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It’s a brave new world when it comes to hiring a caregiver for your child.
When I hired the first of a few part-time babysitters for my son during his first year, I asked all the questions I thought I was supposed to: about her childcare experiences, about her discipline style, about first aid training. It never occurred to me to ask about her prescription and illegal drug use, her grooming habits, or her disciplinary record in middle school and high school. I did my homework by checking references, but mostly I relied on my “gut” instinct after conversations with her and watching brief interactions with my son about whether this person seemed like a trustworthy caregiver.
But a new questionnaire — described in Lisa Belkin’s blog and reported on the website Gawker — designed by a Queens couple and posted online (and since been taken down) goes much further than I did. It asks potential caregivers 65 sometimes confusingly detailed questions (65!) about everything from their health, use of hand sanitizers, hangover frequency, and relationships with siblings.
Here is a sampling of the survey questions:
- How often do you bathe?
- Will you provide a letter from your primary care doctor listing all current prescription medications?
- How many smokes do you typically have during a social occasion?
- How many countries have you been to?
- What was your high school GPA?
Is this a perfectly understandable reaction to the dangers of hiring in an online world, and the logical belief that more information about anyone is better, or is this level of intrusiveness destined to scare away any normal, private person who enjoys the exhausting job of taking care of kids for low pay?
Choosing a caring, reliable, and knowledgeable caregiver has important consequences for a child’s development. It’s crucial that a child feel safe, listened to, cared for, and that his emotional and cognitive needs are met at each stage of development.
But I don’t see how introducing yourself as a parent who asks such intrusive questions and beginning your relationship with the caregiver in this way can be a good thing for a child. A relationship with a caregiver should be based on trust and communication. And that involves risk for a parent. Yes, the whole process is uncertain and scary. You are taking a huge leap of faith in your trusting another person to take care of your child. But I don’t see how you can start any productive, meaningful relationship — with a friend, teacher, caregiver — based on this sort of prying into every facet of his or her personal life.
In a hurried world, it’s difficult to accept that good relationships take time. There are no shortcuts. There is no document that any babysitter can sign that will ensure that your child will be happy and perfectly safe all the time.
How do you deal with the tradeoff between ensuring your child’s safety and respecting privacy and developing authentic relationships with caregivers? Do you rely on your “gut” or thorough research?
Such a difficult question. We don’t hire babysitters, we’re too chicken (I was I was kidding). We do have a couple of close friends whom we trust w/our youngest though, so that works out for us.
I have never left my 6 month old with anyone but friends or family. I’m lucky that the girl I nannied for during summers while I was in high-school is now in high school… Having said that though I would consider one of her friends to babysit if I needed it (my baby is the only grandchild of 4 grandparents so it’s not likely). I would rely a referral from someone I trust and gut instinct. I would never babysit for someone who asked me intrusive questions, nor would I answer the questions. I would think they were crazy. I can’t imagine finding a babysitter on the internet though.
School of Smock says
I’ve done it! When you’re new in a city, it’s actually a good resource. It doesn’t change the process — whatever it is — for deciding if this is the right person for you.
Monsieur Maman says
We used to ask questions but not so much anymore. We go by referrals from people we trust. But even then I did hire someone based on a referral from an Internet message board. That was probably not my finest hour but the kids loved her and we got to have a break. I know that sounds irresponsible but I really went with nothing much more than my gut.
School of Smock says
No, it doesn’t sound irresponsible! I’ve used internet sites too for hiring babysitters. I think they’re great as general referral places. And I mostly went with my gut too when hiring them.
Am I the only one that read about the horrific slaying of two children by their nanny in Manhattan last year!?!? Not to mention the countless other scenarios in the news or even from someone you may know of something bad happening between a caretaker and a child!?!? In many of these instances, the caretaker was somone the family thought they could trust. It is this hurried, no time for anything way of life that has allowed evil to come into our society and prey on children. No one wants to offend anyone so God forbid I ask someone who I may potentially leave in care of my most precious beings, the very people I helped create and bring into this world and made a promise to myself, them, to God that I would do whatever means necessary to protect from harm, if you will provide me with a list of the drugs you take, what countries have you visited, their relationship with other family members, etc. I do believe in my instincts when it comes to my children however if I want to hire someone towpath over them, then we need to start with a strong foundation and that is not going to come from only asking the basic questions in a 30 minute interview. I would have no problems providing very personal information to someone that would be entrusting me with their child. If there is something that comes up they don’t like then that gives them the opportunity to truly make an informed decision about me. I don’t mean to at all suggest this would have made a world of difference to the family of those precious children killed however if they requested a recent prescription list or doctor note, it may have revealed the nanny’s depression (as reported in the news this person was deemed depressed by a family member she lived with). Employers have the right to exercise mandatory drug testing, personal reviews, etc at any time during your employment without giving you notice. This is done to protect them and other employees. Why should we feel any different to invoke the same principles when it comes to our family?
School of Smock says
I just don’t think that a survey like this — regardless of how much information any parent would feel they would like before hiring a caregiver — would be very effective. Who would tell the truth to a survey like this? And all that requesting personal information would end up doing is damaging your relationship with your child’s caretaker. And I do think that hiring a babysitter is much different than the type of employment that would do mandatory drug testing. And lots of people with depression or anxiety in their pasts — even fairly recent — can end up being great teachers, nannies, or babysitters; in many cases, prescription medicine can work miracles, and that in no way disqualifies them from taking care of children.