We, at the Nanny Doctor, http://thenannydoctor.com/ have been fielding lots of questions from families worried that their nannies may secretly be murderers. The entire country was horrified to hear about the tragedy in New York last week where a nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, allegedly murdered two of her charges and attempted to take her own life. However, instances like this one are actually few and far between.
First and foremost, let's look at some statistics: in general, homicides of children under age 5 have declined. According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, the parent is the perpetrator in most of them. There are around 550 child murders a year out of a U.S. population of 311.6 million people. So they are very rare, and even rarer are they committed by a nanny.
Now let's take a look at mental illness. A psychotic break is when someone experiences an acute episode of psychosis, or a separation from reality, usually for the first time. There are usually signs leading up to a psychotic break. Extreme stress can be a contributing factor. This stress can be an accumulation of work/life stress, financial stress, or a previous history of psychologically traumatic events. It remains to be seen what officially happened to Ms. Ortega, but it could be that she had a psychotic break, which led to her taking actions well outside the boundaries of her personality.
The Krim family found their nanny through word of mouth and visited her family in the Dominican Republic. Further details on their vetting process have not been made available. It is certain that hindsight is 20/20, but there are steps you can take to ensure that you have done the very best job to vet your nanny.
While a background check is important, it isn't to be completely relied upon. A background check will reveal if the person has been convicted of a crime, but will not show other suspicious behavior. Do your due diligence to make sure that several layers of safety screenings are in place.
If you are going through a reputable nanny agency, many of these steps will already have been taken care of for you. Please note, nanny agencies are not regulated by any governing body – meaning there isn't anybody looking over their shoulder to oversee their practices. When seeking an agency, you should look for:
1. A membership in a professional organization such as The Association for Premier Nanny Agencies (APNA) theapna.org that requires agencies to adhere to certain standards and
2. One that is well-established, or that you know friends who have had good experiences.
Agencies screen candidates in-person, and a good agency only accepts a fraction of the bunch. The agency calls references and performs a background check for you. Make sure that the agency has completed a background check prior to trialing a nanny in your home. Even when using an agency, parents should also check references. Also, when interviewing the nanny candidates in your home, trust your gut – if she is excellent on paper but you have a gut feeling that she isn't right for your family – listen to that feeling! Always have a trial period of one day to one week with the best candidates.
If you are planning to go about this search on your own, be confident but cautious. When posting online, keep your identity private. Create a separate e-mail address just for your search. Immediately delete any candidates that you know won't work. Screen applicants via questions through e-mail first. After you have narrowed down the candidates, set up phone interviews. Identify the candidates who you would like to interview at a coffee shop or another public space and conduct all of these interviews on the same day. From them, select the top two you would like to interview and/or trial in your home. Contact their references and conduct a background check before they enter your house. Trial at least two nannies so that you may compare and contrast the two. Additional steps you can take include requiring an updated driving record from the DMV, checking the validity of their training certifications, and a drug test. Psychological testing as well as graphology are non-traditional methods used in identifying the right nanny for a family.
Once hired, you may opt to install cameras to check in on the day-to-day of the nanny and your child. Be up front about having cameras in your home in the interview as to "prevent" something from happening rather than "catch" something. A good nanny will not care if there is a camera. In the first few days, you may want to pop in unexpectedly to see that everything is going well. Arrange playdates to keep her active in the nanny community. This tight knit group is pivotal in witnessing trouble in other nannies.
Most importantly, make an effort to keep your nanny happy. Arrange activities for her to take your child to so that she doesn't feel trapped in the home. Do your best to check in with her regularly so that no tension is allowed to fester. There is no need to be paranoid when you keep your eyes and ears open. Recognizing the signs of trouble and immediately addressing them are the best preventative measures you can take.