“Trust but verify” when it comes to hiring a nanny, says Mike Coffey, SPHR, an HR consultant working with families. Families should always conduct thorough background checks that include criminal history and verification of the nanny’s qualification and experience claims.
What you need to know when conducting a background check on a Nanny or Babysitter
Almost all businesses conduct background checks on potential employees, which is why it is so surprising how few families conduct background checks on nannies and other caregivers.
Many parents express uncertainty as to what information is available concerning their nanny or, beyond that, what information is legal for them to use.
Mike Coffey, SPHR, a human resources consultant and president of PFC Information Services, a background screening firm specializing in nannies and other household employees, says this uncertainty can lead to catastrophe if a family puts the wrong person in a position of trust.
“Parents often rely on their instincts when they hire a nanny,” Coffey says. “It is critical that a nanny have great rapport with the family, but those who pose the most risk are often among the most charming candidates.”
Simply Googling the phrase “nanny arrested” will present dozens of incidents demonstrating why parents should be diligent in conducting nanny background checks,” Coffey said. “None of the parents whose children were hurt by negligent, dishonest, or abusive nannies thought she posed a risk when they hired her.”
“Trust but verify” is the key to hiring a great nanny.
Parents should primarily be focused on four areas when conducting nanny background checks:
- Criminal behavior: Intentional acts that suggest a propensity for dishonest or violent behavior.
- Negligent behavior: Incidents that suggest that the individual is careless or doesn’t make safety-aware decisions.
- Qualifications: Education, certifications, and other evidence of training in caring for children.
- Experience: Evidence that the nanny has the appropriate experience to be placed in a position of significant trust.
Coffey says the most common components of nanny background checks address all of these focus areas.
Criminal and Negligent Behavior
A nanny’s criminal history is the first thing that comes to mind for most parents considering nanny background checks.
Clearly, serious offenses such as theft, assault, or drugs will always be of concern to a parent hiring a nanny.
However, less-serious infractions like failure to appear in court, possession of an open alcohol container in public, or operating a motor vehicle without appropriate insurance may also be reviewed to evaluate the nanny’s judgment and attitude towards following rules.
Particularly when a nanny has multiple “small” offenses in recent years, a parent may decide that it is wiser to find a different nanny who has a history of staying out of trouble and taking care of business.
The challenge when conducting criminal background checks on nannies is that there is no single source of records.
America’s criminal records are very decentralized. 98% of all the criminal records are stored in county courthouses all over the country and most of those are not available over the internet.
This means any reliable criminal background check will involve searching the records of the local courts in the counties in which your nanny has lived. A thorough criminal background check will check all of the counties in which the applicant has lived during the last ten years at a minimum.
Most often, a professional background investigator must walk into the actual courthouse to search for criminal records related to the nanny.
Depending on what is found, this process typically takes three to five days to complete.
Parents should also review the nanny’s driving history. This is relevant even if the nanny will not be driving as a part of their role for the family.
For instance, a nanny with a suspended driver’s license may have outstanding traffic tickets or even a warrant for her arrest.
Or, multiple recent traffic tickets may signal that a nanny doesn’t operate in a safety-conscious mindset. A red-flag for a caregiver!
Once criminal records or other potential concerns are identified for a nanny, parents have to decide whether the information is relevant.
Providing care for a child in the absence of a parent, often inside the family home, is one of the most high-risk and high-responsibility jobs one can have. And parents are justifiably cautious when hiring a new nanny.
Many parents follow a zero-tolerance policy for any drug-related offenses, violent offenses, or offenses of a violent or sexual nature—particularly if the offense happened in the past ten years or so.
But what a theft-by-check (“hot check”) case from five years ago?
Or a driving while intoxicated offense from seven years ago while the nanny was in college?
Or a distracted-driving ticket from last year?
Coffey recommends that the family first review the information provided by the nanny during the application process.
- Was she open and honest before the background check about past bad decisions that resulted in criminal charges? (Coffey recommends always asking a very thorough criminal history question during the interview, or when allowed under the applicable state law.)
- Do the details she provided match those included in the background check?
- Was this a one-time occurrence or does it seem to reflect a pattern of bad decisions that may continue into her role as a nanny?
- If this seems to have been a one-time occurrence, is it so significant as to present too high a risk for a position as safety sensitive as a nanny?
Other issues such as the age and maturity of the child and the responsibilities that may be assigned to the nanny (might she drive the child to activities?) might also affect a parent’s deliberations.
While it is one thing to hire a neighborhood teenager to keep children on a Friday night while Mom and Dad go on a date night, it is another entirely to hire someone to supervise your child during the day, transport them to and from activities, respond to any medical or other emergencies, and support their educational and emotional growth.
There are many paths nannies take to gain proficiency in these roles.
Whether the nanny claims a college education or certifications from organizations such as the US Nanny Association or the International Nanny Association, those claims should be verified.
Coffey said that his firm sees more applicants lie about their education and certifications than lie about their criminal history.
Again, “trust but verify” is the rule.
Dishonest applicants even create fake certificates or buy college degrees from unaccredited online degree mills to seem more qualified.
Even if a nanny claims a degree that seems unrelated to the care of a child—political science, perhaps—determining that the claim cannot be verified identifies honest issues that may present serious problems if the person is hired as a nanny.
While it seems obvious that parents should discuss the nanny’s past performance with previous employers, it is surprising how many families do not ask for previous employers’ contact information, much less contact them.
While some high-wealth or high-profile families do require nannies to sign non-disclosure agreements, they are often willing to make limited exceptions to help a well-liked and trusted former nanny find her next role.
Coffey says that while his firm will contact previous family employers on behalf of his client, better information is often received when a parent contacts the previous family directly.
Additional to talking to previous families, other employment claims made by the nanny should also be verified.
Whether they were working retail while in college or claim to have had another professional before becoming a nanny, verifying the details with previous employers is another inexpensive integrity test before trusting a nanny with children.
P.S. If you are looking at hiring a nanny, I have prepared a Nanny Contract Template to help you hire your own nanny.