The Fraught Process of Hiring a Nanny

Friday, October 26, 2012

walk school parent child (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

As details continue to emerge in the case of the Upper West Side nanny who allegedly murdered two of the children in her care, there is no clear answer on what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Reflecting on the incident, parents and nannies in the city say that since the hiring process is not regulated, it's not an exact science.

"It's hard. You kind of want to take people at their word and believe that they are what they represent themselves to be," said Sally, a Brooklyn mother who did not give a last name. "And I don't know how you would do some kind of check on their mental health history."

Sally described the process of hiring a nanny "a nerve-wracking experience" because it's hard to hand your children off to a complete stranger for 10 hours a day.

She decided to do a criminal background check on her daughter's nanny and interviewed two references covering her last six years of work. She also spent a week with her daughter and the nanny before going back to work full-time — measures she deemed sufficient for figuring out whether it was a good fit.

"Whatever it takes for a parent to feel comfortable I feel like they should do," said Vivia Smith, a nanny who has been working in Park Slope, Brooklyn, for 13 years.

Smith said she's not opposed to rigorous background and reference checks, or even to a so-called "nanny cam," a video feed that parents can watch remotely to monitor what's going on at home.

"Background checking and reference checking are absolutely critical," said Kathy Webb, president of HomeWork Solutions, a company that helps families recruit, screen, employ and pay household workers.

Webb also suggested that parents and nannies sign a work agreement that lays out the rules of pay, performance and etiquette for both parents and nannies.


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Comments [6]

cheryl from ny

Yes, these agencys will do as little as possible to get their applicants backgrounded. Ive used with good results. Backgrounds cant predict someone going crazy though... very sad

Oct. 28 2012 03:02 AM

Oh please. One mentally insane person had zero to do with
All the rest of the nannies. She happened to be crazy or whatever happened.
She happened to be a nanny.

Oct. 27 2012 02:10 PM
Brenda from New York City

From all reports it would seem that this particular nanny was experiencing a mental health crisis. An agency wouldn't be equipped to predict such a crisis. No one can. You can observe behavior and intervene, but you can't predict. If she had a history of mental illness and agency might have that information. But in the end there is only observation and intervention.

Oct. 27 2012 08:25 AM

If your kid's safety is such a big deal that you're stressing out over nannies here's an idea: Try raising your own kids! Woah, crazy concept, I know.

Oct. 27 2012 08:01 AM
Michelle from Brooklyn

I have worked as a professional nanny for over 10 years... 7 in NYC. I have been on over 100 interviews (with both families and agencies) and have signed contracts with 4 families for long-term positions...
Only one family did a criminal background check (not that a clean record means much anyway) and most did not contact more than one reference. Nearly all of the agencies I have worked with (I have been through all of the top ones in the city) did not contact a single reference before sending me on interviews and raving about me to potential clients. My letters of recommendation were never verified. My educational background was never verified.
On interviews and in contracts, families say that they will never hit/spank a child and that I am not permitted to either... but they never ask how I FEEL about it... they never ask if I HAVE ever hit a child...
They don't ask me how I feel/react when I see a parent or nanny yelling/cursing at/hitting a child in public...
They don't ask me how I was treated as a child and how I feel about that now... or how I would raise my own children if I had them. They don't ask if I've ever done anything to get "revenge" at someone. And they certainly don't ask if I have ever behaved violently in any personal relationships or been otherwise exposed to violence.

Lucky for them, I'm one of the good ones. My references are legit, I don't have a criminal background and I care for the children I work with as if they were my own. And indeed, most families (and nannies) luck out. Even the "bad" nannies aren't *that* bad when you're comparing to a situation as twisted as this.

But the point is that parents (and agencies even more so) put too much blind faith in the people they are handing their children's lives to... they only want to see the good. They want to believe they have found the "perfect" nanny and that they couldn't possibly have anything to worry about. But none of us are perfect. We (humans, nannies, parents) all have darker sides we don't want everyone else to see... but most of us know how to control them. And even if we slip up, it's not deadly.

I don't want to be spied on. I don't want to be interrogated. I don't want my personal life to be scrutinized as a reflection on my professional life. But I do think parents need to start looking a lot more closely, asking a lot more questions and taking a lot more time to deeply think things over and listen to their gut before handing their children over to someone they've only spent a few hours interviewing.

My heart breaks for this family. I cannot begin to comprehend how it is even possible for a thing like this to happen. I am not at all implying they did a thing wrong... I just think that the rest of us need to see this as a wake up call and do everything in our power to prevent a thing like this from ever happening again.

Oct. 26 2012 09:10 PM
Joseph McKern from New York City

Be extremely,extremely cautious about using Nanny agencies.They very often don't do anything but manage to pick up "stray dog" girls who look more or less presentable.THEY OFTEN DO AS LITTLE BACKGROUND CHECKING AS POSSIBLE.I asked one @ references.She said she'd given one and she was sure it was excellent because the reference was from a teacher she's slept with !!! I'm not kidding! She ended up being horrible.Smoked weed often-off hours ( I worked out of our house so I could watch her.).I eventually fired her,of course.We still had to pay this agency $600 ( 1990 Dollars). I came up with a clever,ingenious way to find really good,reliable nannies.Good luck.I wrote so much because I'm so moved by this story.

Oct. 26 2012 07:26 PM

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