Short says there are a variety of reasons their clients choose home surveillance. “Typically we get parents that might be using a nanny or sitter for the first time and want to make sure their choice is appropriate. Occasionally it is because they suspect there might be mistreatment of a child,” she says. “And there is an issue of potential abuse.” Parents may be concerned about a sitter’s everyday behavior such as smoking or cursing, or they may have greater concerns of whether the caregiver is paying enough attention to the child, or is physically or emotionally abusing the child.
Erkus founded Nanny Check when his oldest child was born after seeing a woman on national television who abused and killed a child in her care. “I want to know when I leave and close that door what’s going on behind it. I want to know my child is safe and being nurtured, played with, sang to and loved,” says Erkus. “I think the ethics go right out the window when it comes to protecting our children. Caregivers are paid to keep your kids safe and happy, not to get mad at your kids, yell at them and hit them or put them in a swing all day and neglect them.”
Pat Cascio, President of the International Nanny Association, says if parents feel the need to use hidden cameras, there is a distrust of the nanny and something is wrong. “As a parent and as an agency owner, my advice is that if you feel anything is not right with your nanny and you want to find out by using a hidden camera, you should fire the nanny immediately,” says Cascio. “Unless you’re an unusually suspicious person, as soon as your gut tells you something is wrong is the time to get the person away from your child. How heartbreaking to see [the mistreatment of a child] on a camera days after you had suspicions because you wanted to catch the person on tape.”
Sara, a mother and previously a nanny for five years, agrees. “The bigger issue here is that if you feel like you need to videotape your nanny, then you probably do,” she says. “Mutual trust is key in a childcare relationship… If you have a feeling that your nanny may be doing something wrong, why risk it? I would never ever leave my child if I had even the slightest doubt.”
Cascio says that it’s not uncommon for high profile families using nannies to have cameras throughout the house, and that the childcare providers understand and accept this as part of their employment agreement. “You need to, at the time of hire, discuss with the nanny how she feels about [being videotaped] and know that she is forewarned about it,” says Cascio. “Nannies have left jobs because they’ve felt that their privacy has been invaded—they’ve felt foolish even when they’ve done nothing wrong and are embarrassed. If you’re fair and talk to your nanny about the taping, she might not mind at all.”
Alternatives to Nanny Cams
If you’re ethically opposed to taping your sitter or nanny, or simply don’t have the time to review tapes regularly, there are other ways to see that your family has quality childcare. Cascio says safety issues need to be addressed from early on in the hiring process. “References are everything, and to be able to make a good judgment on the quality of the reference is important,” she says. “Being able to find somebody that others have known helps…it gives you more confidence of someone that you can really trust. And it is extremely important to do very thorough background checks, even civil checks to make sure they haven’t been in frequent civil scrapes.” Cascio also warns against hiring ‘the sister of’ or ‘the friend of’ someone you know simply to cut costs on childcare. Not knowing this person’s background and training in the routine care of children can be risky for a family.
Lastly, Cascio suggests that parents try making unannounced visits and check in by phone regularly while their children are with a caregiver. If a parent is unable to come home during the day, perhaps a good friend, family member or neighbor could stop by. “It’s also important to watch your child’s behavior,” she says. “Even young children will show signs if they are frightened of a person.”
Using hidden cameras offers moms and dads a reassuring look at how their children are being cared for in their absence, but whether or not their use is an invasion of a caregiver’s privacy is something parents have to decide for themselves.