Interview with the Nanny Expert

The topic of nannies and sitters comes up ever where I go with every mommy friend I have.  Almost all of us have to use a sitter or nanny at some point, unless you have an amazing family who lives next door to you, which most of us don’t!  After stalking the internet for answers, I finally gave up and found a professional.  I asked her ALL the good stuff!  If I didn’t ask her one of your big questions, then you know where to find me!  I’ll stalk her and get you the answer.  Here’s hoping you get some GRAYT info from this post!


So, Shannon, before we get started, tell me what your company does, and why you’re the gal with the good answers? 


My partner and I own Acti-Kare In-Home Responsive Care. We find the most qualified caregivers possible and place them in your home to take care of loved ones of all ages.  Between my business partner and I we have a BSN in nursing, bachelors in Education and a master in counseling.  We also have had plenty of experience in pediatric hospitals and school settings. We have a ton of exposure and experience with children of all ages and stages. 


 So, Baby numero dos is on the way, and I’m wondering will I need to increase the pay for my date night sitter?  How much per kid should you increase?


I would increase it by just a little to start.  Basically start low and gauge your nannies response.  Say you are going to give her $2.00 more an hour. Try not to focus on the $2.00 more an hour. If this is a nanny you use several times a week, for multiple hours, tell her what her increase for the MONTH is.  We loose track of how much a couple dollars adds up.  If she is getting an extra $100.00- 200.00 per month, then this IS a considerable raise.   It also really depends on what rate she started at.  If you are already paying a sitter $20.00 per hour, you really don’t have a ton of room to go up.  You may need to explain that she is ALREADY at the top of the pay bracket.  If you started her lower though, and love her with baby number #1 and can’t imagine your life without her when baby number #2 arrives then you may have to up her rate a bit.  The biggest thing I want moms to know here is that we don’t always think of home life and our “loved and adored” nanny as terms for negotiation, but that’s exactly what it is.  Start low, see if you need to counter offer, call a bit of bluffing (you both need each other right?) and finally settle on a COMPROMISE that feels right for both.   


What actually qualifies how much you pay a sitter?  I mean, I was a teacher who nannied in the summers and only got paid $13, even though I have mad teaching skills!  One of my gal pals pays $20, and the chick watching her kid isn’t like the SuperNanny?  Give me the breakdown here?


This is a hot topic, and one we deal with every day, Nannies/sitters are going to have a bottom line. For instance, “I won’t/can’t work for less then ______ per hour.  Some feel years of experience warrant a certain pay rate.  You the employer ALSO have a right to know your max, “I can’t pay more than ____ per hour.”   Know your price range and only interview nannies that are falling into it!  This saves a ton of wasted time.  Be willing to go up a dollar or two if it’s someone you are beyond in love with.  We, as an agency, see rates all over the place.  We try and match the rate of the nanny with the price point of the family and make it an open, blunt and honest covo right from the start. 


Examples!  I need examples!?


 Well, like on the TLC show “Say yes to the Dress” when brides begin trying on wedding dresses 5,000 dollars out of their price range, the sales person usually says, “it’s not a good idea, because if you fall in love with it….” Well there you go! WAY OUT OF YOUR PRICE RANGE.  Set your range…. Interview people ONLY in this range, it just may take a little more time.  And be willing to negotiate a dollar or two up or down.  Keep in mind this is your START rate… you will want a little room to go up if you have another kiddo, to give a raise after a long length of service or increased duties.  


The way I see it there are 3 different types of sitters:

 The “I come to your house and make sure your kid doesn’t die” sitter

The “I won’t advance your kids education, but I will make sure your house is really clean” sitter

The “I’m cute, like to clean, and will make your kid have super powers” sitter.


Do you feel like there should be different types of sitters or should there always be a basic expectation with every sitter?  What things should you pay extra for? 


Here is my honest answer… take the “cute” part out of it!  Its great if you find a nanny that looks like you and your friends and is someone you would want to grab a coffee with… this does NOT have to be the criteria for your child’s sitter however.  I would look for someone who can interact with and love your child, and I would keep that at the top of my list. The INTERACTION part is the part that is hard to teach or mold or change. If the caretaker is already great at interacting with your child, then all other things can be taught or built upon.  Be honest with your needs and wants! If you are looking for someone to do educational activities with your child, and do light housework, this should be a part of the initial conversation.  “We are looking for a nanny to __________”  “Are you comfortable with this?”  I always expect my sitters to first fill their roll making sure the child is happy and safe, and when appropriate (i.e. nap time) help “pick- up” the house.  They are not there to be a full maid service but running the dish washer, throwing toys in a basket and folding a load of laundry are not unreasonable.   Also, they should absolutely be cleaning up after things THEY do/create.  For example, you should not be coming home to your sitter’s lunch plate in the sink.  I tell my employees that clients should come home to a “SANE” looking house. Let’s be real though, there are days, for both moms and nannies, where we just have to let some things slide.  One side note, if you think your nanny/sitter could be doing MORE on the educational side. Take charge, run out and grab craft projects/activities (I like the dollar store for this) and throw it in a tub for the sitter. It can be a “special tub” of things your child does only when the sitter is there.  Or say “ we have been working on ____________”  (words, sign language, mimicking, etc.)” Then, show her what you have been teaching your little one.  Listen, if you come home and your place is sparkling top to bottom with ironed socks waiting for you, that’s great! You found your cleaning lady, but what has she been doing with your child??   Again, Look for a loving interaction with child and then build/coach the rest.  We at Acti-kare do this all the time. Some come to us as “nanny all-stars”, and some become “all-stars” with a little push in the right direction.


What about holidays like NYE or Valentines Day?  Should I be shelling out more cash to my sitter?  


 As an employer I DO pay higher holiday pay rates.  Use your state labor laws, as a guide for what Official holidays are.  The stuff like Valentines Day, etc is really up to you. I always think it helps to show your sitter a little “love” here and there, so they are more inclined to want to watch your kids on those holidays. Don’t break the bank here, and don’t feel OBLIGATED!   You don’t want to give out little bonuses you can’t keep up with, and also maybe consider it case by case. Make sure they know you are giving them a little extra too “ thank you for your hard work especially on ———night”, we slipped in an extra ten dollars for you.”


Thoughts on Nanny Cams?


Personal decision.  Hopefully you feel that you have hired someone that you trust and would never need this for. However, as a former Pediatric Intensive Care Nurse myself, I can say, I have seen the few horrific rare cases of “WTF  ??!!  “How did this happen??”   I don’t want to turn this answer into a horror story of things I saw in my pediatric hospital days, but I just reference those days because I can see WHY people do put them up.  If, you do use one I would say watching every minute of your sitter and child’s day together, every shift is going to be grueling and counterproductive to why you are getting help in the first place.  Use it to get an initial baseline, or check out a gut feeling, or even a specific incident that does not seem to be adding up. Hopefully, if you use the cam, and get the confirmation that all is well, you wont have to spend everyday reviewing the footage.  That is my only word of caution.

 I like to think of myself as “ nanny cam”.  When I place a nanny in a home the family and nanny are both aware that I stop by to do supervisory visits.  It’s for my own added comfort, but also a good way to just see how things are going on both ends.  I encourage parents to do the same thing.  Don’t always tell you nanny/sitter every moment you will be running back in the house.  Use it as a check to see what is really going on when they are not expecting you.  I don’t mean this to sound like a trick or a trap, but lets be real, this is serious business.  Your nanny has your most precious item in her possession.  Trust your gut and get piece of mind however it feels right for you…. Just don’t loose your mind doing it!


 What’s the deal with Nannies and taxes? If I have a nanny who works 40 hours a week, can I just pay her under the table? I really don’t need the PO PO knocking at my door, so is it legal to do that?


This part is a such a headache for families!  As an agency we have to adhere to the law to the fullest.  When we place a nanny in the home we have them fill out an 1-9 (to confirm identity) and W2.  Once they are one our Payroll they get a check that looks like anyone working in corporate America. We take out for employment taxes & social security.  Because they work for us they have the added protection of unemployment insurance, general liability insurance and workers compensation.  Having all of this legit protects Us (the agency), our worker AND the client, if anything out of the norm should happen. 

 When you hire someone on your own or “private duty”, we like to say… NO you do NOT have to do all of the above.  But you do (or SHOULD) make sure you are paying someone who is a US Citizen or has a workers permit to receive wages in the US.  I know it happens all the time, but you really don’t want the added stress of being found out of paying someone regularly in your home who is NOT permitted to be working here.  You might think its no big deal and that you are doing it “safe”, but imagine if this person gets caught/flagged for a different reason. You best believe the government will be asking about where the money coming in is coming from. 

 If you have a full time nanny or even a part time nanny, they are like an independent contractor and it is up to them to report their earnings to the government like we all do.



Lots of my friends have full time nannies, and the nannies have to use their car to cart the kiddos around.  Should their nannies be on their car insurance?  What if the nanny is using their own car?   


The most important thing here is that your nanny has up to date car insurance and a valid Drivers license.  It’s one of the first things we do when we hire someone.  Don’t be shy to ask to ACTUALLY see a copy of both.  A copy of their insurance should be in whatever car they are driving.  If the nanny is only using the family car because she does not have a car, my guess is that she does not have insurance.  You should look into adding her as an additional driver on yours then.  This all gets a little tricky though and I don’t want to speak about things over my head, but I can tell you, as an employer, for liability reasons all around I really prefer having an insured employee with their own safe, reliable car.  You may have to provide an extra car/booster seat or have one you swap out if this is the case.  Also, show your nanny how to put in the seat of your choice if its something you will be changing back and forth.  If you do go the route of having your nanny use the family car for whatever reason (size/safety, etc.) there are waivers that make the liability thing a little less hairy in the event something did happen.  Shannon, I can supply a sample of one we use if you would like?  You don’t need to get all “law school” on your nanny, but a few pieces of paper, a double check of insurance and driving record, and maybe a call to your insurance company would be time well spent down the road.   Side note here, an agency like mine may be able to help with background checks. We do it all the time!  I speak for myself when I say, we don’t mind running nanny checks (social security, criminal, drivers license) for a family even if they are not going through us.  We just charge the fee to run and process. 


What if god forbid my child has a disability or a medical issue, does that make me the mom who doesn’t get to go out EVER without her kid in tow?


NO!  You are a mom that probably needs to get out of the house the most.  I mean this in a very respectful way.  Moms of kids with medical conditions and disabilities deserve a special gold medal for all that they do.  Time out of the house is a necessity (Caregiver Burnout is a real thing). All moms need to take time for themselves to be able to give back to their children, and this is especially true for mom’s of kids with special needs.  So, lets find you a nanny! First of all depending on the medical condition you may be eligible for actual home health, which would be covered by your insurance and ordered by your doctor.  But a condition that requires official home health is often a more serious one.  I won’t go into all the arrangements of home health because if you are someone who is familiar with it, you know it’s a whole different beast.  I simply want to make the distinction.  If it is a condition or disability NOT needing the whole home health route, well then you are basically looking for the same awesome nanny as all of us, with a few extra considerations.  I would look for people with medical backgrounds. For example: Nursing students, Certified Nurse Assistants, Medical assistants make great caregivers and have had a good deal of medical training.  It’s sad, but a lot of times nurse aide jobs don’t pay a ton, so the hourly rate of a sitter/nanny is just as desirable for them.  Our agency hires a ton of people with these types of backgrounds.  I find that the level of medical training they come with and their desire to be in a care-giving role is just a win-win situation! Whether your child has a medical condition or not, these types of medical backgrounds are comforting.  Make sure your nanny/sitter has CPR training.  (Not just the basic adult one but also the infant/peds CPR).    They offer these trainings all over, and you could even offer to pay for your nanny to go.  TRUST ME … this is money well spent.  Again this is something that goes for nannies of kids with and without medical conditions.  Emergencies can happen to anyone at anytime. 

 Try and find someone who has had exposure to children with disabilities or medical conditions, even if it’s a sibling they helped take care of.  Be prepared to spend extra time with this nanny, getting her trained and exposed to all the things that go along with the unique care of your special child.  This could take up to a week of her just shadowing you for example.  If you lay down the foundation of how to handle your child’s special needs, you will be doing the work that allows you to step out of the home with ease later.


 One of my sitters is old enough to be my mother, so I feel sups weird telling her how to take care of my kid.  Is there an easy way to go about this?


Your kid, your house, your money. Simply put…. YOU ARE THE BOSS!  As long as you deliver your requests in a respectful manor, your employee should be willing to take and follow. Your nanny should be an extension of your way while you are gone.  Show her the ropes, and if she can’t play by your rules, then you may have to go back to the drawing board.  I know it can feel weird to instruct someone older than you, but really just keep at it. Set the tone early! (I am the boss)  Believe it or not, this can be done while being respectful and warm to your employee. 


 When the time comes to pop out baby number 2, I’m going to need a sitter for the two nights I’m gone.  Do I really pay the nanny while she sleeps?  How do you pay for overnight sitters?


There are many ways to pay overnight workers/sitters.  The way I choose to pay for overnight is a flat 24-hour fee.  So you move off the hourly rate and go to a set 24-hour rate.  Just as an example, you could pay someone $200 from 3pm on Thursday till 3pm on Friday.  Do this for as many nights as you need them.   However, If they stayed until 4pm that Friday, they have left the 24 hour rate, and you would pay them $200 + one hour of their normal hourly rate.  Again, these numbers are an example only, as it will vary based on what you pay your nanny and what you are both comfortable with.  But know that you can drop an overnight rate down. Let’s be real, they are sleeping most of the night!  However, you are asking someone to stop his or her life, and stay at your place and this too needs to be compensated.  In the end, we DO pay for overnight, it just looks different.  Special things to consider are to make sure you have a spot for your nanny to sleep (clean sheets, etc.) and decide if she will be eating with family while she’s there, or if your prefer her to bring food. 


My gal pal has triplets!  Three times the fun, right?! Yikes!  Should you pay more for multiples?


Yes.  The fortunate and unfortunate answer to this is YES.  Unfortunately, this can be a real financial burden on families with multiples. You DO NOT however need to double the hourly rate for twins or triple for triplets.  It’s the hourly rate you would have picked for one child + _____$___.   I leave this blank because it’s a negation.  It will vary on the nannies you’re speaking with. Set your rate, and be willing to go up just a bit only for YOUR perfect nanny.  I know people want numbers, so I say this very approximated, add $4.00 per hour extra, per infant.  So, if you would have paid a nanny $14.00 for one baby, you are paying her $18/ hour for twins.    Again this is a negotiable example, but is pretty fair in my opinion.   Side note: when hiring help for multiples:  It might be nice to have a couple helpers hired.   This way they can rotate with one another and you have back up.  When we have staffed for multiples in the past it just always seems to work out better with a couple nannies to start. These nannies would not be working at the same time, but at least both would know the family and routine and can sub in and out for one another. 


I just went on vacay with the hubs, and we left the babe behind, but I saw a family there with a nanny who was clearly in charge of the kiddos.  How does a sitter on a trip work?  Is that something your company can arrange?


I have never arranged a sitter to go on a trip.  But really ANYTHING can be arranged.  I would use the same approach to hiring someone for overnight care.  Set a daily pay rate for them.  Travel and accommodation would also be paid for.  It is again a case of respecting that the person has stopped life for x amount of days so they should be paid daily, but being on vacay and the whole sleeping thing, you should not have to pay an hourly rate.  It makes more sense to give a dropped daily rate.  Make sure to give the nanny a couple breaks a day (hour in AM and hour in PM for example), so she can read, have personal time, call family, do something for herself.  It will only make her more able to get some enjoyment out of the trip and give more back to your kids, and lets face it possibly be willing to do this again in the future.  I think a nanny on vacation, if you can swing it, is great! If you are going somewhere in the United States and just need a sitter on some of your vacation nights look into a local agency where they have a pool of nannies they can vouch for ready to go.  It may mean just meeting with the agency and the potential nanny the first day of the trip, and if it’s a go, you have someone to fill in for the hours you need.  This would just be an alternative to taking your home nanny with you. 


I’m pretty much freaking out about having two babes under two!  I’m sure my mother in law with stay with me for a bit, but once she’s gone, I’m going to need help!  Does this exist?  Basically, a person to be my fill in Mother-In-Law; to cook, clean, and help with the kids when needed?


  Yes this does exist! In our business it’s called a home-helper or home aide.  At Acti-Kare we put them in homes all the time! This can mean wearing multiple hats and performing multiple roles. Maybe you are at home with the new baby and nursing and don’t need the nanny to care for the baby, but instead do the above mentioned (cook, clean, errands).  We staff this all the time as well.  I see this most often with new moms whose families are not local, moms of multiples needing extra help, or with moms on bed rest.  It’s called a MOTHERS HELPER.  This person can be your right hand woman or man! Helping you to do the things you would be doing if you were not on bed rest, or nursing a new baby around the clock.  This is actually the part of my business I love the most!  When we find someone that can go into a home and just help them keep the wheels turning.  This person may walk in get right to doing the dishes, laundry and folding, maybe takes the oldest child to school and comes back with items the mom put on a list from target.  Throwing dinner in the crock-pot for later, bring in the mail, take out the trash, run to the dry cleaners or store for the new mom. The list goes on…  Allowing things to get done in a less chaotic way, while they experience the extreme joys, and at times extreme stress of a growing or changing family. 



Shannon O’Neill and Carolyn Lo Scuito are the owners of Acti-Kare. Shannon has been a nurse for over 10 years. Her business partner and sister, Carolyn, is a former teacher with a Masters Degree in Counseling. When they decided to leave their clinical jobs and become business owners it only made sense to partner up and go into the business of helping others, both mentally and physically. They have had life experiences along with clinical backgrounds that make them perfect to be in the Home Services role. They have been in business for about 2 years and have loved serving clients in the city of Chicago and North Chicago suburbs. They believe that the keys to success in this business are a qualified pool of care givers who have received hands on training and supervision,  and very involved owners with an above and beyond approach to >child care 

 At Acti-Kare all of their nannies and home-helpers are background checked, screened, trained (CPR and beyond), supervised and closely monitored by Shannon and Carolyn. They handle schedules, payroll, liability insurance, backup care, and more. It’s really a one stop shop for  families who are looking for easy home care help and solutions and do not have a ton of time to deal with the other hassles. 

 Other services provided:  Mother’s Helper, Date Night, Sick Child, Transportation, Help with Homework, Age Appropriate and Stimulating Educational Activities, Care of Children and Children with Special Needs, Housekeeping, Meal Prep, Personal Care Assistance (for new moms post C section etc), Newborn baby and Multiples Care, Overnight Care, Sibling and Pet help (with new moms and babies) and Moms on bed rest.

 You can learn more or contact us at



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