consuming, and performing background checks becomes the parents’ responsibility. While there are legal protections for nannies in many states, there is no regulation process for anyone who wants to be a nanny; all the hiring decisions are made by the family.
Any family that pays a nanny over $2,100 (2018) in a year must also pay employment taxes; families must file all applicable nanny tax forms, Social Security, Medicare, federal and state unemployment insurances, and income taxes. Some states also require that a household employer have a workers’ compensation policy in case a nanny is injured or becomes ill while on duty.
Hiring a nanny means a family is now running a business with one employee. They need to negotiate salary and benefits, such as vacation and sick time, health insurance, and even retirement benefits. Families are advised to create a job description, a work agreement, and must ensure they are complying with applicable discrimination and harassment laws. Figuring out all the obligations of being a household employer takes a lot of time and effort (but using a payroll service like our partners at GTM Payroll can take all that off your plate).
Day cares provide socialization for children that many families find integral to their child’s development. Children in day care learn about sharing, playing with others, interactional behavior, and other social skills. They make friends and develop relationships with their peers.
Many day cares bring in special instructors for art, music, or dance, and day cares usually have far more toys, art supplies, and playground equipment than any one family. Children get to know many of the day care staff, not just the teachers in their room, so that when there are substitutions it’s not stressful for the kids.
Many day care teachers have educational backgrounds in childhood education and/or psychology, so they can form a curriculum based on the children’s ages and maturity levels. Children in day care often come home knowing their ABCs, numbers, colors, and shapes.
Day cares run on a set schedule, and many of them are open past 5:00pm to accommodate families getting off of work. Many also open early, around 7:00am, to assist families who need more time in the morning to get to their jobs.
Day care center employees have been background-checked and screened. Many require that their teachers have a degree in an appropriate field, along with CPR and first aid training. Parents may find peace of mind knowing that day cares are state-regulated and subject to laws regarding teacher-child ratios, safety, and cleanliness.
Many day cares provide snacks, and some also provide breakfast or lunch, which means families don’t have to spend as much time getting food together in the morning. Children are often exposed to new foods and learn to try new things at day care, something they may be much more reluctant to do at home.
Families can help offset the cost of day care through the DCAP; this plan allows individuals to qualify up to $ 5,000 of their annual salary federal and state income tax-free.
While some families value the set schedule a day care provides, it can become an inconvenience if a meeting is going late and a parent can’t get to the facility by closing time. Day cares charge extra for late pick-ups, so it may be a struggle to balance work responsibilities and the day care’s hours.
Some children may find the stimulation at day care overwhelming; new faces, lots of new experiences, and perhaps more noise than they are used to. While day cares emphasize socialization, it may not be the right environment for a child.
More kids mean more germs. Children are more likely to develop colds and viruses in a group environment, and then they bring those germs home, which mean parents and other family members may find themselves getting sick more often than usual. If a child has a fever or vomits, most centers will require the child stay home until for at least 24 hours (or as long as it takes for the fever to go away); that means arranging other child care or staying home from work until the child is healthy enough to return. Day cares charge their regular rate whether the child is there or not.
Along with being closed on major holidays, many day cares close on various days throughout the year for professional development and training, or for religious holidays. On those days, if the parents still have to work, other child care arrangements will need to be made.
Day care centers sometimes have high turnover rates, so if a child forms a bond with one or more of the staff, they may struggle if those staff members leave.
For some families, after considering all the pros and cons listed above, their decision about child care may depend most heavily on the cost.
According to the International Nanny Association’s (INA) 2014 Salary and Benefits Survey, the national average hourly wage for nannies was $18.66, with some wages over $22 per hour. 62% of nannies surveyed received paid vacation time, and 12% received either full or partial health insurance.
If a family hires a nanny for 40 hours per week and pays the average of $18.66 per hour, the cost to the family would be $746.40 per week, or $38,812 a year. That does not take into account the costs involved with the hiring process; using an agency means paying a membership or placement fee, and hiring through an online job board means families will pay for background checks. Workers’ compensation and health insurance are additional expenses as well. If a family decides to use their accountant or a payroll service to handle the payroll and tax responsibilities, those are also additional costs to consider.
The cost of using a day care center varies greatly from state to state, and changes based on the age of the children. In general, the older the child gets, the less day cares charge; some centers also give families a discount if they have more than one child enrolled.
For example, according to Child Care Aware of America, the average annual cost for infant day care in New York is $14,144; for an infant and a 4-year-old in day care, the average annual cost is $25,844. In Florida, infant care averages $8,694 annually, and $16,362 for an infant and a 4-year-old. In Illinois, the costs using the same examples are $12,964 and $22,531 respectively.
Additional costs need to be considered for using a nanny or babysitter when the day care center is closed or if the child is sick and can’t attend day care.
Ultimately parents know better than anyone else what is best for their family, both financially and emotionally. It’s not a decision to be made lightly, but having all the information and understanding the pros and cons to each option will make the decision a little easier.