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Nannies: The Next Best Thing to Mom

November 06, 1986|MARILYNN WHEELER | Associated Press

SEATTLE — The English nanny--with her whalebone-stiff, starched white uniform and spoonful of sugar--is dead. Long live the new American nanny!

Wearing sweat shirts and jeans, students in Seattle Central Community College's Certified Nanny Training Program bear little resemblance to their Victorian counterparts. But they are as capable as they are casual.

According to the mother of Washington's first nanny school, 61-year-old Gloria Myre, they're also the answer to the child-care crisis in this country.

Of the three private nanny schools in England, Norland Nursery Training College near London is the most famous. Founded nearly a century ago, it was considered quite revolutionary in its day. Then, as now, people asked, "Why does anyone need special training to care for children?"

Established During WW II

At the close of World War II, the National Nursery Examination Board (NNEB) was established by an act of Parliament to train and certify nursery nurses, as increasing numbers of English mothers went to work outside the home. Since then, about 40 polytechnic schools, the equivalent of American community colleges, have begun to offer nanny-training programs.

Although there has never been a bigger market in the United States for NNEB-certified nursery nurses, in the past five years immigration laws have made it nearly impossible to hire an English nanny.

Nanny-training courses started to emerge in this country in the early 1980s. In 1985, Myre and 30 other members of the National Assn. for the Education of Young Children formed the American Council of Nanny Schools to set standards for programs in this country. Before that, she says, "Anybody who wanted to could call herself a nanny."

Must Be Stable, Independent

Natural-born nannies are special people, insists Myre. It's not enough to love children; they must also be stable, independent and self-assured.

"They're not just someone who can't do anything else. Parents want a mature, trained professional," said Myre.

Students in the Seattle Central Community College nanny program range from 19 to 40 years of age. Some of them have families of their own. There are even two men in the nanny program. Myre calls them "mannies."

The four-quarter vocational program includes classes in child and family development, as well as skills courses and practical child-care experience in three different settings.

For two quarters, students spend 10 hours a week taking care of children in five Early Childhood Care and Education laboratories, where 65 infants and toddlers are coddled in sunny, spacious playrooms.

Hands-On Experience

The students next spend three hours a week for one quarter at Childrens Orthopedic Hospital, an experience Myre says "really opens up their eyes to caring for sick children." Students work in the hospital's infant intensive-care department, the parents' resource room, and supervise arts-and-crafts activities for young patients on the wards.

Finally, students are placed in private homes. Nanny instructors go into the field to supervise their work, and parents agree to keep track of students' progress.

"Nannies also have an extremely close relationship with the parents," Myre said. "Parents in this country want to rear their own children. Even if they're working, they want a continuing say in what happens with their children."

Not a Lifetime Job

"People don't become nannies for life in this country. It's a job you do after you raise your children, it's a job you do before you start having a family. Here, children will move into a day-care situation or a preschool after they've had nannies."

Another big difference, she says, is that American homes are not built to accommodate servants, so few nannies are "live-ins."

A former social worker, Myre says she switched to education 15 years ago because she wanted a hand in preventing, not just patching up, people's problems.

She thinks it's ironic that although everyone agrees the preschool years are the most important in a child's life, child-care workers enjoy so little status and rock-bottom salaries.

"I encourage parents to stay home and take the time to be with their children, but when they don't have that option . . . (those children) have to have the best care that's available," she said.

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