Many families use the term babysitter and nanny interchangeably - they just don't see a distinction. To the professional nanny - whether she has formal training or not - it is a big deal! Why?
Generally speaking a babysitter provides custodial care on a causal , on-call, basis while parents are away. In essence, they keep children safe and supervised when a parent is absent. They may help with bathing, or feed the children the pizza the parents ordered in, but their primary function is the physical safety and security of the child.
A nanny participates as a parent partner and provides either full time or part time age appropriate developmental care for a child in their private home when the parent is unavailable to supervise.
As professional nanny Ruth Hale observes, "A nanny forms a connection with your child and is a partner in the child rearing. A babysitter holds space for the adults."
The International Nanny Association (INA) has concise definitions of nanny and babysitter.
According to the INA, a nanny " is a child care specialist whose workplace is a family’s private home. A nanny is employed by a family to provide the highest level of customized child care and to give personalized attention to the family’s children. A nanny may be employed full time or part time, and the nanny may or may not live with the family. The nanny’s role is to provide support to the family by serving as a loving, nurturing and trustworthy companion to the children." (READ MORE)
A babysitter, on the other hand, "provides supervisory, custodial care of children on a full-time or part-time basis. Many babysitters have no special training and have limited child care experience."
Scope of Childcare Responsibilities
A nanny will be expected to engage the children in much the same way a parent does to encourage physical, emotional and educational development. They help with language acquisition, potty training, learning to tie your shoes. They also help develop skills such as reading and basic mathematics through routine activities such as reading books before nap or bedtime, counting the number of socks in the laundry, or learning what time mommy or daddy comes home every day. Yes they will play Chutes and Ladders for a bagillion times, take the children outside to play in the yard or park, allow the children to play with sidewalk chalk or finger paints, all of which sound pretty routine in and of themselves. A nanny is a parent substitute when parents are unavailable, and has a sustained commitment to the child's long term well being.
Casual v. Regular Care
A babysitter according to the US tax code, provides childcare on a casual basis. Casual basis is defined in 29 CFR 552.5, the Fair Labor Standards Act. "The term casual basis, when applied to babysitting services, shall mean employment which is irregular or intermittent, and which is not performed by an individual whose vocation is babysitting." Caregivers who meet this definition are exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act and hence are not covered by regulations governing minimum wage, overtime and the like.
A vocation is a person's employment or main occupation, their trade or profession. A nanny's vocation is childcare - whether she is employed on a full time or part time basis. Nannies ARE covered by the FLSA and its minimum wage, overtime and other protections.
Sue Downey, a professional nanny and the creator of the annual nanny educational conference NannyPalooza, believes the distinction between a nanny and a babysitter comes down to the caregiver's intention. "Is the caregiver there to just provide occasional custodial care or is the caregiver there committed to a steadier more expansive care of children including components of educational and developmental well being and support for the family as a whole."
Is Being a Nanny a Real Job?
This is huge! Nannies DO work real jobs! Nannies are not only covered by law as employees, the families they work for expect punctuality, reliability, and commitment. Strangely, it is often the families that the nanny works for that label the work they do as unimportant and not real work. Your 16 year old babysitter may do work, no one is doubting that. Your professional nanny comes to work even if she doesn't want to, cares about the children in her charge more than you would ever imagine, and bring their best to you and your children every day! Yes, a nanny does a real job!
As Kith and Kinn Household Staffing so eloquently notes, "Knowing the commitment, experience, expected duties, and consistent energy that is required of a nanny, it can be easy to see why he/she may recoil when being referred to as a "babysitter." Nannies take their careers seriously, and have a lot of responsibility!"
And, along with nannying being a real job, the families who hire the nannies are real employers - which means they have payroll tax responsibilities. While we may not be able to end the nanny v. babysitter debate, we can help you with your payroll and nanny taxes!