Person responsible for meeting the physical and psychological needs of an infant, child, or dependent adult.

A caregiver (alternatively referred to as a caretaker) is the person who has responsibility for meeting the physical and psychological needs of an infant or child. (The term also describes the person responsible for the care of a dependent adult.) The caregiver may be the individual who has legal responsibility for the child—the parent or guardian—or may be someone who is hired to assume temporary, short-term, or routine responsibility for the child in the absence of the parent or guardian. A caregiver may also be a member of the household or extended family, such as a co-parent, siblings, aunts, uncles, or grandparents. The label caregiver is usually applied to a person taking care of a child or adult at home, although it may be applied to employees in a day care setting.

Estimates of the number of people employed as caregivers vary from 14 to 22 million. Only a percentage of these are employed to care for children, but the number is growing. The Children's Defense Fund estimated that in 1990, 6.5 million children under age five whose mothers were employed were cared for by someone other than a parent. For families who wish to hire a caregiver, the process can be emotional and difficult. In 1996, the Nanny News reported on hiring practices used to find and employ caregivers for children.

When identifying candidates, interviewing, and hiring, many parents find that the demand for caregivers exceeds the supply. Successful hiring can be accomplished through word-of-mouth, classified ads in the local newspaper, or through placement agencies (fees ranged in 1996 from $1,200 to $3,500 for child caregiver referrals). Before hiring an agency, the parents should investigate its policies and procedures. Parents should ask about how the agency screens references of applicants, and how the agency deals with unsuccessful referrals—does it issue refunds or provide replacements, for example. The International Nanny Association publishes an annual directory of referral services and training programs for nannies.

Many parents hiring a caregiver on their own for the first time rely on chemistry between the applicant and the family members. Being able to fit in with the family is an important qualification for a caregiver, but experts urge families to do a thorough check of references. Parents should contact the references themselves, and should be wary of false references. For example, prospective employers should never agree to be called by the applicant's references.

Parents can gain access to helpful information about a prospective caregiver's background by hiring an investigation service to do a standard pre-employment screening, which includes checks of criminal records, verification of previous employment, driving records, and a review of workers' compensation claims. In 1996, the cost of such a check was under $100.

Once the hiring decision has been made, parents should remain vigilant about the caregiver's performance. Infants and young children will be unable to communicate problems, but may show signs of anxiety in the caregiver's presence. Parents should be concerned if the child has unexplained injuries or accidents.

Good communication between parents and caregiver ensures that the child's needs in physical and emotional development will be met. Parents should consider creating a structured format—such as a log book or daily conference—that will allow the caregiver to communicate issues, concerns, or accomplishments that come up during the day. In this way, the parents can review what has occurred during the day at a time other than during the hectic rush at the beginning or end of the working day.


Au pair: There are two definitions. One describes a foreign person, usually European, who lives with an American family for up to a year to experience American life. Lives as part of the host family and receives a small allowance/salary. Helps with housework and childcare. May or may not have prior childcare experience. Alternatively, an au pair may be a U.S. citizen who lives with a family and provides help with light housework and childcare for 40-60 hours per week. Usually works under the supervision and direction of the parent. May or may not have prior childcare experience.

Babysitter: Provides supervisory custodial care for children on an irregular full- or part-time basis. No special training or background expected.

Governess: A qualified teacher employed by families for full- or part-time at-home education. Work week varies widely. Generally not responsible for physical aspects of childcare.

Mother's (Parent's) Helper: Works for the family to provide full-time childcare and other domestic help for families with one parent at home most of the time. Usually works under the direction and supervision of the at-home parent, but may be left in complete charge for brief periods. No special training is expected.

Nanny: Employed by a family to provide full-time childcare on either a live-in or live-out basis to undertake all tasks related to the care of the children. Duties are generally restricted to childcare and the domestic tasks related to childcare. May or may not have had any formal training, though often has a good deal of actual experience. Nanny's work week ranges from 40-60 hours. Usually works unsupervised.

Nursery Nurse: The title used in the United Kingdom for a person who has received special training and preparation in caring for young children (not limited to in-home care), and has passed the certification examination of the National Nursery Examination Board. May or may not live with the family. Works independently and is responsible for everything related to the care of the children. Duties generally restricted to the childcare and related domestic tasks. Work week ranges from 50-60 hours per week.

Source: Adapted from International Nanny Association's fact sheet, "A Nanny for Your Family...Answers to Questions Parents Often Ask About In-Home Childcare."


Capossela, Cappy, and Sheila Warnock. Share the Care: How to Organize a Group to Care for Someone Who Is Seriously Ill. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Elliott, Ruth and Jim Savage. The Complete Guide to In-Home Childcare. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1988.

Kahana, Eva, David E. Biegel, and May Wykle.Family Care-giving Across the Lifespan. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1994.

Lowe, Paula C. Care Pooling: How to Get the Help You Need to Care for the Ones You Love. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1993.

MacNamara, Roger D. Creating Abuse-Free Caregiving Environments for Children, the Disabled, and the Elderly: Preparing, Supervising, and Managing Caregivers for the Emotional Impact of Their Responsibilities. Springfield, IL: C.C. Thomas, 1992.

Neal, Margaret B., et al. Balancing Work and Caregiving for Children, Adults, and Elders. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1993.


Bell, Alison, and Marian Edelman Borden. "Child-Care Guide." American Baby 58, March 1996, pp. 64+.

Field, Anne, and Kate Deely. "A Changing of the Guardian." Parenting 9, October 1995, pp. 40+.

Malone, Barbara L. "Finding a Home Caregiver." Consumers Digest 36, May-June 1997, p. 86.

Nanny News, six issues per year. For subscription information, call toll-free (800) 634-6266.

Shelton, Sandi Kahn. "Making Child Care Even Better." Working Mother 20, January 1997, pp. 32+.

Woodward, Kenneth L., Tom Morganthau, and Sarah Van Boven. "The Great Ages of Discovery." Newsweek 129, Spring-Summer 1997, pp. 80+.

Audiovisual Recordings

The Home Care Companion: How to Care for Someone on Bedrest. Healing Arts Communications, 1996.
(One 40-minute videorecording.)


International Nanny Association
Address: 900 Haddon Avenue, Suite 438
Collingswood, NJ 08108
Telephone: (609) 858-0808
(Non-profit educational organization for nannies and those who educate, place, employ, and support professional in-home child care providers; publishes a directory of training programs and several fact sheets.)

National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force
(formerly the Child Care Employee Project)
Address: 733 15th St., N.W., Suite 1037
Washington, DC 20005-2112
[Clearinghouse for information on child care staffing; advocates for better regulation and funding of child care. Also sponsors "Worthy Wage Campaign," a grassroots effort to improve pay for child care workers. Publishes Mentoring in Early Care and Education: Refining an Emerging Career Path (59 pp.), and Breaking the Link: A National Forum on Child Care Compensation (36 pgs.).]