As nannies have become common mainstays in American homes, they increasingly serve as central figures who help shape our children’s development. Nannies are entrusted with a family’s most important responsibilities – but many parents do not adequately vet these caregivers to ensure their backgrounds are appropriate for childcare. Sometimes critical oversights lead to costly mistakes and even tragic consequences.1
Many parents make the mistake of running quick internet searches on their nannies or paying for cheap one-stop-shop online background checks, which are notoriously incomplete and often contain misinformation.2 The internet is rife with examples of why these methods are grossly inadequate to select the most important employee in your life.3 Sites that provide instant background checks like Spokeo are deeply flawed and consistently provide incomplete or incorrect information, as demonstrated by several court cases that have revealed how these flawed reports have harmed employers and employees.4 5
We can all recall the nanny horror stories from the news and shudder to think of one of those situations befalling our families.6 7 8 When conducted diligently, nanny background checks can mitigate much of the uncertainty inherent in hiring a stranger to care for your children, as noted by law enforcement professionals and child care specialists background checks who recommend such checks.9 After recent tragic events, legislation has even been proposed to criminalize lying on applications for childcare positions.10
What typical nanny pre-employment checks may often miss:
- Many nannies are foreign-born and international records searches are rarely, if ever, conducted.
- Parents often rely on interviews with former employers to get a sense of the applicant, but it is easy for nanny applicants to only disclose persons who will give positive recommendations.
- Internet searches, while sometimes shedding light on an applicant, are insufficient due to limited online and indexed information.
Why the background checks provided by nanny agencies might not be enough:
The background checks conducted by many of the large-scale online nanny firms are often done by employing computer programs to scan available public databases.11 These programs only scratch the surface and are unable to uncover several types of records. There is no such thing as a systematic national criminal search available to the public because there is no single national system that can be searched by these programs!12 A truly thorough background search begins with finding out the candidate’s residential history and looking up their records in every applicable jurisdiction and their unique system of records, which typically includes databases maintained by counties, townships, villages, other municipalities, and states.
Many of the searches performed by agencies are never reviewed to determine the validity of their findings, which can become problematic when researching candidates with common names or complicated residential histories.13 False positives or missed hits are common in any records searches conducted by someone without proper training in uncovering the correct data.14 One of the largest providers of nanny services and other domestic caregivers, Care.com, was accused of breach of contract and negligence for failing to conduct an accurate background check of a nanny that was hired to care for a set of newborn triplets. The company eventually reached an out-of-court settlement with the family.15 In another notable case, reporters in Chicago demonstrated that background checks conducted by a child care agency did not find numerous violent criminal offense charges filed against their applicants, including domestic battery, felony assault, prostitution, resisting a police officer, reckless conduct, and drug possession.16
Key topics to address in a nanny background check:
One common oversight made by parents is neglecting to run litigation searches to examine their nanny’s history of workers compensation, personal injury, and wrongful termination lawsuits.17 Comprehensive litigation searches, which are rarely included in online background checks or performed by child care agencies, can show whether nannies have ever been involved in litigation with their former employers. These searches are critically important because they can expose a nanny’s conflicts with their former families, such as wage disputes, workers compensation or personal injury claims, and wrongful termination. Investigators can retrieve case files to examine whether a nanny’s claims were made in good faith.
Further, civil litigation by a family against a nanny can reveal cases of criminal allegations (such as theft or abuse) that prosecutors chose not to pursue and thus didn’t make it onto their criminal record.
In addition to extraordinarily high litigation costs, many of these cases have also tarnished the public reputation of the families who employed the nannies. Prominent examples include:
- An Uber engineer was accused of a string of embarrassing claims by his former nanny, who included details about the couple’s most intimate details in her complaint and extensively documented private and sensitive work conversations that she overheard.18
- The musician Paul McCartney’s ex-wife, Heather Mills, was sued by her nanny for allegedly forcing her to work unpaid overtime; the nanny’s complaint also included personal details about the divorce between the couple.19
- The singer Mariah Carey was sued by her nanny for claims that included berating her nanny for being too affectionate with her children and other embarrassing claims.20
What can licensed private investigators do that others can’t?
Licensed private investigators have access to proprietary databases that collect data from numerous sources to ensure that a rigorous search is conducted. Investigators use that data as a jumping-off point to conduct even more thorough examinations of a candidate’s past. Comprehensive background checks will never stop at the databases – they will look into individual records and follow other leads to determine if there are any red flags. 21
When there is a permissible purpose, private investigators can access the driving records of a candidate. If your nanny is going to be driving your children around and/or using your car during the course of their employment, it’s worthwhile to examine a person’s driving history. DMV records can reveal citations and violations for things like speeding, lack of insurance, and even impaired driving or DUIs.22 Again, these records are often not included in online background checks.
What can you do to assist in the background check?
Different states have different laws regarding access to candidates’ records. The written consent and authorization of your potential nanny will help licensed private investigators get the facts that they need.23 Speak with an investigator about your potential nanny and what he or she will be doing while employed by your family since some types of situations, such as those when a nanny has access to financial accounts, may necessitate an extensive background check.24 Is the nanny older with a long employment and residential history? Is the nanny an immigrant with little contacts to systems in the United States? Will the nanny be performing any special tasks like administering medications that require professional certifications or licenses? Will the nanny be around a lot of high-value property or cash? Will the nanny be working for a high-profile family?25 These are some of the questions that can affect the scope of an appropriate background check.
The investigator will recommend what kind of search to perform and send you a consent form for the nanny to sign. In addition, investigators can also directly approach the nanny applicant and explain that a background check is a legal, confidential, and useful tool for providing families with peace of mind.26
Steps to take in addition to doing a background check:
Because no check is totally infallible, and because someone’s past behavior is not always going to predict how they will act in the future, we recommend that parents use a background check as just one of several tools to help you hire a nanny.27 Going through all these steps will help ensure that you and your family pick the right person for your home.28
- Ask for several references, personally contact each of them, and engage in a detailed discussion about the candidate and their qualifications
- Conduct detailed interviews with the candidate – ask them several different questions about their abilities, work histories, and even their own personal experiences. Some key questions, as noted in the following recommended interview questions, include examining the nanny’s philosophical approach to childcare, their approach to resolving differences in opinion about childrearing, and their understanding of housekeeping expectations29 30 31
- Install a nanny-cam32 to monitor the caregiver’s time alone with the children. These cameras, where legal, have been used to identify criminal actions and document the tragic mistreatment of children. 33
- Introduce the nanny to your children and see how they respond to one another.
What are the limits of a nanny background check?
No background check, no matter who performs it, can guarantee to find all negative information about a person. However, experienced and licensed professionals are trained to obtain as much available information as possible to inform your hiring decisions. You can rest assured that your applicant was examined in great detail by people with extensive experience (BDA has been in business for over three decades) in looking for red flags in a person’s background.
Our children depend on us to provide them with everything they need to thrive in this world. For some families, the best way to ensure this is to hire a trusted caregiver to help watch, care for, and educate their children. Comprehensive background checks are an essential means to finding the right nanny who can be part of your family.
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