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Help Wanted: Tips for Hiring a Home-Care Worker

Your mother really wants to stay in her home, but you know she canít do it alone anymore. Youíve decided to hire a home-care worker to help her remain independent. Thatís what she wants most.

Before you begin your search for the right person, you need to figure out just what kind of help your parent needs and how often she needs it. Home care workers usually provide help with:

  • Household chores such as cleaning, laundry, and preparing meals;
  • Non-medical personal care including bathing, dressing, and moving about the house.

Start the Search After youíve determined the kind of help you need, there are several ways to begin your search:

  • Ask friends, neighbors, co-workers, or other caregivers you know for references.
  • Post a bulletin-board ad. Consider posting at your church, synagogue, senior center, adult day center, hospital, library, recreation center, or grocery store.
  • Register with a college job-placement center, especially those with nursing or social work programs.
  • Use the time-tested resource called the phonebook.
  • Call a local agency that charges a fee to match home care workers with clients.
  • Run an ad in your local newspaper.

Your advertisement should briefly describe the job and its hours, and give a telephone number where people can reach you. Donít include your name or any personal information. During the phone conversation, you may want to ask about:

  • Previous work experience;
  • Special training for conditions such as Alzheimerís disease;
  • Their transportation to work.
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Before You Interview Once people start contacting you about the position, you need to begin a screening and interview process. Donít think you have to meet with everyone who calls. A brief telephone conversation will determine if youíll schedule an interview.

Before you begin interviewing write a job description you can share with applicants. Include all the tasks you need the person to perform, as well as the required hours and days. Have the job description ready and a list of questions for each applicant.

Know how much you are able to pay. If you hire someone as an independent contractor instead of through an agency, you may be responsible for covering their taxes. You still must report the personís earnings to the Internal Revenue Service. Be very clear about this in the job contract (see below). You may want to check with the IRS for proper tax forms and instructions.

Ask those who come for an interview to bring a resume or job history, as well as names and telephone numbers for at least two references. Include your parent in the interview or at least let your parent meet the people youíre serious about hiring.

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Now, the Interview Discuss your parentís needs, health concerns, likes and dislikes, etc., with applicants. Be friendly but professional. Stick to questions that will let you determine if this person is right for the job and for your parent. Here are some items youíll want to learn about applicants during the interview:

  • Their name, address, telephone number, and social security number (you can ask for proof of identityóif not a social security card, then a driverís license or other photo ID).
  • How much experience theyíve had in home care.
  • Whether they have any special training, such as working with clients who have dementia.
  • Whether they are willing and able to perform all the duties youíve outlined in the job description.
  • Why they left their former job.
  • Why they are seeking a home-care position.
  • Their expectations of the job.
  • Whether they drive, and if they have a car.
  • Whether they have ever been in trouble with the law.

Invite them to ask questions about the job and your expectations as well. Give honest answers. Talk about how you will handle vacation and other time off. Head off any misunderstandings about what each party expects.

Not only are you entrusting a home-care worker with your parent's care and well-being, but you're allowing that person to come into your parent's home on a regular basis.
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Check References This is a key point. Always follow up on references, no matter how much you like an applicant. A reference can confirm your feelings about a person or give you important information you missed. Ask references why the applicant moved on, whether there were any problems, whether the person is trustworthy and on time, and what the personís responsibilities were. Take notes on each applicant so you can refer to them when making your final decision.

Background Check This is the other key point. You may want to consider paying for a criminal background check. Contact your local law enforcement agency for information.

The Hire Hiring someone to care for a loved one is a big step. Not only are you entrusting a home-care worker with your parentís care and well-being, but youíre allowing that person to come into your parentís home on a regular basis ó or even live there if thatís the agreed-upon arrangement. That means you want to choose carefully and wisely. Itís a good idea to set a one-month trial period to give things a test run.

Once a person accepts your job offer, write out what you both agree toótrial period, job duties, salary, pay schedule, time off, start date, termination policyóand keep copies of this job contract signed by both of you. You might want to be at your parentís house on the first few days to familiarize the new caregiver with the routine. Periodically, you may want to drop by unannounced to see how things are going.

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Troubleshooting When you hire a home-care worker, you are the employer and the boss whether you like it or not. That means the responsibility for keeping everyone happy and ensuring that everything runs smoothly falls squarely on your shoulders.

Keep the lines of communication open. Itíll help you resolve problems before they get out of hand. Talk to your parent and the home-care worker regularly about how things are going. Ask if theyíre happy or if something needs to change. If thereís a problem, chances are you can work it out once you talk it through and make some adjustments.

For instance, maybe the home-care worker needs a break during the day and isnít getting it, but is afraid to speak up. Address that issue before resentment, anger, or burnout sets in.

Or perhaps your parent is unhappy with the meals the home-care worker prepares. Find out why. Maybe there isnít enough variety, or your parent doesnít have input into choosing the menu. Maybe your parent would like to help, but feels shut out of the kitchen. These types of problems usually arenít too hard to fix once you learn whatís causing them.

Termination Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, things just donít work out. Itís a good idea to have names of some people who can fill in while youíre trying to hire someone else: neighbors, family members, or temporary home-care workers.

Offenses that require immediate termination include theft and abuse. Contact the police as soon as you discover something missing. Also notify the police, as well as adult protective services, if a home-care worker was abusing your parent. No one wants this person to work in someone elseís home again.

Hiring the right person to care for your parent might take some time and persistence. If things donít work out the first time around, donít give up. Talking with other caregivers or your area agency on aging might be helpful. Learn from your experience, and try again. Finding a good caregiver is worth the effort.

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© 2003, 2004, 2007 AARP. Reprinting by permission only.

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Elinor Ginzler Hiring a Home-Care Worker
Find out what to consider when searching for a home care worker, where to look, and what to ask in the interview process. View >
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