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Choosing a caregiver for your special needs child

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Special sitters

Choosing a babysitter is a tricky task for any parent. When your child has special needs, however, the issues become even more complicated. Here's what you need to know.

Special needs child with caregiver

Parenting a special needs child is a tough job. Sure, it's one we do joyfully (usually), but at times, we do want a break. For that to happen, we need a sitter we can trust to take care of our special kiddos. Fortunately, the experts at Care.com have great advice for all parents -- including information tailored to parents of kids with special needs.

Smart screenings

You need to find a pro to take care of your special needs child, so the teen down the street probably isn't going to cut it. Use a service like Care.com to go through profiles and evaluate applicants thoroughly. Important: Look for previous experience with and specific training for your child's needs.

For example, if you have a child with significant medical needs, you need someone who can handle a g-tube, administer meds on schedule, and so on. So a highly-recommended nanny who took care of kids with Asperger's may be phenomenal at her job and still not be up to the task.

Let candidates know that you're hoping to build up a pool of back-up caregivers who can fill in when your primary sitter is sick, needs vacation, or decides to move on. If you have a few names of people you trust in your back pocket, you won't panic when your sitter comes down with a cold. And if you do find yourself in a last-minute bind, explore options like Care-on-Call's special needs service.

Ask the right questions

Sometimes, the applicant who is perfect on paper might not work out in person, so it's important to spend as much time as possible with those you're considering hiring. Let candidates know that you'll conduct multiple interviews, and give them a chance to demonstrate their skills.

Get specific with your questions. Ask them about the kids they've worked with -- their issues, what the job required, what they found challenging, and how they worked through it.

If you're expecting the sitter to watch multiple kids, ask about her experience with that. How will she care for the typical kids alongside the one with special needs?

Be sure to ask applicants what kinds of problems they encountered in the past, how they addressed those issues with former employers and what the ultimate outcome was. You can also ask what they'd do differently now, with the wisdom of hindsight.

References, references, references

You know how in real estate the three most important things are location, location, location? Well, when you're hiring a caregiver for your special needs child, the three most important things are references, references, and references.

No matter how perfectly you clicked with a potential caregiver in the interview, you must call her references. And you must call all her references -- not just one. Yes, it will take some time, but this is the person you are about to trust with your child. And you need to be certain that you've done your due diligence.

In fact, you should also run a background check on your potential new caregiver -- most professionals expect this and won't be offended. After all, your own employer most likely ran one on you before you were hired. (If you're a Care.com member, background checks are free.)

Finding the right caregiver for a child with special needs will take some time. But it's time well spent, and the peace of mind you'll enjoy when it's done is priceless.

More on caring for kids with special needs:

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