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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Sara Cunningham

This sounds like it was written by people who have never had kids. No negative punishments whatsoever? Excuse me?

Why is the caregiver always a "she"? And what does it matter how they were raised and with who?

Yes, you need to find a trustworthy person to watch your child, but there is definitely not a lot of stuff here I'd ask (or be looking for) and a lot of things missing that I care about.

MrsRo... MrsRoberts413

Insider information, from a former daycare worker: ask about the employee turnover rate!  If staff members come and go fairly quickly, if nobody has been there for at least a couple years, turn around and run!  Odds are, while the staff members directly involved with your child may be wonderful, the administration is probably really crappy, treats staff poorly, and they don't get paid enough to stay in that situation.  Your child will lack consistency in caregivers and there may even be safety hazards and code violations that go undealt with as a result of such bad administration.  It's way more common than you might think!

Megan Baznik

The article fails to mention the third(and frequently cheapest) option for childcare, a licensed in-home provider. They are unlike daycare centers because they watch mixed ages at the same time in their home(rather than a classroom like a daycare center or in your home like a nanny). The care is consistent like a nanny, but not as expensive because the provider has children from more than 1 family. There is also the advantage of children close to the age of your own without having to separate siblings into different classes like a daycare center would.

Melissa Warner Hale

Actually, small children and babies don't need "socialization." They need 1-1 contact with a consistent, loving caregiver who can provide a substitute attachment while the parent is away. If a caregiver has too many children of the same age to care for, or if there is a lot of turnover in the caregiver, that is going to cause the biggest negative impact on a child's development. If a child has consistent attachment figures and develops loving relationships with a handful of adults, social skills will follow. This can happen in any of the three types of childcare settings (or, of course, with a parent or relative giving care), if they are set up well. But the very most important thing to look for is a consistent, positive caregiver with a low adult to child ratio.

nonmember avatar carly145

The Nanny refuses to provide a Social Security card? That is some pretty personal stuff, especially if you are being hired by an individual family, not a corporation.

tuscani tuscani

WOW... Why would you want to leave your child to be raised by someone other than you?  If you can't afford to stay home wth your child why did you have them if you cannot or do not raise them? I'm sincere in asking this. What is the purpose of having children just to have somebody else raise them so you can go to work? I'm older than most of you. I was the first female FireFighter in CHICAGO...Guess What? I gave that up when my child was born! I did without a lot! But I managed...I'm not talking about single mom's here..Though if you're a Single Mom without ever being married I feel for you.. You're child WANTS  YOU!!! I have a lot of kids and all the grown ones have told me that the best thing I ever did was to quit work and raise them... even if it meant that we didn't have a lot.Some women can't because of financial reasons..but some can..they just choose their Career over their baby! That I cannot even imagine. Especially if you just work because you think you are so important and your career defines who you are.. Too bad your children weren't worth the sacrifice of you quitting and putting them first.

nonmember avatar Guest


That is an extremely ignorant comment. If you do not go back to work after having children you only end up harming yourself. Let me explain--if you're out of the workforce for 5, 10, 15 years--you're not getting hired back in a useful position. If you have your spouse paying all the bills, if there's a divorce, you end up completely reliant on him. Don't tell me you've never heard of men bemoaning having to pay their wives alimony--well guess what, if their wives have been out of the workforce for several years raising children, they are not marketable and able to earn sufficient money to support themselves. And if you are out of work, then you are not funding a retirement account--so you will have no money of your own to live on when you are at that stage of your life--then completely financially dependent on your spouse, ex-spouse or grown children by then. I also think you do your children a disservice if they know no one but you as a caregiver--that is a recipe for major separation anxiety. If your children understand there is a world out there beyond you, they are much more likely to be well-adjusted, flexible children, which makes life much less stressful.

tuscani tuscani

Um.. You're ignorant..I studied all that time and am now a Top Personal Trainer To Mr. Olympians... I did it all without sacrificing my children... My kids...all 8 of them..with the oldest in their 30's now.. are responsible.. They know the meaning of Family and of not having a kid just for the sake of having a kid. Why in the hell have a kid of you are not going to raise it with your values? Just hand it over to be indoctrinated..Spoken like a true Sheeple!

tuscani tuscani

Also.. My children have been introduced to peole from all over the world..Theyalso speak 2 languages fluently and that didn't come from school. Untangle yourself from the myths and lies you are being told. Again..Why have kids? Most kids now are so unattached to their parents they don't even give a crap about them..Yeah.. Well Guest.. My oldest is a Dr. and my other four are in equally gratifying professions? So how did I go wrong? They knew they were and are still loved and were always supported and went for what they wanted in this world and got it!  None of them got pregnant ot anybody else pregnat because they saw that I had to give up a fabulous career. You are so mis-guided in your so call educated thinking.But you area a product of the machine and trust me your kids will not give two cras about you because you never sacrificed or believed in them when it really mattered.


nonmember avatar Guest

My, my, you're completely nasty and ignorant in your assumptions? I never sacrificed or believed in them when it really mattered??? I have one child that's three months old! For God's sake, what could I have done so far that scarred her for life? And I'm speaking to her in three languages, so she'll be fluent in three languages. I was raised by a successful business woman, and wouldn't have it any other way. She took me traveling around the world, and I learned 3 languages fluently. I had many enriching experiences that I would not have otherwise had. I am a lawyer and I did not get pregnant until a year ago. I'm apparently not any worse of than your children.

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