Hiring a Private Caregiver? What You Need To Know

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Hiring a personal caregiver to come into your home or to provide additional care in a facility can be nerve-wracking. How do you know who to trust? How do you know who will be a good fit? This article addresses those concerns and will help guide you through the process of hiring a private caregiver, or sitter, for your elderly loved one.

Some people find personal caregivers through a homecare agency or referral service in order to keep things simple. Hiring a private caregiver is usually the most inexpensive option, but it means you'll need to do the work that an agency or referral service would normally do for you: as an employer, you'll need to cover payroll taxes unless that person works as a contractor, and, to be on the safe side, you should also perform a background check.

Where to Find Private-hire Caregivers

  • Ask for referrals from people you know and trust in the medical community, including discharge planners, physicians and social workers.
  • Let people around you know that you're looking to hire a personal caregiver. You may be surprised at how many leads you find, and word-of-mouth recommendations are sometimes the best ones.
  • Search online job boards such as Craigslist.
  • Place an advertisement in the newspaper or via online forums.

Assess Your Situation

Before calling any private-hire caregivers, make a list of what the job will entail and what your expectations are for hiring a professional caregiver. Be as detailed as possible. For example, telling a job candidate that you need someone to take care of your mom for three days a week only informs them that it is part-time work. Make notes on what is most important:

  • When and how often do you need a caregiver? Is it likely to change soon? If so, will it be a problem?
  • What duties would you like the caregiver to perform and how often? List out the duties and frequency (e.g, light housekeeping weekly, driving to doctor's appointment as needed, and aiding with bathing every morning).
  • Do you need any specialized care, such as for dementia or incontinence?
  • What are the qualities a caregiver would need to make the environment safe and happy-patience, a sense of humor, or the ability to stand his or her ground? The caregiver you hire will be spending a lot of time with your loved one, so this is a significant issue. What are your loved one's pet peeves? Disorder or messiness? Smoking in the home? Bring these up when you speak with the caregiver.

Research Your Candidates for Private Caregivers

Once you've identified the caregiving duties, then you're ready to screen candidates by phone and begin scheduling interviews. On the phone, explain what your needs are and make sure the candidate has experience, training and the physical capability to do tasks such as transferring or bathing (if applicable). Let them know you will be checking their references and performing a background check. Ask interviewees to come to the interview with a Social Security card, driver's license, listings of prior home addresses and references, and a resumé. Type up a list or create a spreadsheet to keep track of your top candidates.

Background Checks for Personal Caregivers

Performing a background check on potential caregivers is imperative. Background checks can include credit reports, DMV records and searching county, state and/or federal criminal records. You must have written consent from the potential caregiver in order to perform a background check. Many law offices and private investigators can perform background checks using specialized databases; fees range from about $70-300 per hour. Online background check companies usually cost less, and most charge based on the scope of the search-for example, how many counties or states must be searched and what type of records you require. If you go this route, it's helpful to have a list of the candidate's previous addresses. Oftentimes search criteria can be even more specialized if you call the agency directly, rather than utilizing online forms, which are generalized.

Interviewing Private Caregivers

Interviews are always tricky because they require you to assess a person in a short amount of time. The following are a few questions and talking points for interviewing a candidate.

  • How long have you worked as a caregiver?
  • Tell me about your past work experience.
  • What did you like or not like about your previous jobs-and why?
  • Do you have any specialized training or experience?
  • Are you willing to perform the following duties? (List the duties you require, including any future needs that you anticipate. If your loved one enjoys cooking but her arthritis may require need aid with cooking later see if the caregiver is willing to do so.)
  • What activities do you think would be appropriate for my loved one?
  • How would you deal with my loved one being combative?
  • When are you happiest at work? (What makes work a good experience for you?)

Screening tips: Make sure you don't have any discriminatory policies in your screening process. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that you ask for permission, in writing, before pulling a job candidate's credit report. Also, if you do not hire that person based on his or her credit report, you must send the applicant a copy of the report, the contact information of the Consumer Reporting Agency and information on their rights to dispute the report.

During the interview, let applicants know everything you can about the job-think of details that would be important to you, if you were the employee. Some questions and concerns may include:

  • People with whom the caregiver will need to interact (Do you have a policy about visitors? Will anyone be stopping by the home?)
  • Tardiness or absenteeism
  • Benefits and wages (When and how will the caregiver be paid?)
  • Vacations and holiday pay
  • Petty cash (Will you leave small amounts of money for expenses or will you reimburse the caregiver later? Be sure to require receipts if it's the latter!)

I Don't Have Time!

If time is an issue, hire a caregiver through an in-home care agency; the agency will perform all the background checks and match you with a caregiver who suits your needs.

Cheat Sheets are a Good Thing

Verbal instructions can be helpful, but don't anticipate that a caregiver will remember everything you said on the first day. Write down important information so he or she will have a reference. Include details on the care recipient, the home and emergency protocols. Keep a copy in a central place in the home.

About the Care Recipient

  • Likes and dislikes
  • Normal diet and any restrictions to it
  • Any mobility issues
  • Current medical status and/or illnesses (include any signs of an emergency)
  • Possible behavior problems and how to best deal with them
  • Any exercises or therapies (include schedule, if applicable)
  • Medication list

About the Home or Apartment:

  • Security precautions and keys
  • Location of medical supplies
  • Location of food and cooking items (include explanation of any related appliances)
  • Location of cleaning and washing supplies (include instructions for appliances)
  • Location of fuse box, flash lights, light bulbs and candles
  • Location of clothing or extra linens

About Emergencies:

  • Name and phone number of first person who should be contacted after 9-1-1
  • Doctors' names and phone numbers
  • Other important contacts

A Well-run Home is a Happy Home

One of the most important things you can do with any employee is to keep the lines of communication open. It involves more than simply making your expectations clear (although that's very important!). The following are a few hints on how to create a smooth-running and happy home.

  • Schedule informal meetings. Ask the caregiver how things are going. Has he or she noticed any recent changes in your loved one's health? Is there anything you can do to provide better support?
  • Speak up. If you feel your expectations are not being met, let the caregiver know in a gentle but firm manner.
  • Create a comfortable environment. The caregiver should have pleasant working conditions, with a comfortable place to take a break (or a comfortable room and bed for live-in help).
  • Equip the caregiver with the tools for success. Provide the caregiver with the supplies necessary to do his or her job.
  • Show your appreciation. Complimenting the caregiver's work and skills, giving small gifts or bonuses, or providing perks such as partial or full travel reimbursement are all wonderful ways of expressing gratitude.

Remember, caregivers are people too! Live-in caregivers should have a comfortable, private area set aside for them. Live-in caregivers cannot be on call all the time; everyone needs personal time. Make sure that shift lengths are reasonable.

Laura Dixon

As Caring's Editorial Manager, Laura writes and edits articles about important issues for family caregivers and seniors. See full bio