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Baby-sitters, Nannies and other Child Minders

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Expatriates living in Indonesia can take advantage of the Indonesian norm of hiring live-in domestic staff to care for their children. While full-time, live-in nannies are a luxury in most developed countries, that is not the case in Indonesia.

Day care, as we know it in the west, does not exist in Indonesia; small children are not left for the day at a care-giving facility while the parents are at work. In Indonesia, most working parents, and even those families where the mother does not work, often have someone in the home to care for their children, be it paid household staff or a family member.

Child minders in Indonesia are known as baby-sitter, baby sister (comes from the term suster which means nurse) or just suster. Pembantu is a general term for a household helper, who might have child-minding responsibilities in addition to cleaning, washing clothes and cooking.

Qualifications

The qualifications of the household staff who care for your children may range from zero to relatively qualified. They may speak some English or other foreign language, depending on the nationality of expatriate families they have worked for in the past or their initiative to learn another language. They may have only completed a few years of elementary school or perhaps junior high or high school. During an interview with a prospective child minder, ask about their educational background and what additional training they've had through the families they worked for before.

Suster, who wear white uniforms when working for Indonesian families, most likely have as their sole responsibility the care of children. They do not normally do any household work or cooking, unless it is for the child. These young women have, in theory, been trained in basic child care. You may quickly find, however, that norms of Indonesian child care may go strictly against the way you want your children raised.

Ultimately, you can expect that you may need to spend time talking to the child minder and other household staff about just how you want your child treated, what discipline you expect them to enforce and what you do or don't want done for your child.

You can improve the skills of the person you hire to care for your children by enrolling them in courses at International SOS on First Aid, Safety and other subjects.

The Search

It can be a difficult process to find someone that you feel confident in and can entrust with the care of your children. A lot depends on what role you want this person to have in your child's life. Some expats opt for a full-time suster who cares for all of their child's needs and has no other role in the household. Others choose to have their household staff (maid/cook) assist with the children as needed, but the mother still maintains the primary care-giving role. The vast majority would fall somewhere in between these two.

Hire someone on a trial basis. If you feel uncomfortable with them for any reason, trust your basic instincts and let them go. Keep looking, you will find someone who fits your needs.

Common sources are:

  • BantuHelp
  • Referrals from expatriate families who are leaving
  • Servants. registry services (ANZA)
  • Penyalur Baby-sitter services
  • Expat Forum
  • Notices posted on community bulletin boards or advertisements placed in the newspaper classifieds
  • Referrals from friends or staff in the working spouse's office
Of these, the two are probably the preferable options as you are able to contact and speak with the current and previous employers and perhaps see the person interacting with their children. Keep in mind that no matter how glowing a reference the current employer gives for the child minder & that does not guarantee that the person's care of your child will meet your own expectations or you will like the person personally.

Servants' Registry services, such as the services offered by BantuHelp offer some measure of control over the pool of domestic help that want to work for expatriate families. The persons registering must have a Jakarta ID card and a reference letter from an expatriate family that they've worked for at least one year. Whilst all care is taken in obtaining information from those seeking employment these registries cannot be held responsible for problems should any arise.

There is an enormous amount of fraud in reproducing reference letters from expats. The staff at these servant's registries are quite adept at rooting out the falsified letters and determining which are true. While these services provide no guarantees, you are at least able to review the person's file along with any letters they may have received from previous employers and comments from the registry's volunteers. These provide some measure of confirmation for your instincts after you interview prospective child minders. It is highly recommended that, if at all possible, you confirm the recommendation letters with the previous employers either via email or phone calls.

Penyalur Baby-sitter (baby-sitter placement) services are numerous in Jakarta. Though they should be registered with the government, they operate with no set standards and no guarantees. It is unlikely that you would get a child minder that has any foreign language capabilities from one of these services.

Occasionally you do see ads for baby-sitter positions in The Jakarta Post, The Expat, and The Globe classified advertisements. If you are trying to place staff prior to your departure from Indonesia, this can be an effective method for letting newcomers know that you have staff that need placement. The Expat Forum associated with this website is another good place to look for availability notices from expat families who are leaving. However, they seem (from the follow-up postings) to get snapped up rather quickly. Other community bulletin boards (such as AWA, BWA and ANZA House) have postings from expats who are leaving regarding recommended staff available for placement.

Let the people in the working spouse's office know that you are looking for a child minder. Your secretary or other colleagues may know of someone, or their helpers may have a relative in need of a job.

Different Cultural Expectations

The treatment of a child in most Indonesian families is one of being treasured, yet spoiled. In general, children are rarely disciplined, are given everything they ask for and are catered to at length. The relationship between the children and adults is one of dependency, whereby the family members and child minder do everything for the children, long after the children are actually physically and mentally capable of caring for themselves.

It would be common, for example, to spoon feed a child until they are 6 or 7 years old. Children would be bathed by the child minder, dressed, fed and entertained. While it. s great to have someone to help out with the kids, this is probably not what most expatriate families have in mind when they think of a baby-sitter.

In western society, typically we do everything possible to encourage independence in small children as independence is considered a positive personal trait in society. Commonly we are taught from an early age that we should stand on our own two feet (quite literally). Not so in most Indonesian families where there is a cultural predisposition towards creating dependent relationships within the family. It is an accepted norm that the child is totally dependent on the parents and in old age the parents become totally dependent on the children.

Talk with other expat mothers about their experiences and learn where they have had areas of conflict. Some potential conflicts could include:

  • Giving sweets or snacks to the children to make them happy - despite the fact that dinner is in half an hour.
  • Inability to say no, in any way, to a child.
  • The tendency to 'scare' children into doing what you want them to do instead of just saying 'No' or even explaining why it. s not good to do what they want to do.
  • Inability to understand basic precepts of safety and the preventable nature of most household accidents.

Discipline

Another area in which there is great divergence in expectations is the area of discipline. Most Indonesians rarely discipline children. If you have very strong ideas about what your child is allowed to do, or is not allowed to do, you will have to spend a lot of time explaining this to your staff and child minders. They usually do not see the point of discipline of children and may feel that many westerners are harsh to their children.

Be forewarned that it is possible that they will go against your wishes the minute you walk out of the house as they prefer to keep your child happy at all costs. If it comes to your attention that your staff are going against your wishes, a repeat explanation of your 'rules and expectations' is undoubtedly necessary.

Safety

One of the biggest worries of expat parents in Indonesia is the lack of understanding on the part of their staff of safety concerns that face small children. The Indonesian solution to the exploring infant or toddler is just to carry the child (gendong) around all day long in a selendang (long scarf) so that they are kept out of harm's way. Most infants in Indonesia totally skip the crawling stage in their development because of this tendency to always carry the children throughout their infancy and early toddler years.

People in the western world are extremely concerned about safety in general, and of children in particular. Our tendency is to create as safe an environment as possible for our children in the home through the use of barriers and other types of safety devices. Thus children are relatively free to play at will in the home, as it has been 'made safe'. Indonesian child minders are much more likely to want to hover over toddlers or follow them around to make sure they don't get hurt. Or, of course, carry them all the time. While an extra pair of eyes is always welcome, you will quickly find that even though your child has gotten himself into a dangerous situation, the child minder may not recognize it as such.

For example, many expat parents have stories of the servants allowing the children to play with small items that may results in choking or inappropriate objects (such as matches or knives) ... because they 'wanted them'. While it is impossible to anticipate all the situations your children can get themselves into - an active participation on the part of the child minder in creating a safe environment for your children, with much explanation on your part, will educate them on the potential safety hazards around your home. It is certain that Indonesians child minders will not intentionally neglect your children, if anything they err on the opposite extreme and pay entirely too much attention to them. They just don't recognize safety hazards around the home.

Cleanliness and Health

Depending on how long your household staff have been living in Jakarta, and the hygiene demands of their previous employers, you may find that your household staff need to improve their personal hygiene. If this person is minding your child and living in your house, you have every right to expect certain cleanliness standards of them. While Indonesians bathe twice a day and normally have good oral hygiene you may find that relative newcomers to Jakarta don't shampoo often enough, don't use deodorant or use sanitary pads. You may need to give them some hygiene pointers in these cases.

You might consider requesting a thorough medical checkup for your household staff before they begin working for you. The more serious conditions to test for are tuberculosis, intestinal worms, skin diseases, and whether or not they are a carrier of typhoid or hepatitis. If you request this checkup be advised you will be expected to pay for it. International SOS offers a specific package for this and will give you the results in both Bahasa Indonesia and English.  Since you are paying for it you will also be given a copy of the results. Some employers will schedule a yearly check after the caregiver returns from their village where they are most likely to contract transmittable diseases. While it may mean a significant outlay in medical tests and exams, you can then rest assured if your potential child minder passes the tests with a bill of clean health.

Remember - you will go home someday

Yes, enjoy the undivided attention the child minder is able to provide to your child, when you are busy. But remember - you will return to your home country someday - or another international posting, perhaps in a country where labor is not as plentiful in Indonesia and you may not have full-time help in your home.

Prepare your child long before your departure by NOT allowing the staff to cater to their every whim and wish. Have chores for your children, albeit lighter than they may be back home, so that they will be participating in the cleanup of their own messes and some light household chores. If you have not anticipated this situation and established your household expectations accordingly, you may find that the family members expect 'the maids' to do all the cleanup chores. And if there are no maids, it is likely this may lead to some family discord until new ground rules and new habits are established.

It's easy to get lulled into a false sense of - that won't happen to us', but I speak from experience in that EVERY expat family I've ever met has moaned about the difficult transitions they all experience after their departure from Indonesia. How quickly we get so spoiled.

Advantages to Indonesian child minders

  • Your children can be cared for in your own home where you can keep a close eye on how they are being treated.
  • You will never have difficulties finding someone to watch your children when you want to go out for professional commitments or spend an evening with your spouse or activities with your older children.
  • Your children will be loved and treated as if they are little princes and princes - secure in the love of the adults who care for them.
  • Personal time is freed up whenever you want it to be to get involved in hobbies, recreation or personal pursuits.
  • Taking small children out with you is not the hassle it is back home, all you have to do is take the child minder along too - and they'll keep track of your kids in public places.
  • Spending a lot of time with an Indonesian care giver will ensure that your child quickly speaks Bahasa Indonesia fluently.

Alternatives to Indonesian caregivers

There are teens that attend Jakarta Intercultural School who are available to baby-sit for your children in the evening or on the weekend. This provides your children the option of spending time with someone who speaks English and is more likely to engage in educational play, read them books in English and provide a cultural balance to their Indonesian child care.

There are, also, a number of good programs for preschool-aged children in arts and crafts, nursery school, music, tumbling, sports and other activities. These programs are usually only a few hours in duration. Ask other expat parents where they send their young children for educational play or see Choosing a Pre-School.

Information on Child Care Provider First Aid course.

Last updated June 21, 2016

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Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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