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What's in a Name?: How to Identify the Right Childcare Provider for Your Family

By Steven Lampert Published 07/16/2007 | Parenting
When you begin your search for a childcare provider, particularly if you are using an online nanny site, you will quickly find that there are many different terms that are used within the industry, including "nanny," "babysitter," "au pair," and "home childcare provider." These terms may not always be used correctly by a childcare provider, but it is important to understand the true definitions of each and what they mean for your family.


A childcare provider labeling him or herself as a babysitter tends to be a young person who is available to watch children on occasion, usually in the evening or on weekends. The babysitter may also simply be someone with limited time to offer childcare services and may or may not have a great deal of experience in home childcare. This person may not charge very much for the services offered, but if a family is looking for a nanny to take care of children on a regular basis, this is not the right type of candidate for that situation. However, for the family that would only need a childcare provider for special circumstances, a babysitter may be worth investigating further.


A family needing extensive home childcare services will ideally focus on listings for nannies. A nanny is traditionally a childcare provider with two or more years of experience and possibly a college degree related to childcare as well. This person will have references that can easily be checked relating to previous home childcare positions and can offer a great deal of stability to a household. A family with a newborn is likely to be particularly drawn to a nanny, as she may have experience that goes beyond that of the new parents and can be very helpful in the first few months of being home with the baby.

Families can find live-in or live-out nannies, as well as nannies who are available every day of the week or who are available limited days. Many nannies will also be able to handle light chores related to the children, while some nannies will also offer a full complement of housekeeping and cleaning services in addition to home childcare. Nannies encompass the broadest category of childcare provider but the designation is also the one that means the most to a searching family.

Au Pair

An au pair, by definition, is a foreign student who has come to the United States on a specific visa to work as a childcare provider for a specific period of time - usually one year. Hiring an au pair can bring a new culture and new language to a family's home, making this an appealing home childcare option for many families.

However, it is important to use caution when answering the ad of someone advertising herself as an "au pair" on an online nanny or au pair service. A childcare provider who is advertising her services on a listing site by calling herself an au pair is likely to have completed her accepted time in the United States (and so may have great childcare skills and references) but is now looking to stay in the U.S. beyond her visa, either legally or, possibly, illegally. In addition, this type of au pair may not say up front what her intentions are for staying in the U.S. - she may be looking to settle down in the country permanently, and thus might be an acceptable choice for a family in need of home childcare services - but she may also be looking simply to extend her stay by a few months, which would mean that at the end of the time she would be leaving the family to start the search process over from the beginning.

The bottom line is that if a family wishes to hire an au pair as their childcare provider, it is best for them to go through the licensed au pair agencies that exist and that can handle the paperwork and the legalities of the process, rather than to find an au pair independently listing herself online.

Daycare or Home Childcare Provider

Finally, when searching an online listing site, a family may come across someone listing him or herself as a daycare provider. This means that the person is offering home childcare at his or her residence, rather than at the family's home. The most important thing to find out in considering this type of childcare provider is if the person is licensed. If he or she is not licensed, the family should walk away. An unlicensed daycare provider may offer the lowest rates, but he or she also brings the highest amount of risk. In addition, even if licensed, a daycare provider must be investigated thoroughly in terms of credibility and trustworthiness, particularly if he or she will be looking after a pre-verbal child. When dealing with this type of potential home childcare provider, not only should references be checked, but the family should also visit the daycare provider's facility - possibly multiple times - to assess the situation.


When searching for a childcare provider, families must be careful to understand the terms that are used to describe different types of positions. Most families will be looking for a nanny - someone with experience who provides home childcare at the family's home - but there are other home childcare options available that should be investigated as well. With careful, in-depth research on each childcare provider before making a final decision, a family is sure to find home childcare that fits in perfectly with its needs.

About the Author

Steven Lampert is the president of eNanny Source, an online nanny service that brings together families and nannies. Lampert previously ran a successful, award-winning nanny agency in a major city for over 10 years, during which time he worked with thousands of families and nanny candidates. Through this experience, he became familiar with the important steps in a nanny search, which he continues to apply to his business today. To learn more, please visit www.enannysource.com.