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For those who can afford them: a crop of American nannies

By Catherine FosterStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 17, 1986


John Cheronis and Shirley Browner-Cheronis had a problem. They have a typically hectic life style that goes with a two-career marriage (they are both physicians), two children in different day care centers, and a hodgepodge of babysitters called at the last minute when sudden calls, beepers, and travel pulled them away. It wasn't working. What solved their problem? A nanny.

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From helping older brother Chris (6) with his reading, to taking the boys to get haircuts, to squelching bathtub squabbles, 19-year old nanny Sandy Shores does nearly everything three-year-old Niko's parents would do if they were home.

``She's reliable,'' says Mrs. Browner-Cheronis, over a goulash dinner Miss Shores has made. ``And she's here all the time. My schedule is so flexible with being on call. I can tell Sandy I'm on call, and to please hang around. I don't have to take the kids someplace if I get called.''

The Browner-Cheronises aren't alone in their needs. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 8 million working mothers with children under the age of 6. Finding suitable child care is a major national problem. For those who can afford it, having a trained person in the home full time has become an increasingly attractive option.

About 20 nanny schools have cropped up around the country in the last three years to supply ``child-care professionals'' versed in everything from Piaget to Pampers. Shores was trained at the National Academy of Nannies Inc., in Denver, founded by Terri Urich three years ago after she had to quit her management-training job because she couldn't find adequate care for her daughter.

While the traditional British nanny schools have a two-year curriculum, nanny courses in the United States generally last 12 to 15 weeks. (NANI's is 30 weeks.) At all of the US schools, the students are taught infant care, meal planning, child development, creative activities, and first aid. Part of the NANI training includes studying newborns at a hospital and helping with toddlers at a local preschool. At the Sheffield School for Nannies in Hopewell, N.J., in addition to teaching methods, the students learn how to set up a play space, select clothing, and manage a party.

``We believe a student should be able to help a kid through the school process,'' says founder Ellen Sheffield.

American nannies are likely to differ from their British counterparts in other ways: Their ``uniform'' is likely to be pink sweat shirts and white athletic shoes.

``A British nanny would not think twice about working round-the-clock,'' says Ms. Sheffield. ``American nannies are more conscious of their freedom and independence.''

Nevertheless, the nanny's place in the less formal American family is more than just taking care of the children - ``you learn how to be a good roommate, too,'' says Urich.

In NANI's program, students live with and work for a host family in Denver for free room and board. When they move in with their employing family, they have 12 weeks of on-the-job training, complete with periodic performance reviews, and written and oral exams.

The nanny schools, both private institutions and courses set up by community colleges, have turned out about 500 nannies in the last three years, according to Sheffield, who's also vice-president of the American Council of Nanny Schools. And they're snapped up, she says. The Sheffield School currently has 30 clients waiting for each nanny.

Trained nannies can expect to earn from $900 to $1400 a month, free room and board, two-week paid vacations, holidays, and other benefits, including travel. It can be a lucrative profession for someone taking a break from school.