Summer Child Care: Nanny or Day Camp?

nanny or day campWhile children undoubtedly look forward to being out of school for the summer, those three months off can be worrisome for parents, especially those whose schedules don’t change during the summer and still need to make sure their kids are cared for. While day camps are a popular option, it might not be the right one for every family. Some may choose to hire a summer nanny to look after the children.

It’s an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be a stressful one if the parents understand the differences between using a nanny and enrolling in a day camp. There are pros and cons to each, and all must be considered.

Here are the key differences between using a nanny and sending the kids to camp.

Nannies

The Pros

When a family hires a summer nanny, they set the schedule, they dictate the duties the nanny will perform, and they provide specific instructions for the child’s care. The nanny’s pay rate and benefits are negotiated, so they know the exact cost of hiring a summer nanny. Many families prefer having a situation where they can control the schedule and ask the nanny to provide updates throughout the day.

Live-in nannies can be hired to care for a child in the evening and during the night, if parents’ schedules don’t allow them to be home then. There are certain requirements a family must provide in this situation, such as a private place for the nanny to sleep with a bathroom. But for families that can accommodate one, a live-in nanny may be a good option.

A nanny provides one-on-one attention, which may be preferable for some families. Based on both parental instructions and the child’s reaction to different things, a summer nanny can adjust their approach to caring for the child. A child may form a real bond with their nanny as there’s no competition for attention, and some families may value that component highly.

Summer nannies can handle the child-related busy work. Camp lunches and snacks don’t have to be packed before leaving the house. All parents know the struggle of getting a child dressed in the morning, which is something a nanny can handle instead. Plus parents can ask the nanny to do the kids’ laundry, light house cleaning, prepare dinner, or other easy but tedious jobs that a nanny can do to make coming from work less stressful for mom and dad.

Hiring a summer nanny through an agency benefits families by giving them access to helpful child care resources, along with guidance and support from the agency, including back-up care should their regular nanny not be able to come to work.

Families may be eligible to claim the Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP) or Child and Dependent Care tax credit when they use a nanny for child care. Those can help offset some of the cost of the nanny’s wages and benefits.

The Cons

Families that hire on their own (not through an agency) will need to find a replacement or take time off of work to care for the child if their nanny calls out sick one day, or needs time off due to an unexpected emergency. It can be disruptive and inconvenient when a family has to scramble for backup child care, especially if the kids have started to bond with the nanny.

Many families use online job boards to find nannies; it’s important to know that these nannies are not required to have any specific education credentials or certifications (such as CPR or first aid). Searching for a nanny with all the qualifications parents require can be time-consuming, and performing background checks becomes the family’s responsibility. All the hiring decisions are made by the family, and while there are legal protections for nannies in New York and other states, anyone who wants to be a nanny can be one without going through any regulation process.

Employment taxes must be paid by any family that pays a nanny over $2,100 (2018) in a year (this threshold can easily be reached even for just a summer nanny). All applicable nanny tax forms, Social Security, Medicare, federal and state unemployment insurances, and income taxes must be filed. In New York, if a summer nanny works at least 40 hours in any week, the family must have a workers’ compensation policy in case the nanny is injured or becomes ill while on duty.

When a family hires a nanny, they become a household employer. Pay rate and benefits need to be negotiated; vacation and sick time, health insurance, and even retirement must be discussed with a summer nanny. A job description and work agreement should be created, and families must ensure they are complying with any applicable discrimination and harassment laws. It takes a lot of time and effort to figure out all the household employer obligations (but using a payroll service like our partners at GTM Payroll will make things much easier).

Day Camp

Pros

Day camps continue the socialization that children receive in school, which many families find integral to their child’s development. Sharing, playing with others, interactional behavior, and other social skills learned in school are ongoing in camp. New friends are made and kids develop relationships with their peers.

There are a lot of specialized day camps regarding subject matter. Some focus on arts and crafts, some on individual and team sports, others on water-related activities, and some are more education-focused, like science camps. Kids may be more engaged and learn more if the focus of the camp is something they are already interested in as they improve their skills or learn new ones.

Many day camp counselors have educational backgrounds in childhood education and/or psychology (teachers sometimes make camp their summer job), so they can tailor activities based on the children’s ages and maturity levels.

Day camps run on a set schedule, and many are open past 5:00pm to accommodate families getting off of work. Some also open early to assist families who need more time in the morning to get to their jobs.

Reputable day camps will background-check and screen their employees. In New York, children’s camps are subject to numerous regulations regarding health, safety, and qualifications for camp staff, which may bring parents peace of mind.

Many day camps provide snacks or even lunch, which can reduce the amount of time it takes for families to get everything ready for camp in the morning. Children often encounter new foods at day camp and may try new things, something they may not be as eager to do at home.

The DCAP can help families offset the cost of day camp, allowing individuals to qualify up to $ 5,000 of their annual salary federal and state income tax-free.

Cons

While some families value a day camp’s set schedule, if a meeting is going late and a parent can’t get to the facility by closing time, it can be very inconvenient. Day camps usually charge extra for late pick-ups, so balancing work responsibilities and day camp hours may be a struggle.

The stimulation at day camp can be overwhelming for some kids; new faces, lots of new experiences, and perhaps more activity than they are used to. While socialization is a big part of camp, it may not be the right environment for certain children.

While illness tends to decline during the summer, kids can still get sick. Most camps will require a child who has a fever or vomits to stay home for at least 24 hours (or as long as it takes for the fever to go away); that means arranging other child care or staying home from work until the child is healthy enough to return. Day camps will usually not give a refund for any days a child misses.

While the only holiday closure to worry about during the summer is Independence Day, some camps are not open every week, or some may close for religious holidays. When camp is closed and the parents still need to work, other child care arrangements will have to be made.

Day camp staff can change year-to-year, so if a child forms a bond with one or more of the counselors, they may be disappointed if those workers aren’t there the next summer.

The Costs

After considering all the pros and cons listed above, a family’s decision about summer child care may come down to the cost.

Nannies

According to the International Nanny Association’s (INA) 2017 Salary and Benefits Survey, the national average hourly wage for nannies was $19.14, with some wages over $25 per hour. 75% of nannies surveyed received paid vacation time, and 17% received either full or partial health insurance.

If a family hires a summer nanny for 40 hours per week and pays the average of $19.14 per hour, the cost to the family would be $765.60 per week. There are additional costs involved with the hiring process; agencies charge a membership or placement fee, and families that hire using an online site will need to pay for background checks. Additional expenses can include workers’ comp and health insurance, and families that use their accountant or a payroll service must also consider those costs.

Day Camp

The cost of day camps varies greatly, based on the number of hours the camp is open each day, and the cost of the activities. Many day camps are operated by non-profit organizations, and those camps can be as low as $100 per week. According to the American Camp Association (ACA), families can expect to pay an average of $304 per week for day camp.

Specialty and for-profit camps are certainly more expensive, as the campers receive more individual attention and the skills of the staff are more specialized. Those camps can range from $500-$1000 per week, according to the ACA.

When the camp is closed or if the child is sick and can’t attend, the cost of backup child care or the cost of a parent staying home from work must be considered.

A third option is to use both! Some day camps are only half-day (which cost far less than full-day camps), so a family could take the kids to camp in the morning, and then have a nanny pick them up and care for them in the afternoon. This could be the “best of both worlds” for some families, but others may prefer the consistency of either just a nanny or just day camp.

Ultimately what’s best for a family (both financially and emotionally), is determined by the parents.  The decision about using a nanny versus a day camp is not to be made lightly, but having all the information and understanding the pros and cons to each option will make that decision a little easier.

Questions? Please contact us at (518) 348-0400.