Each year, an untold number of children are put into the care of a nanny or babysitter. The vast majority of these care providers are individuals who are simply looking to earn an income or wish to positively impact the next generation. However, as a parent, you must be diligent and take steps to truly get to know your childcare provider. This starts with background check.
Performing a background check is meant to identify potential issues and to ensure your selected nanny or sitter has been honest with you regarding her qualifications. Taking the time to get acquainted with her history is the responsible thing to do. Every parent’s worst nightmare is their child suffering at the hands of someone they’ve entrusted with their care. A nanny background check can alert you if your sitter’s history with children is less than acceptable.
In this guide, we will take a look at the types of background checks and offer tips on how to get the information you need to make an informed decision.
Your sitter or nanny should willingly provide a list of prior employers. Teens should have at least one, while more experienced individuals should provide a minimum of two families for whom they have worked. If your sitter is young and has never watched children for pay before, a teacher or clergy member can give you a feel for their level of responsibility.
Ask for permission to reach out, and then make contact with her three most recent references. Questions you might ask include:
- How do you know this caregiver?
- Are you related?
- How did she handle emergencies?
- What is her relationship like with your children?
- How did she handle discipline?
- Does she have a history of arriving on time?
- Would you hire her again?
There are many services available online that can conduct a criminal background check on your behalf. However, in most circumstances, arrest records are part of the public domain and are accessible at your county clerk’s records office. According to the United States Courts system, the majority of files relating to judicial proceedings since 1999 are available via the Public Access to Court Electronic Records Service (PACER). Arrest records and warrants are typically state specific, and will include information on felonies, misdemeanors, and, possibly, any related jail time served or fines paid.
Ask your sitter to provide you with her address information for the last seven years as well as her birth date. Married women should also provide their maiden name or any other aliases they have used in the past.
Your nanny or babysitter will likely drive your children back and forth from school and home or to activities. For this reason, knowing her history on the road is crucial to your children’s safety. With permission, you can obtain a copy of her driving record. Like arrest records, this is usually available at the state level. If she has lived in multiple states since obtaining a driver’s license, you will need to contact those states’ DMVs as well. Experian Automotive offers a list of state DMV websites here.
A few parking violations or an occasional citation for speeding is not necessarily a red flag. However, charges of reckless driving, driving under the influence, or other serious automotive infractions should be questioned thoroughly. Anyone with a repeat history of moving violations should be seriously reconsidered, as speeding, running red lights, and other careless acts can put your children in harm’s way.
Sex Offender Registry
The Sex Offender Registry exists to allow the public access to information regarding sexual predators near where they live. This is an invaluable resource that all parents should use when screening childcare candidates. The National Sex Offender Search page makes it easy to search by first and last name along with county, town, or current or prior ZIP Codes. Similarly, you have the option to search a radius around your home for sex offenders that you — and your chosen sitter — should be aware of.
Social Security number (SSN) trace/employment eligibility
Johnna Leeds of Tennessee-based Data Facts, Inc., explains that a Social Security trace is an important part of the background check process. It is an investigative tool that can help shed light on your potential employee’s history. It will also ensure you have a verifiable way to link payments to an individual at tax time. A Social Security background check may utilize information from the Post Office, voter registration, and utility bill records to help confirm the individual is who they claim to be. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers more information on verifying Social Security numbers.
Any potential employee should complete an I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification form, which is available through US Citizenship and Immigration Services. While many babysitters and nannies are employed as contract workers, it remains your responsibility to ensure they are legal to work in the US. If you choose to hire as an hourly or salaried employee, you will also be responsible for making payroll deductions, including Social Security and other taxes.
First Aid and CPR verification
If your interviewee claims to be certified in CPR or emergency First Aid, ask for a verified copy of her completion certificates. If she is not currently certified, ask if she would be willing to undergo training prior to her employment. Further, if you live on or near a body of water or swimming pool, or expect your sitter to be alone with your child in such areas, ask for proof of her swimming level certification.
Many babysitters are still in high school or are currently enrolled in college. A part-time sitter’s education is typically not a major concern. However, when you are hiring a full-time nanny, and especially one who will be in charge of your children’s education, you’ll want to confirm she is academically qualified to do so.
If your potential nanny has her original degree(s) available, ask to see it, and examine it carefully to ensure validity. If you still have questions or if these documents do not appear to be legitimate, it will be necessary to contact the issuing college or university. Ask for the records department. You may need to provide a student ID number, years attended, degree granted, and alternate name(s) used during her time at the school. Jane Smith of the Houston Chronicle notes that this is an expense that ranges from about $25 to $250 or more, depending on the school.
Child abuse and neglect records
Child abuse and neglect records may be available for viewing for the purposes of employment screening. Data available may be limited to protect the identities of abused children and their families. The Children’s Bureau offers information on confidentiality of records on a state-by-state level. In many cases, this information is only made available to verified research agencies, so it may be necessary to outsource this check to a licensed third-party provider. This information may appear in a standard arrest records search. If you are uncomfortable with your candidate or suspect she may have been involved in child abuse, it is best to go with your instincts and continue your search.
Social media scan/Google search
In addition to formal background checks, you should search for your potential sitter’s name online and look at her social media accounts. Her Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, and Instagram account can give you insight into her personality and lifestyle. This will give you a chance to see if she has a habit of posting pictures of herself with children she cares for. If you prefer your child’s image to stay off social media, this should be discussed during the interview. A quick search of her name and profiles can also reveal any negative non-criminal activity she’s been a part of.
A psychiatric evaluation is often a final step in the screening process for nannies catering to famous clients. Due to many widely publicized events involving childcare providers, mental health evaluations are becoming more common by “everyday” parents. Inform applicants during the first meeting regarding your intentions to send them for a psychiatric evaluation should they become a strong candidate for employment.
What happens if negative information is found?
The point of conducting a background check is to make sure that the person in charge of your children is qualified, safe, and competent. Any negative information found should be discussed immediately. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, that an individual may have had their identity stolen. Likewise, negative information for a person with a similar name and birthdate may mistakenly wind up in your hands. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes provisions for individuals to rectify problems caused by identity theft.
If your potential employee feels she has been a victim of identity theft, she can report it at IdentityTheft.gov. If you are otherwise comfortable with this individual, there is nothing wrong with giving her the benefit of the doubt and allowing her to clear her name. Employment may be provided upon the stipulation she can prove her innocence. Still, it is perhaps best to wait until this process is complete if information is found that pertains to child abuse or sex crimes.
You already know that there are important interview questions you should ask a potential nanny or babysitter before hiring her, because as a parent, it is your responsibility to thoroughly investigate any individual who will be left alone with your children in their care. While a background check is not legally required, it is a crucial step toward keeping your children and your family safe. If you feel you are not qualified to gather and interpret this information, many online databases, such as Care.com, can perform a check on your behalf for a small fee. All background checks are subject to limitations, so use the information wisely, and don’t ignore your gut instincts.