Former Hollywood nanny Kristen St. Onge isn't just a mommy blogger: She's the founder of Natural Nannies NOLA, a website that pairs parents with nannies and babysitters, represents nannies and babysitters, and posts mom-friendly articles. St. Onge discusses her motivation for founding Natural Nannies NOLA, the myths associated with hiring a nanny and the appropriate steps to take should something happen to a child while under the care of a babysitter.
Gambit: What made you want to start Natural Nannies NOLA?
S.O.: I wanted a way to connect with the parents of New Orleans without our interactions being framed by business. I want to help parents be informed of their choices in this area – and not just about child care, but about prenatal topics, childbirth, things to do, etc. As a nanny agency, we get a lot of clients who are just coming into town and need information on everything to do with family life here. I try to help out as much as I can.
There are many misconceptions about nannies (They are only for rich people, they raise the kids completely, etc.). What is the truth?
S.O.: The truth about nannies is that there is such a wide range of options. We definitely have nannies who are suited for working with families on a highly professional basis, with tons of education and amazing track records with the families they've worked for in the past.
If I were a rich mom, I would hire one of these nannies myself. However, we also have nannies who are willing to work for an average rate of pay. My vision for this company has really been centered around making nannies available to the average families in the area and giving parents more options.
There is an option called a nanny share, which involves two or three families hiring a nanny together and splitting the cost. The end result is highly personalized child care provided by a highly qualified professional, in the same price range as daycare tuition.
About nannies raising kids, well, that's entirely up to the parent. My background as a nanny and placement counselor began in Los Angeles, where many parents are choosing to wait until later in life to start their families and find the shift in focus from career to parenting to be overwhelming, so they choose to hire a nanny for help and for information.
It's not uncommon in Hollywood to have the nanny provide advice and direction for a family who asks for it — kind of like the Supernanny on TV. However, in New Orleans, I'm finding that we're generally a very opinionated population, especially about our kids. One of the key factors to being a good nanny inside of a home setting is knowing how to follow directions, to learn the family's style and to respect their wishes. All of our nannies are aware of this, to the extent that most will bring up the point in their agency interview even before we do. So, in general, I would say it's a myth that a nanny raises the children — especially when you consider that daycares have set routines and aren't able to work with individual family preferences, but nannies definitely have that capacity. Nannies should be an extension of the mother and father and their preferences.
What do you remember most about the people who cared for you as a girl?
S.O.: I actually spent a lot of time with family members as opposed to babysitters. Many people in the area still have the wonderful option of falling back on family members for child care, and so they know they have someone they can trust. Unfortunately, more and more people do not have that option, so that's another reason it's so important to educate people about how they can find a trustworthy and capable caregiver for their children.
What should parents look for in a nanny or babysitter?
S.O.: Parents should consider quite a few things when they're choosing a nanny: education, experience, reliability, child care philosophies, communication skills and enthusiasm being some of the most important. We take care of screening for appropriate education, experience and professionalism, but a family looking on their own should verify work references and ask about coursework. As far as the rest goes, I always say to trust your intuition. Our hormones, while they can be pesky to some significant others, really connect us to our children and protecting them. If there is an alarm going off in your head, but you're not sure why, it's best to keep looking. A nanny becomes part of the home, if not part of the family. It's very important that everyone is comfortable with her or him.
What are red flags that parents might see when looking for a nanny or babysitter?
S.O.: The initial interview can tell you many things. Is she on time? Dressed appropriately? Does she relate to your children well? Does she seem to understand you and make her own points to you relatively easily? Do you get a good feeling about her? If the answer to any of these questions is "no," those are red flags. When calling references, if anyone sounds reluctant or less than enthusiastic about giving a reference, that's a red flag. If she doesn't have at least three child-care references, that's a red flag. There are additional things that a more experienced agency can pick up on, such as subtle indications of a child care philosophy that might not mesh with that of the family she's interviewing with, or a way of communicating that seems fine in the beginning but could prove to be an obstacle during conflicts, which arise in even the healthiest of parent-nanny relationships.
How would a person go about being listed on your site?
S.O.: We actually don't list anyone. We're an agency, so we're different from your Sittercity.com or Care.com sites. Our nannies are recruited, thoroughly screened, agree to a background check and certification updates, and have to demonstrate a stellar personality for us to represent them. If someone is interested in being represented by us, they could check out our website and pay specific attention to the Our Nannies and Jobs tabs. We're currently accepting applications for positions starting in the fall.
If my child wants to be a babysitter, what should I do to help her or him get started?
S.O.: That's really not my area of expertise. We only represent nannies who have at least a two-year degree in a field related to child care, plus a minimum of three years of full-time experience with children or a four-year degree in a related field plus a minimum of a year of full-time experience.
If someone meets the minimum requirements but has never been a nanny before, I would suggest working with an agency, because an agency will negotiate a fair rate, employment terms and any benefits that can be negotiated. Our agency also likes to keep tabs on nannies and families and try to help them work through any issues they may encounter. An agency also provides a nanny with necessary certifications such as CPR and First Aid. Additionally, an agency should never charge a fee to represent a nanny. If they do, it might be a scam.
If your child gets hurt as a result of abuse or neglect or something of that nature while under the care of a babysitter, what steps should a parent take?
OS: Definitely report it. Call the police or any emergency personnel necessary, file a report, press charges — pursue it. I've never had any experience like that with any nanny I've represented, but an agency would obviously work with the parents and the authorities to remove the caregiver from the situation and make sure that the person didn't get another chance to do the same thing to another family. We all want safety for our kids.