News/US: Imported nannies enjoy big demand

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Subject: News/US: Imported nannies enjoy big demand
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Dec 07 1999 - 18:48:47 EST


Imported nannies enjoy big demand
Emily Gurnon
San Francisco Examiner, December 6, 1999

They're in the parks. They're at the libraries. During off-hours, they
gather at pubs. They're so well-connected, they call themselves the Irish
Mafia.

And they've got your children.

No one knows exact numbers, but there are perhaps hundreds of young Irish
women working as nannies in San Francisco. Though their ranks don't begin
to approach those of native Mexican and other Spanish-speaking nannies who
also populate the area, Irish nannies have developed an enviable network
and a reputation that has brought a sharp demand for their services.

Some had professional child care experience before they left Ireland, but
many of the women pick up baby-sitting jobs when they come to the states.
Most are in their 20s and 30s.

"The young Irish community usually have these caring skills that they bring
with them," said Catherine Barry, managing editor of the Irish Herald, an
Irish newspaper published monthly in San Francisco that carries nanny ads.

"We all look after our elderly and we look after our younger brothers and
sisters and other people's kids. You rarely find a person from Ireland who
hasn't at some time in their life done this kind of work," she said.

For those without other types of job experience, and sometimes without
legal working papers, child care offers relatively good money - averaging
$10 to $12 an hour, cash - and a ready network of other nannies for
socializing.

Louise, a 27-year-old nanny - who, like many women interviewed for this
story would only give her first name and would not say whether she was here
legally - has cared for a 3-year-old girl in the Richmond District for two
years. She said she regularly gets together with a dozen or more fellow
Irish nannies and their charges.

"In the morning, one would call and say "which park?' and "what's going
on?' " Louise said. "If it's a yucky day, we would go to the Jungle or to
the Discovery Museum or McNears Beach."

The fact that she has such a close circle of nanny friends also has paid
off for her employer, who said that when Louise is sick or out of town, one
of her friends invariably fills in.

Close circle of support

Michelle Bux, 33, works in Presidio Heights for a family with two children,
ages 3 and 8. "There are a lot of nannies in this area, so we all kind of
meet at the parks, or we get introduced to each other through the agencies.

"We can meet up for play dates, the kids make friends, we make friends. It
makes the job a little easier when you have some adult company through the
day."

"My old boss used to say it was like the Irish nanny mafia," said Elaine
Brotherton, a former nanny who now runs Elaine's Family Day Care in the
Richmond and still provides referrals for other nannies. "If you want a job
or a place to live or a car, you just go down to the park and put the word
out and within 24 hours you have what you want."

Whether it's the desire for a native English speaker or a love of Irish
culture, San Francisco parents have provided a large market for Irish nannies.

"Americans think that Irish people have it bred into them, coming from a
culture where the families tend to be larger, (that) it's second nature how
to change a diaper, how to make a bottle," Brotherton said.

Nannies who post job listings on bulletin boards, such as the one at
Parents Place in San Francisco, often write "Irish nanny" next to their names.

One San Francisco parent said she desperately tried to find an Irish baby
sitter after her last nanny returned to Ireland.

"First of all, English is their primary language and that's helpful," said
Carole Stitt-Bruner, a stock brokerage manager with a 3-year-old son. "You
want them to be very expressive when they tell you everything. . . . You
want to hear exactly what your kid ate, what was his poop like, did he fall
down, whatever."

Stitt-Bruner said she also enjoyed hearing her nanny sing Irish songs and
use Irish expressions.

"I'm just into the whole culture, I guess."

Irish immigration low

The number of Irish now immigrating legally to the United States is
minuscule; just over 500 were issued permanent visas in the fiscal year
that ended September 30, according to a spokesman for the State Department.
That includes only residents of the Re<*col. 2 of NANNIES (#118121 )*>
public of Ireland; Northern Ireland is included within the United Kingdom's
immigration figures.

But a 1990 immigration law allowed up to 16,000 Irish to become permanent
residents in each of three recent years: 1992, 1993 and 1994. Many of those
who received those so-called "Morrison visas" (named after the congressman
who sponsored part of the legislation, Rep. Bruce Morrison, D-Conn.) were
already living in the United States and were essentially grandfathered in
as permanent residents.

Others in San Francisco's Irish community, according to interviews with
nannies and their employers, have entered the United States on a temporary
status, such as tourism, and overstayed their allotted time. Irish tourists
don't need visas but are supposed to return to Ireland within 90 days, the
State Department said.

All in all, recent Irish immigrants to San Francisco - those arriving since
1986, when the Irish economy went sour - probably number between 5,000 and
10,000, said immigration attorney Jim Byrne.

Sarah, 29, a nanny who asked that her last name not be used, worked as a
child protection social worker in Dublin before coming to San Francisco
three years ago. At first, she said, she didn't look for a job here -
preferring instead to wait for the visa lottery and hope that her name was
chosen. It wasn't.

So she entered the nanny business. "It was just like the obvious thing for
me to do, really, because I had worked with kids," she said. "And then, of
course, I met so many Irish girls who were nannying. There's a total social
life that goes with it, and support structure."

Sarah, who cares for a 4-month-old girl in the Marina, plans to return to
Ireland late this month.

Nanny agencies require their workers to be legal residents, and the
additional visas issued under the Morrison program "certainly increased the
numbers of good nannies that are available," said Pauline Neary, a
placement consultant with Aunt Ann's Agency in San Francisco, which
provides referrals of nannies, baby sitters and housekeepers.

The pay for those working legally is correspondingly higher than for those
who aren't. Neary <*col. 3 of NANNIES (#118121 )*> estimated her nannies,
who are paid directly by the families who employ them, gross "professional"
salaries of about $500 to $700 a week. One Irish woman, hired through an
agency, said she makes $15 an hour, after taxes.

"The market's really grown (for nannies)," Neary said. "I guess that it's
such an attractive place to live, and because of Silicon Valley, there are
a lot of new families setting up, with both parents working."

Irish nannies preferred

Many families specifically request an Irish nanny, Neary said - although
the agency responds that it cannot discriminate in its referrals.

"I guess people tend to think that Irish nannies are very professional, and
usually have a lot of experience. They're seen as professional and friendly."

Some parents looking specifically for Irish nannies find listings at the
Irish Immigration Pastoral Center, a nonprofit self-help organization run
by and for immigrants.

With the recent boom in Ireland's technology-driven economy earning it the
nickname of Celtic Tiger, there have been fewer people leaving in the past
two years than migrating in, said Daniel Cassidy, director of the Irish
Studies department at San Francisco's New College of California. That has
not happened since droves of Irish started leaving during the potato
famines of 1845-50, Cassidy said.

The sunnier economy may keep more potential nannies at home. But there are
still those who long for an adventure.

"I took a break from college and I never went back," said Fiona Foran, 24,
who left law school to come to San Francisco two years ago and now lives
with a friend who's also a nanny. "I wanted to get out of Ireland. I wanted
to get away and see another part of the world."

Like many Irish nannies, Foran said she intended to go back to Ireland.

Cathy Scharetg, a Realtor in Noe Valley, is on her third Irish nanny, all
sisters. Each spent some time in San Francisco, returned home, then handed
the job down.

The Irish nannies in her neighborhood customarily meet at a bagel store in
the morning, then <*col. 4 of NANNIES (#118121 )*> make their way to the
park or the library.

They also agree on what they will charge, Scharetg said.

"It's kind of a force to be reckoned with in Noe Valley," she said.

Molly, as Molly's mom, Katy Kehoe, draws out a smile.

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
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