In this day and age, when we want to know what something means we turn to Google (other search engines are available…) and often, Wikipedia is the landing spot of choice. Check out the ‘Wiki’ description of a nanny, it makes fascinating reading.
There appear to be nannies and ‘professional nannies’, and the reminder that no formal qualifications or training is required. Whilst we know that Wiki is created by a random bunch of contributors, we do know that they articulate commonly held views.
Are we at Riverside Nannies disappointed or even surprised by the description? Sadly not, as the title has become devalued. Harsh words? No, as soon as it is accepted that both the professional and the self declared can call themselves the same title it becomes complicated.
Is it too late to reclaim the title – if we professionally stomp our feet, set up associations, even create official registers and Facebook groups what difference does it make?
It is unique amongst professional descriptions connected to the care of people that one can embellish a title, or share a title, with the professionally qualified. Usually, those who have not studied towards a qualification are described as assistant or are title-less, here we have a situation where the same title as the qualified is embraced – not given, taken.
I’ve asked qualified Nannies (note I used a capital letter there), how they feel about sharing a professional title with the unqualified and they are sanguine about it. They recognize that it does bother them to a lesser degree in terms of status amongst non-childcarers in social situations, and to a high degree during media witch-hunts. They feel the only forum where they have the real advantage is the one where it matters, when applying for jobs.
And it isn’t just nannies who are hi-jacking the title either, some employers are complicit. Au-Pair, translated into English does not mean nanny. It is defined as a cultural exchange student who in return for pocket money and language classes carries out household or childcare duties for a few hours per day. We noticed at Riverside Nannies, when the EU expanded and many more people were able to work with more flexibility in the UK suddenly a large group of au pairs, from member countries now part of the EU, renamed and redefined themselves as ‘nanny’ and applied for said positions.
They were not able to do this before, simply because their visa was so explicit about how they could describe themselves and their working practices, now the barrier was lifted. That’s not a criticism, because it was one of the best-kept secrets that many were already operating as nannies for all intense purposes, but without the title or pay to match. This was exploitive.
Despite not coming from countries with a recent history of private childcare they, for the most part, succeeded in transitioning themselves to nanny. It should be stressed that many were very well educated and added real value to the families they were employed by.
So why do I infer families are party to the confusion/laxness in representation – cynically – I think if I wanted to keep my Employee without paying a full blown nanny salary and keeping her happy involved simply calling upgrading the job title to nanny then why not?
But as we know now. it isn’t that simple, as soon as the au pairs became nannies a mere few months down the line they rightly wanted to be paid according to their new found status – a proper salary for the job they were doing. As we have learnt in life, nothing remains stationary. Through our training company we have met a good number of these childcarers, genuinely wishing to address the issue, who have gone on to gain qualifications whilst working making a proper transition to professional Nanny.
Let’s step back and decide if the name describing the role even matters, and if so, to whom. Childcare for the serious is a vocation, it’s a passion and for some no other career will do. Nannying, one type of childcare is highly specialist.
Nannies have chosen to work, one-to-one, with children in a home environment in a uniquely complex employer/employee relationship. They dedicate their care and skills to the wellbeing of a child, in a role that will end in a few years, and likely they will then have limited contact with the child, if at all.
The skills required are numerous, underpinning knowledge of a child’s needs, paediatric first aid, knowledge of child development, understanding of diet and nutrition are the tip of the iceberg. To even think of undertaking this role untrained is at best bold, but people do and regularly and to a large degree successfully.
Having worked at the heart of the childcare profession for almost 25 years I see that we do not seem to be getting any closer to recognizing the true value of nannying as a profession. It is still categorized by some as a fall-back option while waiting to do something else or as an alternative to the ideal due to the economic turn-down . Some of the most successful nannies have chosen this as a work option (not a career option) and found it fulfilling and have really given added value due to other intellectual pursuits, especially if they are caring for school-aged children.
So maybe it really doesn’t matter after all and, in fact giving title to this role is too restrictive. We live in the age of flexible working practice why not flexible job titles?
But lets not back off of criticism too quickly. There is a price for this acceptance of flexibility and the price can sometimes be very high. Every so often, actually too frequently we read of terrible incidents where an inexperienced or unsuitable individual has contributed to, or has not been able to stop a tragedy occurring. Rarely are the ‘nannies’ involved trained and qualified individuals.
The problem now truly rears it’s head about the casualness of calling people a nanny as a generic term as opposed to using it strictly for the suitable trained and experienced. Ultimately, for me, the risk is too great choosing someone, however nice they are, however well they present at interview to look after a tiny child without underpinning knowledge – sorry, having worked my way through all the arguments and opinions I can never square this one.
To train is a commitment and childcare training works at several levels – simplistically, only those who are really genuinely interested are going to bother, that is, people who see this as their career. In the process of gaining their qualifications, not only are they going to learn strategies for dealing with problems but they will also be interacting with childcare professionals who should be detecting whether the student has the suitable qualities to be in charge of other peoples children.
As well as the intellectual ability there is also the issue of suitable temperament. It’s not easy being indoors for hours on end with a teething baby who is crying relentlessly. It’s not easy to make the judgment about medication or when a doctor should be called. It’s not easy keeping track of a very mobile three year old when you feel unwell yourself.
Nannies have to juggle with these issues and so much more, frequently, they have stay calm, be analytical about what to do so they are not alarming a parent, but also being actively engaged in caring for a child. That comes with knowledge, experience and understanding. Those that have that deserve to be called a Nanny.
So is the title Nanny still fit for purpose? We think it is, but that it should be used sparingly, exclusively for the trained and that, perhaps, we should develop the title by calling these people Qualified Nannies, and that they should get into the habit of describing themselves in those terms. That way there will be absolute clarity from the outset.
Managing Director of Riverside Cares
Bringing together Riverside Nannies, Riverside Training Company, Riverside Childcare and Riverside Elderly Care
First published in the September 2013 issue of Practical Pre-School