If you choose to hire a private caregiver for your child, choose to do it the right way.
A recent episode of ABC’s 20/20 revealed one of a mom’s worst nightmares: She caught her nanny on camera abusing her baby. The mom thought she had done enough research on the nanny through a background check and a personal reference, yet she saw the nanny violently shake and hit her baby. How can parents better protect themselves from this kind of caregiver catastrophe?
1. Do An In-Home Trial
In addition to screening a potential caregiver through interviews as well as employee references and background checks, it is essential to spend time observing her in the home prior to hiring. Remember, anyone can be great in an interview. Anyone can also be great playing with a baby for an hour. But after two full days (the minimum I recommend), a candidate’s true colors begin to show.
When starting the process, tell candidates you will be requiring a paid in-home trial. Those with something to fear will usually drop out of the process. During the trial, ask the nanny to do everything that will be required of her while you are out of the home. Observe her, leave, and pop back in unannounced. Have others drop by unannounced as well. If you have a video camera, monitor how the candidate is doing.
2. State The Obvious
Many parents are eager to welcome a nanny with open arms, as they should. You want to be kind, respectful, warm and welcoming, but you should also openly lay down the laws at the outset for what you expect and what you will not tolerate. For example, you might say, “We believe in positive reinforcement instead of punishment, so we do not want you to ever raise your voice or hit our child. This would be grounds for immediate termination.” During the interview process, state your “deal breakers” openly and clearly.
During the first few weeks, monitor your nanny. If you use a video camera, be open about it. Say, “This is not about not trusting you, but is a way to see how our child is doing and for us to make sure our home is safe while we are away.” If you do not have a camera, ask friends, family members or other babysitters to drop by unannounced often and regularly to see what is happening in the home.
4. Look For A Child’s Change In Behavior
It is a given that children will miss their parents and will take time to warm up to even the best nannies. However, if your child displays a radical shift in behavior, immediately investigate. Children need to feel “constancy of care,” which means they experience no drop in the level of care or their sense of security from parents to caregiver.
If they do not feel safe, not only does it affect their well-being, it can also cause developmental issues down the road. Again, this change may have nothing to do with your caregiver, but it needs to be fully investigated either by staying home or having a family member spend the day alongside the nanny.
5. Create A Work Agreement Up Front
Sometimes the best caregivers can be overwhelmed with housework duties and end up leaving their charge in a bouncer or rocker to handle it all. Your nanny’s main job is to care for your child. It is best to outline that cleaning or other household tasks should only be done when the child is sleeping. By creating a work agreement, you can talk through what is expected and let the nanny weigh in regarding whether she can handle the extra duties. You may agree to “complete what you can from this chores list during nap time.”
There are countless wonderful nannies out there. Instilling honest, open dialogue and increasing the length of time in the interview and observation process can increase your chances of finding a good match for you and your child—and help avoid nightmare scenarios.
TammyGold, LCSW, is the author of the new book Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer: A Practical Guide for Finding and Achieving theGold Standard of Care for Your Child. Founder of Gold Parent Coaching, which specializes in nanny-family matching, training and mediation, she has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and People and is a frequent guest on ABC’s Good Morning America and NBC’s Today show. Find more information at TammyGold.com.