Can You Trust Your Babysitter? Here's What You Need to Know

kidI thought nothing was more nerve-wracking than becoming a parent ... that is, until I started my search for childcare before heading back to work. It's a terrifying experience -- handing your child over to a virtual stranger for the better part of the day. With so many awful stories in the news, it's not an easy thing to do whether you opt for a daycare center or a nanny in-home. 

So The Stir has enlisted the help of experts to help you weed out the wackos and choose the best caregiver for your precious little one.

It's a must-read for every parent.


Q: Is a background check really necessary?
Ingrid Kellaghan:
"When hiring a child care worker, trust and credibility are key. Background checks should be a critical component of the hiring process. A resume may look impressive on paper, but how do you know the information is true or false? A background check should verify work history, references, education, credentials, and criminal history. This will help you find the best employees and to protect your child, family and home."

Q: What kinds of questions do I ask references to find out what this person is really like as a caregiver?

  1. Was she prompt, responsible?
  2. Why did she miss work, how often?
  3. Would you hire her again -- why or why not? 
  4. How did she communicate with you about the day’s events?
  5. Things about the child? Describe her experiences with the family’s child(ren).
  6. Why did she leave? Whose decision was it?

Q: What are the red flags when evaluating a nanny?

  1. Too many unexplained gaps in work history.
  2. Applicant’s job tenures are short -- less than 1 year.
  3. Applicant has moved often -- whether that be in the same city or across multiple states.
  4. Applicant bad-mouths her former employer(s).
  5. Applicant refuses to provide you original Social Security card and driver’s license or passport. 

Q. What are the red flags when evaluating a daycare center?

  1. Easy access into the building.
  2. Unsupervised front desk or reception area.
  3. Unanswered phone or no return calls when a message was left.
  4. Unorganized and dirty facility including offices, classes, and landscaping.
  5. Unwilling to share inspections with parents.
  6. Poor communication and customer service from staff and management.   

Q: What should the caregiver's initial interactions with my child be like?
Dr. Moberly:
"Observe the prospective nanny with your child in several settings -- at a park, in your home prior to hiring. Have her bring several activities for your child. Observe not only her, but your child’s reaction to her. Here's what to look out for ..."

  1. Respect for the child.
  2. Appropriate for the child’s understanding and needs.
  3. Warm, caring, and happen on eye-level with the child.
  4. Include open-ended questions such as “what do you think?”  “how ...? ” “what do you feel or think?” leading children to extend their thinking, learning, and creativity.
  5. Appropriate for the situation, the emotional and social development of your child.
  6. Respect your child’s culture and family.
  7. The adult has twice the amount of interactions with an infant -- she is talking for the infant and her.

Q: What are the characteristics of a good daycare center?

  1. Appropriate for the child’s understanding and needs.
  2. Warm, caring, and happen on eye-level with the child.
  3. Includes open-ended questions such as “What do you think?”  “How ...?” “What do you feel or think?” leading children to extend their thinking, learning, and creativity.
  4. Appropriate for the situation, the emotional and social development of the child
  5. Respect the child’s culture and family.
  6. Prior to enrollment, I believe the parent needs to observe the classroom for a long period of time and look for the above qualities. In addition, there must be an extended time for the child to play and have choices about activities.
  7. Discipline should be handled between only the teacher and child. There should be no punishment or negative consequences (such as taking away privileges). There should not be a token system or a ‘pull a card’, where children are punished. The focus should be on intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation (the teacher doing something to a child). Only rarely should time-out be used, and when it is necessary should only for one minute for the child’s age for each year.
  8. There should be daily written communication with the family about the child's day.
  9. The size of the group and the ratio of the teacher to children should be maintained at all times.

Q: Are there subtle signs that let you know a nanny is right for kid?
Ingrid Kellaghan:
"Yes! There are myriad visible and invisible signs to look childfor. Pay attention to how your child responds to a caregiver. Is your child happy and energized in their presence? Is your child anxious or withdrawn? Is your newborn baby relaxed or crying uncontrollably? Children have a built-in radar when it comes to caregivers that should not be overlooked. Tune into how your child is responding to the caregiver. If there is not a real connection -- keep looking!"

Q: How do you determine whether a nanny or daycare is best?

Daelyn Dillahunty: "This is more about a family's needs than the child. Nanny care is largely unsupervised and typically costs more than childcare centers. It is still a personal choice that families have to make. Child care centers automatically offer a child social skills due to the very nature of having peers in the class. If a family uses a nanny, it will be important to place the child in programs that will build the necessary social skills needed once they are in school. Another important thing that a family needs to consider when choosing the type of care they want is who will care for the child if the nanny is sick or goes on vacation. The advantage of child care is that most are opened year-round and substitutes are provided when staff are out."


The 8 Questions Every Parent Must Ask:

  1. Describe what you would do if my child does not do what you ask? Give a typical situation and see what she says. 
  2. What is your favorite thing to do with children? Look for answers about seeing what the child is interested in and what the child’s developmental level is. Experiences should be active and appropriate to your child’s interests and needs. Experiences should not be forced on your child.
  3. How do you want to get to know my child?
  4. Tell me about your own childhood? With whom were you raised?
  5. Thoroughly explore her education, ask to see her transcript/grades. Have her discuss her classes, what she learned about children your child’s age. If it's a daycare, you should find out the education and experience of every staff member.
  6. How will you communicate if there is an accident or emergency?
  7. Can I see your state and local licensing inspections (if a daycare)?
  8. Are you/is the staff CPR and First Aid certified?

Meet Our Experts: Ingrid Kellaghan, child-development/parenting expert and founder of Cambridge Nanny Group  (; Dr. Deb Moberly, early childhood development expert and founder of St. Louis-based Children 1st (; Daelyn Dillahunty, vice president of Children's Lighthouse Learning Centers, a values-based, early-education childcare provider based in Fort-Worth (

Have you ever made a mistake when choosing your own child nanny or daycare provider? What happened?


Images via Jamie Grill/Corbis, Robert Niedring/Corbis

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