Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kids: Who's Really Watching Ours?

Families are more complex than in the past. Divorce rates have increased and hand in hand are more single parent homes. Many more women are working outside the home whether by necessity or choice. We even have stay-at-home dads so distinct gender roles are more a blur. Generally though, when both parents work outside the home, we need outside help. Some of us may be so fortunate to have family help care for our children, but many of us don't have the white picket fence or the doting grandmother just down the road with milk and cookies after school. We need a nanny, whether it's a Nanny McPhee or a young au pair, we know we need help.

A decision on the right nanny for your family shouldn't be taken lightly -- it's a whole planning process. This is someone who will intertwine their life with our family, affecting all facets of our life. This is someone who will be paid to protect and nurture our children so therefore is not only qualified on paper but also on a personable level. Before hiring a nanny, there are questions we must ask ourselves to make sure we're really making the right decision for our family.
  1. What is our need? Do we want a live-in nanny or a commuter full-time or just after school care?
  2. Is this something we can afford? Will this be a salaried position or more an hourly wage?
  3. Are there any other alternatives? An occasional babysitter, a grandmother or a friend to swap with?
  4. What's the right nanny for our family? And along with that, what are the nanny's expectations of us? Do we want someone who will be with us for years to come?

So let's formulate a scenario. We've found the perfect nanny for our family. We want someone young and energetic for our toddler -- a live-in. But then our minds go back to the 90's and The Louise Woodward case. She was an English au pair, only 19 years old when she was convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of eight month old Matthew Eappen in Newton Massachusetts. And we only need to turn on the television to find other such stories: nannies on hidden camera neglecting or hitting innocent children. And even more recently a case back on September 29, 2006 and reported in the Dallas Morning News, -- Former nanny found guilty in death of McKinney toddler -- when nanny Ada Betty Cuadros Fernandez, 28, was found guilty of capital murder in the slaying of a 14-month-old Kyle Lazarchik. The boy had suffered head trauma so brutal that his brain was swollen and bleeding.

As depressing and horrible as these cases may be, and as much as we may want to bury our heads and proclaim that this only happens to others, we must open our eyes and be aware. It's our duty as parents to educate ourselves and to protect our children as best as we can. So what exactly can we do besides using our own gut intuition when it comes to selecting nannies? Of course we'll ask for references, but then we may run into the problem of only those who would portray them as positive. Have they seen them under stress? Have they observed them while soothing a screaming baby or reprimanding an insolent child? Gone are the days of naivety, we must do more than listen to our gut, we should take some steps to do a background check on our nanny.
  • If the references are too vague, ask for more and especially if you can't get a hold of any of them.
  • Have your potential nanny fill out an application including date of birth, driver's license number, previous names, numbers and addresses of relatives, the last few home addresses, schools attended, and the name of the last three employers.
  • Tell your nanny you're performing a background check. If she's hesitant, I'd be concerned. Even better, select a nanny from an agency who's performed an intense background check including a behavioral psychological assessment and integrity test.
  • Merely performing a criminal background check doesn't always predict future behavior so a behavioral psychological assessment can be a critical key in the selection process.

Although selecting a nanny may seem like an arduous task when done properly, we must think of the ones we're representing -- the ones who are naturally naïve and trusting.

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