It would be wise to use an agency, someone referred to you through a friend, search Asiaexpat.com or GeoExpat.com. As a Mum of Twins, get recommendations from your Twins club, or join Hong Kong Mothers of Multiples Organization (MoMs) http://moms-hongkong.com. This is a great group to join if you are new to Hong Kong (and need a shoulder to lean/cry/moan on). They will be an invaluable sounding board for you and a pool of information. Use them and join up if you haven’t already done so!!
Be diligent and read between the lines! Check references (I mean you’re stupid not to), ask lots of questions and dig deep into their backgrounds. You don’t want any of their debts/loans, families with illnesses, emergencies back home, out all night party girls, living in your home (unless you wanna party with them). When you have children involved, be sensible. Babies can’t defend themselves or tell you they were left alone for hours in their own shit while you were out doing a much-needed “Coffee morning”.
Some Helpers will lie and say the reason you can’t contact the family they last worked for is because they have (a) gone home (b) didn’t need them any longer as the kids had grown up (c) had a fall-out which was entirely the family’s fault and nothing to do with the helper. If the Helper was ANY good, a family would be more than happy to give a reference for an ex-employee. If a Helpers contract was terminated and you can’t get hold of their previous employer, I would take this as a very bad sign.
Our first Helper (chosen by “The Captain”) was shit. Out partying until 5am (passing out in her bed with full make up on to start her working day in a mini-skirt and “panada eyes” from not washing the previous nights make-up off. She didnt cook (which is fine as I love to) and she was a miserable cow. The entire atmosphere in our apartment was depressing as hell. Fine if it was just me, but not when I have two very small babies to look after and someone with a face like a slapped arse. She had loads of boyfriend troubles too, despite having three kids and a so-called husband back in the Philippines. We fired her after 4 months and wish we hadn’t been pussies and done it much sooner. End of.
Our second Helper (chosen by Me) seems to be lovely (thus far) and I’m actually considering adopting her (even if she is 15 years older than me).
PS. ALWAYS trust your instincts. If someone sounds too good to be true, or can cook “French Cuisine”, they’re probably full of shit. We learnt this the hard way.