Jacalyn S. Burke Interview Author of The Nanny Time Bomb: Navigating The Crisis in Child Care

August 27, 2016

Jacalyn S. Burke, experienced nanny, author and childcare advocate reveals some of the contents from her timely book, The Nanny Time Bomb: Navigating the Crisis in Child Care , which has provoked many to look at the problems in the nanny/childcare industry.

She explains why her book should be read by both parents and nannies. She also addresses many of the problems in the childcare industry and efforts being made to bring about a positive change.

Interview with Jacalyn S. Burke

by Clarke Illmatical

Your total experience nannying?

“It was from 2004 to about 2016… Being a good nanny is really a hard job.”

One thing that I found interesting in your book were the experiences of the nannies. You touched on the point that the majority of the nannies aren’t being treated properly. I don’t think people understand that the treatment of the nanny is going to ultimately affect how the nanny treats your children…

Some people in America find themselves acting in a way that is not always very helpful or respectful toward nannies themselves. You’re absolutely right, there is a correlation between how you’re treated by the employer and how you feel about your job… Can you pin this problem on the demographic? Absolutely not! There is no stereotype for bad nannies. I wish there were. You can’t profile, it’s an extraordinary set of circumstances that can turn somebody into a depressed, upsetting, or disgruntle worker… it’s a set of things that happens. The industry itself, because it’s unregulated, because it’s unlicensed, it’s open to exploitation by American employers who know better… There is a subgroup of nannies, who people know don’t have representation, in other words, they don’t have their papers, and those nannies are sought out, straight off the boat and they’re the easiest people to exploit… there is a problem in America.”

“Let me clarify my position, first and foremost, a nanny is an employee. She is there to provide a service for the family and the children. She gets a paycheck and she goes home. She’s not a blood relative… it’s a very intimate job. Very quickly what can happen is she becomes the mom’s best friend. When you’re best friends with somebody, you are able to speak your mind. You don’t yes them to death… If someone is giving them a paycheck, it’s hard for them to sit there and act like a friend. Nannies have their own friends and I’m not saying that friendships don’t develop, but they develop out of the situation, which is primarily an employment situation… it’s a bit complicated. I’m not saying you can’t be friends… but when you start a job, you have to remember that it’s a profession just like every other profession. You have to bring your best game to that profession and that job… Up until now, it’s been a little confusing as what role a nanny plays in a family.”

Should nannies be looking at shorter assignments so they don’t get attached to the children they’re working with?

“What needs to change is not this preemptive action by a nanny to defend herself and to keep herself economically solvent, it has to be this change - when you negotiate a position with an employer, that you negotiate a fixed term, and all employees deserve that. Often, there is no recourse for being dismissed if you don’t have paperwork, for example, or a contract. These are things that I advocate… they should start with an agreement and a contract.”

The employee reference letter, how important is that? Perhaps a letter that is notarized, do you think that is something that is important?

“I think it’s very important that nannies understand that you should stay up to date with references… You should get hold of the most recent reference by phone… a notarized letter can sometimes raise a red flag to an employer ‘Why isn’t she in touch with them?’ … The recommendation is very important
but it goes along with a strong resume and work history.”

In terms of reform, does it have to happen on the employer side?

“That would be ideal if there were background checks on employers too… but I don’t think that’s where we should start. when we talk about childcare reform, we’re talking about multi-level reform. We start at the federal level… we start by educating nannies individually through community efforts so that nannies feel that they’re a part of a supportive network.”

In your book, you mentioned an important point, if a nanny does her job well, in many instances, the mother will be threatened. I’ve spoken to several experienced nannies and they’ve all dealt with jealousy. This is a sensitive issue, how do you deal with this?

“Any mother or father that leaves their child behind with someone… they’re going to be issues. You can’t get around that, it’s human nature. There is nothing wrong with jealousy. What needs to happen is the nanny and the employer needs to have a conversation… they need to talk it through. That’s what grownups do. Don’t let things fester. There is never an excuse for a nanny not to do the best job. She’s a grownup.That’s her job, to be the most amazing person that child is going to be around while mommy and daddy are out… it’s hard to quantify what you do, when what you do is almost invisible…These skills can sometimes be overlooked… men and women who do this job very well are very skilled people. They need to make sure that they don’t allow parental jealousy to change the way they act. Nannies shouldn’t be shy about bringing it up…”

You mentioned a new labor movement and the government. Can you speak about that?

“I’m a part of a collective that is recognizing the work that domestic workers do in the United States. This invisible workforce, and it is invisible, it’s very underrepresented as well, across the general level… a new awareness for nannies, end-of-life caregivers, care-aids , nursing assistants… people like that, there is a movement to get those people together, so that we can effect change collectively… I’m involved with the organizations that represent these workers. I’m going to be working along with them next year, to bring change to this movement and attention to policy makers… we need to go to these people and say ‘We need to change the way we have childcare working in this country!’… We need to give women who are undocumented a path to some form of citizenship… we need to allow people to register themselves and stop living in the shadows… a lot of these women are doing the work for next to nothing.”

Is a part of bringing them to light, changing the titles? When you say ‘childcare worker,’ it sounds more professional. When you say ‘nanny,’ an ignorant person my associate that with babysitting. More people don’t realize that these people are skilled and that they have training and it’s a career.

“A person who takes good care of a child, and may not have one single academic accreditation, is still a highly skilled worker… society doesn’t accurately quantify skill sets… we could play around with names and words, but unless we bring in change so that these women have dignity, and they have access to training programs, they have access to choices, then you’re going to see a workforce that is in control of its own destiny…”

You’ve seen people whose lives have been ruined by bad nannying positions…

“I’ve seen people come to America and suddenly realize they can’t leave. And they’ve talked to me about their children being raised back home… it’s painful, it’s a huge sacrifice… let’s say we had a visa program… how many people in America deep down in their hearts want to be a nanny? Let’s just say 65 percent which is very conservative , that still leaves a shortfall of workers in that care group… we’d need to figure out how to source people to fill that gap. Could we create a visa program for workers to come over and work?”

People hiring nannies, is it a power trip for them?

“I think most people, on a conscious level, are looking for the best person to care for their child. A lot of people seek out women with education. With that, comes a higher wage… there will always be people who look for the cheapest form of childcare, for whatever reason, I have no idea… the majority of these people do start out with a very honorable idea because — it’s their kids… Whatever they feel on a subconscious level will come out.”

Is most of the conflict with nannies coming from the mothers?

“I think mothers traditionally do a lot more with the hiring in childcare, that has been my experience, they tend to be more hands on with that… but I think it’s inevitable if you don’t communicate almost daily… conflicts will arise.”

Is most of the conflict with nannies coming from the mothers?

“I think mothers traditionally do a lot more with the hiring in childcare, that has been my experience, they tend to be more hands on with that… but I think it’s inevitable if you don’t communicate almost daily… conflicts will arise.”

Do you think more nannies should join the INA?

“That would be great! The INA is a wonderful organization. But so is the Domestic Workers Union. There are smaller groups begun around ethnic identity, and there is a lot of support women can get from their own ethnic community… in my book, when I was talking to Southeast Asian women, they had they own small support group… they have a great support network. It’s fascinating… you’ve got all these small groups and then you’ve got the big umbrella ones like the Domestic Workers Union and the INA. The INA is almost like the governing body for nannies. They do wonderful things. If every single nanny belonged to the INA, I think that would be wonderful. If they could afford to join and take part in their courses…”

INA nannies have boundaries, they don’t do housework. I’ve talked to certain nannies and they feel that isn’t their job…

“It depends on the family, not everybody is comfortable picking up toys or emptying the dishwasher… the INA makes certain restrictions for their nannies and that is important that they do that…But ultimately it’s up to the individual nannies where they draw the line… how far they want to go, how empowering it feels or how disempowering it feels.”

You mention reform, but I feel like there is common neglect. What is it going to take for the government to understand that they need reform?

“It’s going to take leaders who are open to supporting working families… the cost of childcare is going to continue to rise. People are not going to be able to make the best choices, that’s extra stress for them and it’s a massive stress on their children. I compare this to an infrastructure problem, you have a crumbling aging infrastructure, which we do in the United States, unfortunately. What does it take to get the government’s attention? It takes a bridge to collapse. When we have these horrible stories… Will it take more cases of abuse and neglect to get the government’s attention? I hope not… I know what you’re saying about neglect, here is what I say… Why are nannies tired? Why are they run down? Why do some of them seem sad? Why do some of them seem depressed? Ask them about their lives.”

Why should parents read your book?

“It’s a manual. I call it a guide, guiding them (parents) through the childcare practice because right now it’s unlicensed, it’s the wild west…”

Why should nannies read your book?

“It’s a cautionary tale for nannies. Nannies can draw from the tales of powerful women and say ‘I’m not going to have that experience’ … I have a voice… That’s what I hope nannies get from my book… I would see it as a tool for raising your game. That’s what I would take from it if I was a nanny… I will say this, people have reacted to the title and said that they found it negative, and I understand that…but the book isn’t anti-nanny, it’s about the industry.”

You can keep up with Jacalyn and order her book from her website: jacalynsburke.com

The Nanny Time Bomb: Navigating the Crisis in Child Care by Jacalyn S. Burke

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