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FAMILY LIFE

The Need Is Nannyversal : Immigration Law Changes Result in New Approaches to Live-In Child Care

November 21, 1987|JAN HOFMANN | For The Times

When Louise Stewart took her children to see "Mary Poppins" at the movies years ago, she never dreamed that she would someday become a nanny.

But after the children were grown and Louise found herself between jobs, she decided--a bit reluctantly--to give it a try. Now, with two nanny jobs behind her, Louise, 44, a former secretary, writer and consultant, is in the market again and ready to make a career of it. "I love children, and I love being at home. You have a lot of freedom, and you have this person who looks up to you."

Louise heard from friends who live in Orange County that there were nanny jobs available, so she left her home in Denver and came here, where she is already sifting through job offers less than a week after she started looking.

Natalia Wermager, 19, also came to Orange County to be a nanny, her plane ticket from her Minnesota home paid for by a Trabuco Canyon couple anxiously awaiting her services.

The demand for nannies in Orange County is so high that one agency, Nannies R Us in Costa Mesa, uses an 800 number and newspaper ads to recruit young women from as far away as Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas.

And in its first 10 days of operation, Newport Nanny College in Huntington Beach got calls from "60 people who wanted to hire nannies, now," says co-owner Bette Rothman. The school, the first of its kind in Orange County and one of about 20 private vocational schools for nannies nationwide, had no nannies to offer yet; the office only opened this month and the first classes don't begin until January.

The demand for nannies has resulted from a combination of demographic trends and a recent change in the immigration law, says Newport Nanny College co-owner Suzanne Butnik. The baby-boom generation is now having its own boomlet, but most mothers aren't giving up their jobs when the baby comes.

"From 1970 to 1984, the number of women in the work force in Orange County increased 52%," Butnik told a group of potential nannies at a seminar last week. "Nationally, 60% of the mothers of children under 14 work, and half of them go back to work before their child's first birthday. Career women can't do their work unless they're sure their children are being taken care of. The answer for every family is not an in-home nanny. But, increasingly, women and men will be willing to make the financial sacrifice because their children are that important.

"It's a matter of quality. After all, you would not take your Mercedes to a Ford mechanic."

The other factor, according to Butnik, is the new immigration law passed by Congress last year. That law requires employers to make sure the people they hire have the legal right to work in the United States, or face stiff penalties.

"Up to now, it's been fairly easy to get foreign women," Butnik says, "and many of them have been exploited because they were here illegally. But that has changed and will continue to change with the new law."

The new immigration law is only one reason John and Kathleen Perrine of Nannies R Us bring in only American women to work as nannies. "We learned from our own experience," John says. "We have four small children, and it was difficult to find someone we could count on."

"And communication was such a problem," Kathleen says. "I spoke a little Spanish, but John didn't speak any, and when I left the house, there would be no communication."

The Perrines didn't plan to recruit in faraway places when they started Nannies R Us in January, but soon they were faced with a growing demand and a shortage of local nannies. "So we thought, hey, this is a very desirable place to live, and there are probably girls out there who'd be willing to work as nannies if they could live here," Kathleen says. "We decided to pick someplace cold to start with, so we ran an ad in Fargo, N.D. We got a great response."

Encouraged, they placed ads in other cities, concentrating on areas with cold winters and/or depressed economies. They found a nanny of their own with an ad in Tulsa, Okla. Jill Hersha, a former sixth-grade math teacher from Broken Arrow, Okla., says she came to work for the Perrines because "I love kids, and I wanted to go where there were more people." But she doesn't see herself as a career nanny. "I'd like to go back to teaching eventually," she says.

Many out-of-town nannies assume that when they come to Orange County, they'll be working for wealthy families who live in mansions, says John. "But most of our placements are middle-income families where both parents work."

Natalia Wermager saw the Nannies R Us ad in the Fargo newspaper, near her home in Moorhead, Minn. "I had wanted to be a nanny since I was a senior in high school," she says. "And I really wanted to get out of the cold winters." So she called the 800 number and asked for an application.

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