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Babysitters: Hazardous to Kids' Health?

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The person you trust with your kids may not be who you think she is.

Last month, two babysitter stories we heard in the news gave us nightmares. A 28-year-old babysitter from Philadelphia pleaded guilty to burning two boys, ages 5 and 7, with a clothes iron, lighter, and a lit cigarette over 20 times on their faces, backs, and arms. Can you even imagine? Just a few days later, two girls, ages 1 and 4, started a fire in their Kansas City apartment. The babysitter who was caring for them left to make a phone call when the fire started.

These stories are shocking -- but they are just a few examples of how leaving your child in the wrong hands can result in tragedy. Here are some particularly disturbing cases from the past:

• Louise Woodward, a 19-year-old British au pair was found guilty of second degree murder for the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen. The autopsy revealed Woodward had shaken Matthew -- fracturing his skull -- and dropped him on the floor before tossing him onto the bed. In an appeal, Woodward's conviction was reduced to involuntary manslaughter and her charge was reduced to time served. She then returned to Great Britain.

• Claudia Muro, 29, a babysitter from South Florida, was caught on a nanny cam shaking an infant and slamming her to the floor three or four times, then kissing her on the forehead. The parents were shocked, as they had performed background checks on Muro, and had only installed the nanny cam when their baby became unsettled around the sitter.

• Yalines Torres, 25, tied a toddler in a bag and slung him over her shoulder while jogging around the apartment, banging the baby's head against the bedroom door frame, killing him. After she blamed the infant's injuries on her own 2-year-old son, the police charged her with murder.

• Annette Martinez, a babysitter from Las Cruces, N.M., was charged with sexual penetration of a minor after having sex 40 times with the 14-year-old boy she was babysitting.

• Zachary R. Harding, 18, was arrested for allegedly molesting a 5-year-old. Police charged him with lewdness with a minor and indecent exposure.

Cases like these make you never want to leave your child with a sitter ... ever. Yet, most working parents have no choice. How do you know if a potential nanny is going to treat your kids right?

"Certain factors put kids at risk for abuse more than others," says Lindsay Heller, Psy.D, licensed clinical psychologist, who's known as "The Nanny Doctor." "Special needs children who are unable to communicate well are often targets. Also, additional stress like caring for too many children or having little experience with your child's age group may make a nanny more prone to abusing or inappropriate discipline. Instead of choosing a nanny because she's qualified, consider if she's qualified for your particular family," Heller advises.

To do this, consider your lifestyle, hobbies, diet, and children's personalities, then choose a candidate that fits your family's profile. Here are six more precautionary steps Heller recommends:

1. Scrutinize resumes.
Look for breaks in employment -- and ask about them. Also, make sure the nanny has experience caring with children the same age as your own.

2. Always call references.
"Don't just verify the nanny worked there," Heller says. "Ask if the family would hire her again, how she handled emergencies, and how prompt she was. Then implement a trial day so she can get a feel for the neighborhood and you can watch her."

3. Pay for a background check.
It will cost you, but it's worth it. Also, ask the nanny to get a driving record from the past 10 years from the DMV.

4. Check out the "How's My Nanny" service.
It offers license plates to fasten to strollers and encourages onlookers to report bad nanny behavior.

5. Go with your gut.
"The bottom line is, when trusting a stranger in your home with your children, you have to go with your gut," Heller says. "Watch how your kids respond to your nanny. Do they fear her? Cry when you leave? You could always have a neighbor casually drop by to check up on things."

6. When in doubt, install a nanny cam.
"You should never feel guilty for using a camera in your home," Heller says. "However, you must tell your sitter up front that this will happen -- a good nanny will have no problem with this. Nanny cam laws vary from state to state so make sure you check your state's law."

"These steps may seem extreme, but they're crucial," Heller says. "There's evidence that infants remember abuse later in life and it can impair a child's ability to attach to caregivers and develop trust in the future. It's always better to be overly cautious than sorry."

Have you ever caught your nanny or babysitter displaying bad or reckless behavior? Comment below.

next: No-Fuss Dinners!
23 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous August 6, 2008, 12:50 PM

7. Critically evaluate your budget and determine if 2 incomes are necessary - for necessities, not for extras (daycare/babysitter, 2nd car, eating out, nail appts, designer clothes, bigger house…) Then maybe stay at home and raise your own kids!

Julie Taylor August 6, 2008, 4:26 PM

Angry much, Anonymous?
Some of us HAVE to work…not for nail appts (I use Sally Hansen), or designer clothes (mine are from Target), eating out (but I do eat out of a brown bag, every single day), bigger house (I don’t live in a McMansion), or 2nd car (ours is a 1990 Honda).
No, we have to work for
electric bills (for some reason, the kids like light when they do their homework),
mortgage payments (they like having a roof over their heads, too, go figure), food (those pesky critters get hungry 3 times a day), clothing (the uptight preschool has a no-nudity policy), and gas (which, last time I checked, was over $4 a gallon).
Unless you want to pay my bills for me, stop judging me for getting childcare to watch my children while I work to provide for them. Better I leave them in the car while I’m at work? Or leave them alone? I love that in your mind, daycare/babysitter is not a necessity, it’s an “extra.” I can go without getting my nails done (yes, that’s an extra), but my babysitter is most definitely a necessity.
It’s 2008. Get out of the ’50s and move on.

Sheri August 6, 2008, 4:31 PM

Go get her, JT!

birdsfly August 6, 2008, 6:36 PM

How is a 2nd car an “extra” if you are a SAHM or working? I’m a SAHM and I shudder to think about being stranded with my husband taking the only family vehicle. I would have an axiety everytime my son sneezed! We squeeze by in an apartment on my hubby’s check, I would love to work and earn a little more so we weren’t scraping it so close but i wouldn’t make enough to cover gas and daycare!

Donna Werner August 7, 2008, 9:17 AM

I would love to have stayed at home and raised my own kids. But those of us that were not born with a silver spoon in our mouths need to work. Daycare is not an extra these days it is an necessity. It would be nice to live in a perfect world, but the veiw seems to be alittle distorted from way up there.

Sara August 7, 2008, 9:46 AM

Wake up, Anonymous! And stop judging those of us that have to work to pay our bills. Not sure who bought your house for you, but we’re still paying a mortgage on top of an electricity bill every month, not to mention buying propane/nat gas to heat the house in the winter… and a soldier’s income doesn’t even begin to cover it!

D.S. August 7, 2008, 9:59 AM

I’m a stay at home mom and wasn’t born with a spoon in my mouth. We live in rural central america so the cost of living is different. We make sacrifices for our children - husband works harder and I stay at home. I would love to be working outside of the home full-time, but instead do some direct sales on the side so I can be involved with other adults without my children present. My kids wear some designer clothing i.e. gap, chilrens place, gymboree, but they’re all used from garage sales and e-bay. The argument about whether to stay at home or work needs to end. It’s about what’s best for your own family, not judging another for their choices. Please be kind to another mommy - you never know if she was up all night with a sick child, etc. We’ve all been there and we should rally around each other instead of deciding who’s right and who’s wrong.

Susan August 7, 2008, 1:29 PM

Learn to read your kids! I was a single mom and had a lot of trouble finding trustworthy childcare for my 1-year-old baby daughter. I had three horrible experiences with people and services that provided care where there were from 4 to 40 children being taken care at in-home care facilities. These are the nightmares:
Nightmare 1: My daughter would scream and arch her back (because she couldn’t talk yet) when I drove up to an in-home care where 4 children were attending. This happened on the 2nd and 3rd day as we arrived. I also got really worried when my daughter became upset when I changed her diaper after the first day. It worried me so much that I left work early on her 3rd day and went to pick her up. The only woman attending the children was napping when I got there at 10a.m. The front door was ajar so I just went in. I found my daughter in a playpen just laying on her back looking up at the sky through a window nearby. So I looked around the room and spotted the changing table. The table had a stack of dirty, stiff washcloths on it that the woman was used repeatedly on the various children. That must have felt horrible on my daughter’s bottom at each changing, not to mention being left to totally vegetate. I took her and never returned.
Nightmare 2: A young earth-mother and new mother took my daughter first to start her day-care business. She was a dream-come-true, I thought. Within a month, she had addred another 6 kids to watch along with her own newborn. Each child was to bring a carton of diapers each week. By the 2nd month, it seemed that my daughter was coming home in soaked diapers and by mid-month began getting flu and colds through the 3rd month. The sitter said she wanted to be paid whether my child attended or not. Once my daughter recovered from 2 colds in a row, I decided to pick her up early one Tuesday afternoon. The door was wide open, in rainy weather, and the sitter was warming bottles in the kitchen when I arrived. I opened the screen, entered and began looking for my daughter. I walked to the bedroom and found a room stacked to the cealing with packs for new diapers and all of the babies were on the cold tile floor in their wet diapers. I took my daughter and never returned.
Nightmare 3: A very popular sitter who employed her whole family and built a 2nd story on her house to support her business had created a childcare business with over 50 children of all ages. Now, this looked promissing! After only a week at this care facility, I arrived early again. My daughter had become lethargic and just generally unhappy. When there as no answer at the door at 11a.m… I just went in and looked around. Every light in the house was off and it was very dark and quiet. I looked around for an adult who might be watching the children. Only an elderly woman was at the home with all those children. All the children, ages 3mos. to 4 years were just laying around in playpens while the elderly woman just sat in a lawnchair out-back. In the playpen is where the attendants put them as the parent arrived each a.m. I went looking for my daughter. I found her in a room with a king-sized bed in the center and all the cribs (12 of them) lined around the walls. The king bed sheets were open and spread out and there was a single pocket spot light pointed at the center of the bed. It just gave me the creeps (like a sceen from a child pornography sceen), so I took my daughter away again and never returned.

In each case, my daughter’s behavior and health told me something was wrong. So, if you are forced to find care for your child/children, be sensitive to each and every aspect of your child from the very first day they attend that care. Be very observant!

Dom August 7, 2008, 2:43 PM

I firmly believe that people whose children are so badly behaved they don’t want to be around them should not employ babysitters. Don’t punish others because you shouldn’t have kids.

vix August 7, 2008, 9:32 PM

Oh my! This is exactlly why I am so grateful I’ve never had to leave my children with a sitter. The only people they have ever been left with are my sister and my best friend of 11 years and then only for a couple of hours. I just can’t believe people would children like this.

observerist August 9, 2008, 7:25 PM

There’s nowhere a sitter could hide from me, who tortured my child like that. No corner of the Earth will protect them from my wrath.

Vicky September 14, 2008, 6:51 PM

Don’t install a nanny cam to try to catch the sitter after you suspect.If you have any doubts at all about a sitter get rid of them no matter what. don’t take chances with your child. too many horror stories out there.

Starr September 30, 2008, 2:59 PM

Why can’t stay at home moms make a good paycheck too?
The choice shouldn’t be about money it should be about your family.

Here’s just one link I’m sure you can find more.

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Amnah January 12, 2011, 11:18 PM

It’s very risky to leave kids at home with baby sitters but it cannot be avoided if you have no other choice but go out for the job.It’s wrong if you go out for Weight Loss Programs or you go out for shopping by leaving the kids behind in some strangers’ hands.

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