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Scouting for a Domestic Helper

Some say “Getting a good domestic helper is as tough as striking the Toto”. Many families in Singapore now employ a foreign domestic worker to help out with household chores and looking after the little ones. Finding a good domestic helper is very crucial, especially for working parents who leave their kids – especially those who have yet to begin schooling – for these kids spent most part of the day with their domestic helpers.

How can we find a good domestic helper then? Ask employers with domestic help and they tell you it mostly comes down to experience and sometimes luck. Nevertheless, here are some tips to get you started.


Expectations of the domestic helper

Before we even start searching for a domestic helper, we should list down our expectations. Different people have different expectations, depending on the priorities and the family needs.

Families with younger children will look for domestic helpers with own children or have worked as domestic helpers looking after children before. Some families prefer domestic helpers from the Phillipines so that they can sing and read to the children while some prefer those from other countries for other reasons. Families with toddlers who are very active will prefer younger domestic helpers who have more energy to handle the toddlers. Some with special need child will specifically look for those domestic helpers with nursing experience or have looked after similar children. No matter what our needs are, we should discuss with the maid agencies on our criteria and our expectations.

Personally, I started my search for a domestic helper when I knew I was pregnant with my elder son. We decided we should find a Filipino domestic helper so that we can communicate with her as we will otherwise be unable to communicate in Malay, say with an Indonesian domestic helper. We also want her to read books and sing songs to our baby when he is born. Our preference is someone who has taken care of her own children since birth or prior experience looking after babies before. Besides that, we just need her to help out on household chores.


Finding a good maid agency

After listing out the expectations, it’s time to approach the maid agencies. As there are too many maid agencies in Singapore, it’s recommended to find an agency through referrals from relatives or friends who have engaged them before. Get feedback on these agencies and check their credentials on the Ministry of Manpower website – Employment Agencies & Personnel Search (EA Directory). The website will show the number of years of experience the agency has in Singapore, how many domestic helpers the agency has placed, as well as transfer and retention rate of the domestic helpers from the agency. There is also a comparison of the transfer and retention rate with the industry average so that employers like us can have a better indication on the numbers. Employers can also check the List of employment agencies (EAs) whose licence had been revoked by MOM and List of employment agencies (EAs) under MOM’s surveillance (Updated as at 04 June 2015). 

When I was first looking for a domestic helper, I went around a number of agencies in Bukit Timah area and was presented with a lot of bio-data of different types of domestic helpers. It was through my friend’s advice that I went to her maid agency and discussed with the agents on my expectations and needs. The agent managed to sieve through all the bio-data and shortlisted three domestic helpers who have their own children and prior experience looking after babies, for me to interview.


Interviewing the candidates

Interviewing the domestic helpers is a very important step in selecting a suitable domestic helper. Most of the agencies will allow employers to interview the candidates. They can either interview through video conference or over the phone. During the interview, we can ask the candidates questions pertaining to their background, experiences, expectations, etc. Try asking open-ended questions if we want to know if they understand our questions. Otherwise, they will just answer ‘yes’ to whatever questions we pose to them, regardless of whether they understand the questions. For example, instead of asking if they can take care of babies which they will just answer yes, ask them how they make the babies sleep.


Getting a transfer domestic helper

Some people prefer getting a transfer domestic helper as these domestic helpers are usually more experienced and employers do not have to wait two to three months for the new domestic helper to arrive. However, it is advisable that we find out the reason for the transfer so that we can decide if the reason is acceptable to us. Some transfer domestic helper are sent back to the agency due to a language barrier with the employers while some are due to serious problems like stealing. We have the right to interview the previous employer who sent the domestic helper back to the agency.

My very first domestic helper was a transfer domestic helper who looked very pleasant. She told us she was transferred as she cannot communicate with her employer who are Koreans. After a few days with us, she started to sleep and snore in her room during daytime. We also found out that she will hide cans of drinks and consume them in the middle of the night. She started to act very suspiciously and did not want to do any housework. We spoke to the agency and decided to change a new domestic helper. However, my grandmother took a transfer domestic helper and she was fantastic. She had taken good care of my grandmother for more than six years and treated us like her own relatives.


Choosing the domestic helper

After interviewing the candidates, we will need to pay the placement fee, loan of the domestic helper, insurance, application fees and other miscellaneous fees before the agency can arrange for the domestic helper to come over. While going through the documentation and fees, it is advisable to ensure that the agency has free replacements in cases where we need to replace the domestic helper due to unforeseen reasons. If not, we will still need to incur unnecessary placement fees which can cost us up to a thousand dollars or more.

We managed to choose a new domestic helper after our experience with a transfer domestic helper who came after two months. Although she has no prior domestic helper experience, not very sharp and is slow in her actions, she is honest and does not show any attitude. She has a daughter and has good patience with our son. We trust her so much that we have no qualms in leaving our toddler son alone with her. To date, she stayed with us for four years since the day my son was born.

Sometimes, we tend to have very high expectations of a domestic helper to work for us but we also have to consider the expectations that the domestic helpers have for us as employers. To me, the more important traits I look for in a domestic helper is honesty and trustworthy-ness, since she will be someone that will be entrusted to care for our little ones.


Hear what other parents are discussing in our forum

We have parents with difficulties finding domestic helpers discussing in the forum thread “All About Full-Time Maids” here.

Some parents are dealing with the dilemma of keeping their current domestic helpers here and some parents are discussing if they are happier with or without their domestic helpers here.

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