COVID has complicated just about everything in life and that includes looking for child care. In addition to screening for the usual things, like a sitter’s references and how they vibe with the kids, parents now need to factor in COVID safety precautions.
“When it comes to hiring a sitter or nanny in the era of COVID, parents should look for caregivers who are operating with the same level of caution as them,” says Michelle LaRowe, lead educator at NannyTraining.com and author of “Nanny to the Rescue!” “For example, if you’re a family who still isn’t eating out at restaurants, you’re going to want to match with a sitter who is doing the same.”
Finding out if a potential nanny or sitter is vaccinated can alleviate some of the stress for families, but the emergence of the delta variant has made many more concerned than they were months ago. “Even if a sitter is vaccinated, parents should feel free to dig deep during the interview,” LaRowe says. “Asking how they handle specific scenarios, such as grocery shopping, running errands and socializing, will provide insight into what they are doing now to minimize their COVID exposure risk.”
Looking for child care? Here’s what to take into consideration when hiring a nanny or babysitter during COVID.
Ask all the usual questions
First thing’s first when looking for a child care provider: Are they a good fit overall? In addition to screening for safety vigilance, make sure you discuss the same things you would pre-pandemic, including references and background checks. Here’s some guidance on the essential questions to ask a caregiver before hiring:
Questions to consider asking caregivers during the pandemic
1. Are you vaccinated?
When parents were looking for after-school care last summer, there wasn’t a vaccine. This year, that’s changed, fortunately. So when interviewing potential sitters, it’s a good idea to ask about their vaccination status, as the vaccines help prevent the spread of COVID (but don’t eliminate it altogether).
“It’s unfortunate that this question needs to be asked and that COVID vaccination is so controversial and can get in the way of relationships between child care providers and children,” says Dr. Joshua K. Schaffzin, associate professor of clinical pediatrics, division of infectious diseases and director of infection prevention and control program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “But in the end, parents need to decide for themselves whether they want COVID vaccination to be a requirement for their babysitter, as well as vaccination against other diseases, like measles or chickenpox or flu.”
“From my standpoint, the vaccine is safe and effective, and children being cared for are likely to not yet be eligible for vaccination, so babysitters should be encouraged, if not expected, to be vaccinated,” he adds.
If a candidate hasn’t been vaccinated, and it’s not a deal breaker for you, Dr. Amna Husain, a pediatrician in Marlboro, New Jersey, encourages parents to ask questions. “Inquire about why they’re not comfortable getting the vaccine,” Husain says. “It will give you more knowledge on the background of their beliefs and thought processes regarding the pandemic since vaccination is an important protective aspect for not only those vaccinated but those around them unable to be vaccinated like kids.”
Husain adds that knowing why someone chooses not to get vaccinated may also give insight about their “behaviors and habits outside of work,” such as indoor mask use and social distancing measures.
2. How cautious are you about COVID?
The vaccination question may organically evolve to cover this one, but if not, you may choose to ask it. And you may not even have to because, as the old saying goes: Actions speak louder than words. Observing a potential nanny or sitter’s actions during the interview — if it’s in person — may give you a better idea of how cautious they’re being than your conversation.
“One of the first things parents can look for is how the sitter presents at the interview,” LaRowe says, advising parents to take note of the following:
- Do they arrive wearing a mask?
- Does they offer to wash their hands or use sanitizer upon entering the home?
- Does they seem to be aware of their space and keep physical distance?
“Parents can also ask about the sitter’s interests and notice if they mention things they enjoyed before COVID versus now, to gain insight into the types of environments and activities they’re currently comfortable being and participating in,” LaRowe adds.
3. Are you working with other families?
Technically speaking, a sitter who’s working with more than one family has potential for more exposure, but according to both Schaffzin and Husain, it doesn’t mean you have to cross their name off the list. “Working with other families is less worrisome than the behavior of the other families and the babysitter while there,” Schaffzin says. Simply put: Is everyone exercising caution when around one another?
Keep in mind, though, even if you ask about the safety practices in place at another gig, you can’t know everything — especially when it comes to what the other family does on their own time. If a sitter is working with families who are in close proximity with others — and don’t exercise caution when doing so — it can affect risk, according to Husain.
Again, though, short of stalking, this is a question that’s practically impossible to find out. So, instead of agonizing over what you can’t control, consider your own risk comfort level. Global Epidemics has an interactive chart that can help you determine this, using pandemic information in real time.
4. Are you willing to wear a mask?
Even if a potential sitter or nanny is vaccinated, it doesn’t mean you should eschew masks. Everyone’s comfort level is different — and each person’s daily safety diligence affects this — but experts agree that, when it comes to COVID, a layered approach is best.
“The vaccine is an important component of the prevention bundle all of us should be following to prevent COVID transmission,” Schaffzin says. “But it’s not the only one. A vaccinated babysitter who doesn’t mask, work to distance when possible or facilitate regular hand hygiene isn’t providing as much protection as one who does.”
Masking, according to Schaffzin, serves two purposes: Source control and exposure prevention. “Source control contains secretions from an infected individual, especially one who has symptoms; exposure prevention protects the individual wearing the mask from becoming infected,” he explains. “The most protection from masks comes when all are masked, so that would be preferred.”
Schaffzin goes on to say that while kids generally tolerate masking, allotting time for breaks can be important. “Some children have a hard time masking for developmental, physiologic or anatomic reasons, in which case the babysitter should definitely be masked,” he says. “And masks are not recommended for children under 2 since they can’t verbalize when they’re uncomfortable.”
5. Do you agree to communication around illness?
You may not be able to plan for every little thing in painstaking detail, but it’s smart to agree on, at the very least, communication about illness and potential exposures. According to Schaffzin, agree to come up with a “what if” plan for the following:
- What’s the plan if you or your child develops symptoms?
- What’s the plan if the nanny or babysitter develops symptoms?
- What’s the plan if the nanny or babysitter’s family is ill or tests positive for COVID?
You also may want to discuss what you’ll do about payment when situations like this come up in order to avoid future awkwardness. “Our sitter and I revised our sick day policy during the pandemic,” says Charlotte Miceli, a mom of three in White Plains, New York. “Keeping what we had didn’t seem fair when I was wary of her coming in with the sniffles — something I previously didn’t mind.”
6. Do you agree to communication around travel?
According to Schaffzin, formulating a cut and dried travel protocol is tough because “the risk of exposure varies and the situation changes rapidly.” But again, it’s important to discuss things, like quarantining, up front.
“In general, it’s recommended to quarantine after a higher-risk exposure, such as travel in a place of high prevalence and/or lack of adherence to prevention protocols,” Schaffzin says. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has protocols for quarantining options, which can be 7-14 days long, depending on symptoms and testing results. On the flip side, they don’t recommend quarantining for vaccinated individuals, but given the close interaction with unvaccinated children, some families and babysitters may choose to do so.”
7. Do you agree to the following safety protocols?
“The key to COVID prevention is to focus on being proactive in prevention,” Schaffzin says. On that note, he recommends sitters and families practice the following at home:
- Masking. Rather than looking for opportunities when masking is not needed, look for ways to support [and encourage] it,” he says. “Talk through scenarios and be clear with each other on expectations.”
- Hand hygiene. “Make sure hand hygiene gel is available with the right odors and colors that kids will be willing to use.”
- Regular general disinfection of surfaces. The CDC has guidance for general home cleaning during COVID.
Another question LaRowe recommends asking: “Are you willing to take on the role with the current limitations we have regarding outings and playdates due to COVID?”
“At the end of the day, parents will want to know if they can trust their sitter to follow the same COVID protocols they do when on the clock, as well as being safe on their own time,” LaRowe says.
It may be more work on the front end — and a little awkward — but tackling the subject of COVID safety during the interview process will help keep both your family and your sitter as safe as possible. “As we have said all along, we are in this together,” Schaffzin says. “The sitter-parent relationship has always been driven by collaboration to promote safety, health and development of the children, and for COVID, it is no different.”