Nanny Trouble? Urban Nurture Is Importing Help From Britain

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The New York Sun

Mary Poppins is coming to town and, no, she’s not part of the hit musical from London opening on Broadway.

An investment banker from London is importing a small team of well trained British nannies to help with Manhattan’s most pesky child-rearing problems.

Instead of moving in with particular families, the nannies working for Urban Nurture will travel from home to home – likely by subway, rather than flying umbrella – consulting with parents on how to deal with colicky babies, petulant toddlers, and bed-wetting children.

The premise is a bit like Fox’s popular reality television program “Nanny 911,” on which nannies arrive in caps and capes to bully American children and their parents into shape. In this case, the nannies will forgo uniforms and avoid bullying in favor of “collaboration” to determine the best way to cure what ails families.

“It’s not rocket science, it’s just experience,” the founder of the company, Sally Wilkinson, said. The investment banker moved to New York last year with her husband and now 13-month-old twins. She said she couldn’t believe how difficult it was to find good nanny care in the city. She brought over a nanny from London, Julie, who has almost 18 years of experience, to care for her boys, Noah and Lucas.

In Britain, top nannies attend a special two-year degree program. The most sought after are graduates of the 114-year-old Norland College in Bath. Norland nannies sport fresh-pressed brown uniforms with white gloves and earn about $1,000 a week. Their training includes stints in schools and hospitals.

“Nannying in the United Kingdom is regarded as a profession,” Ms. Wilkinson said, adding that nannies in America are sometimes treated as second-class citizens. Nannies in America earn on average of between $400 and $600 a week, according to a national nanny Web site,

In recent years, experienced nannies in America with British nanny degrees can earn more than $100,000 a year, according to the president of the Pavillion employment agency in Manhattan, Clifford Greenhouse. The agency places nannies and other domestic workers in the city’s most affluent homes.

Because of immigration law limitations, Ms. Wilkinson cannot import nannies to care for children in America. Instead, her small team of nannies – which so far includes Claire, Julie, and Helen, who have 45 years of childrearing experience between them – will consult with families on specific problems and help them hire local nannies of their own.

In addition, Urban Nurture will provide “Nanny Night,” an overnight nanny service staffed by a team of local child care workers, including teachers who are looking to earn some additional money. Families are required to provide a bed for the nanny and must reserve the service 48 hours in advance.

Ms. Wilkinson, who most recently worked as a public policy adviser in Britain before coming to America with her banker husband, said she was surprised to find an “underdeveloped” nanny market in a city as service-oriented as New York.

Most New York families looking for a full-time nanny depend on recommendations from friends or go through a handful of expensive placement agencies.

In researching how to develop her company, Ms. Wilkinson interviewed 100 nannies in Manhattan and found that 85 were not American and 45 acknowledged not having their working papers. Because many families hire illegal immigrants as nannies, the company is also putting together a brochure informing parents about the specific penalties for not paying taxes for their caregivers and other potential pitfalls.

Urban Nurture’s crop of British nannies and nighttime nannies will all be required to sign non-disclosure forms that forbid them to spill the beans about their employers, who are likely to be well-heeled and possibly even famous. That practice has become increasingly popular since the publication of “The Nanny Diaries,” a satire written by two former Manhattan nannies about the families they worked for on the Upper East Side.

“We want to set a new standard for nanny care in New York,” Ms. Wilkinson said. “These are the people that are taking caring of your children.”

The New York Sun

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