Protecting Your Child - Even from Caretakers

Lori Berke is the co-author of Making Childcare Choices: How to Find, Hire and Keep the Best Childcare for Your Kids and co-founder of Care Check, Inc., a company that provides video surveillance equipment and answers the needs of parents who hire in-home help. Dr. Phil and Lori Berke offer advice for hiring a nanny and monitoring his/her relationship with your child.

When hiring potential nannies, keep the following in mind:

You should have clear expectations of your nanny.
  • Will they be a caretaker and housekeeper? What will the hours be? How many days of the week? Vacation time? Pay?


    Request the following identification from an applicant:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Valid driver's license
  • Home phone and address
  • Proof of physical exam from the last two years
  • Work references and phone numbers for the past three years
  • Character references with addresses and phone numbers
  • CPR certificate


    Record and confirm all contact information and references.

  • Confirm name and birth certificate or passport
  • Make copies of I.D.
  • Confirm home address (go there or ask for utility bill as proof of residence)
  • Confirm home number and/or cell phone number
  • Call all references
  • Visit home of references (to see if they really have kids)
  • Contact number for next of kin


    Do a criminal background check.

  • Check for aliases
  • Check for numerous addresses over short period of time
  • Check for past complaints and follow up on them


    When asking a question, ask for specific examples.

  • Ask what makes her frustrated and how she handles it
  • Ask about her childhood
  • Ask about her child rearing philosophy
  • Question all gaps in her work history
  • Ask about her experiences with their previous families: What worked? What would she have changed?
  • Ask empathy-related questions: Why does she like working with children? Why does she choose to be a nanny? Why does she want to work with your family?
  • Ask about her experience in emergency situations and find out how she would respond in certain situations


    Look for red flags during an interview that may indicate problems.

  • Applicant refuses to give home phone number and doesn't have numbers for work references
  • Too many unexplainable gaps in work history
  • Applicant refuses to give a valid license or social security number
  • Applicant refuses to sign a release for a criminal background check
  • Applicant has a lot of short-term jobs
  • Applicant doesn't interact very well with your child or shows little interest in the child
  • Applicant has moved around often
  • Applicant requests a very low pay and/or is willing to take less pay than her previous position
  • Applicant has a number of traffic tickets and will need to drive for you
  • Applicant if overqualified for the position


    Be wary of over-qualified applicants.

  • They will say what you want to hear in interviews
  • They have excellent résumés that give the parents a false sense of experience
  • These applicants know how to manipulate personalities and skills tests
  • Their references are often friends, not previous employers
  • Keep in mind: "a stranger with a résumé is still a stranger"


    Some additional tips for the interview process:

  • The applicant must interact well with your child and show an interest in him/her
  • The hours, days, and job description must fit what the applicant is looking for
  • The applicant must have reliable transportation to your home
  • The applicant must have reliable coverage for her own children if she has any
  • If you are a stay-at-home mom, make sure the person you are hiring feels comfortable with that set-up. Or, if you are able to take breaks from work, let her know that you'll be dropping in periodically and that she's equally comfortable with that
  • You should really feel good about the reasons the applicant wants to take care of children and specifically your children
  • The applicant should be looking for a long-term job opportunity
  • You should interview all applicants at least twice with the second interview taking place around 5 or 6 p.m, which is the dinner, bath and all around cranky time for many babies
  • If possible, visit the applicant in her home


    The nanny should expect:

  • Two days off each week, unless otherwise discussed and agreed to
  • On-time pay and overtime
  • Holiday and vacation pay (two weeks per year)
  • Respect from children and you
  • Clear communication from you
  • Support and understanding from you
  • Raises in pay and a stated timetable for them
  • Appreciation and bonuses when necessary (holidays)
  • Food for her meals
  • The attitude that you are a team and in it together for the healthy development of your children


    There is a way to monitor your caretaker without installing nanny cams. Consider these tips to find out whether your child is protected or neglected:

    Count how many diapers there are and how many bottles of formula there are before you leave and when you get home.

  • Newborns should be changed every four to six hours depending on how much they eat
  • Infants can go through about 12 diapers a day


    Check the baby naked.
    Parents often arrive home to find their kids already in pajamas. Then they leave in the morning and let the nanny put the kids in daytime clothing. So they never see their child undressed. Examine their bodies for bruises, scratches, bites or other injuries.

    Be aware if you child is unusually clingy or has fear of caretakers.
    Separation anxiety occurs between 6 to 8 months of age and may last until 2 to 3 years of age. Signs of separation anxiety before 6 months may suggest a problem. If it goes too far and goes too long and it's just not within their range of personality, that is a red flag.

    Trust your instincts.
    A "mother's instinct" is even better than a camera. Keep in mind, it may always be hard to turn your children over to someone, but you should trust your instincts if you have suspicions.

    Allow a trial period where one parent is there with the nanny.
    People will take a car for a test drive before they buy it, but they don't always think to take a potential nanny for a test drive.

    Consider these warning signs that your nanny may be mistreating or neglecting your child:

    Explanations of injuries are inconsistent with the baby's age and abilities.
    For example, if your baby is not a crawler, he shouldn't be bumping into things. Ask yourself, "Could my baby possibly be doing this?" Listen carefully for the explanation that is given.

    Your child is more clingy than normal and shows prolonged fear of caretakers.
    Again, there can be separation anxiety. But when if it goes too far and goes too long and it's just not within their range of personality, that is a red flag.

    Nanny over-exaggerates the extent of their daily activities.
    Does every day sound like an exciting field trip? Sure, some days may include a trip to the park, going for walks, watching developmental videos, etc., but question whether it realistically occurs every day.

    Nanny avoids eye contact and answers questions that are not asked.
    You really have to see if they're talking too much, if they're telling you things that you don't need to know.

    Nanny leaves as soon as you arrive home.
    The nanny should want to tell you about things your child did that day.

    Is the nanny late a lot?
    Being late doesn't necessarily mean she's neglecting your child, but a nonchalant attitude about when she arrives could carry over into the way she treats your child.

    When your child is sick on weekends, does the nanny call to see how your child is doing?
    She should care about your child whether she's working or not. Does the nanny feel like part of the family?

    Recent and unexplained behavioral changes in your child.

    Insufficient amount of diapers or formula being used.
    You may come home to a child who's dry, but has your child been changed as many times as needed throughout the day?


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