This is the time of year where nannies are booked frequently for date-night sittings: lots of holiday parties, in-laws in town, and nights out for busy parents! I'd like to share a cautionary tale I read recently, and give you some tips based off of this situation, as well as others we have personally encountered.
Recently in a nanny support group I am apart of, a caregiver had been booked on a popular app by a family to babysit for their family in hotel, as they were coming into New York for the weekend. She offered to talk to them on the phone beforehand to give a mini interview, but they declined and said it was fine - they would provide details when she showed up. She had great reviews, so she assumed they were just trusting the references, which is why the reviews exist in the first place. Exercising safety when babysitting is not just for the parents but for the nannies, too!
When she showed up to the hotel on the evening of the sit, she received a text message that said they were running an hour late. After she waited over an hour, sent a check-in text and gave a phone call, both of which went unanswered. At this point, she checked with the front desk attendants just to make sure they actually had a reservation, but in doing so, she learned that there was no one staying there by the name that was given on the booking. This isn't totally unheard of - some people want their privacy - so she didn't think much of it. However, there other signs that gave her pause, and she ultimately left the hotel after fearing for her safety. These warning signs were what inspired this blog.
Here are our best tips on how to keep safety when babysitting in the forefront of your mind when you've been booked through a babysitting app, instead of a mutual connection or agency.
1. Make verbal contact with the parents before you meet, if possible.
Trust me, I don't like talking on the phone as much as the next person, but sometimes just hearing their voice, their tone and cadence, will reassure you this is a parent and not a creep. Ask them a couple questions about their kids, and ask them if there is any specialized care for their child for which you would be responsible.
For the sitter above who was booked, she thought it was odd that when she would call that day, and over the previous five days before the scheduled day, no one would answer, nor return her call, and there was no formal voicemail. The "family" would only follow up via text. This may not have been a big deal, as she had reviews, and this is common for families to book with minimal effort. Lack of verbal contact before isn't a deal breaker, however coupled with the things below, you can quickly see where there was a problem.
2. Always tell someone close to you before meeting a family for the first time!
Let a friend or family member know the address where you plan to meet and the time you plan to leave by. Keep in touch via text once you arrive to say all is well, and if you are going to be late. Do this even when you are leaving the job to return to your house. Safety when babysitting mostly comes down to covering your bases, and keeping others informed.
3. Look up the names of the parents on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google.
Most parents will have family photos or telltale signs that they are who they say they are. Make sure the story adds up!
The sitter above was caught off guard when no one was reserved in the hotel under the name on her booking. The lack of a voicemail was strike two. They also gave her very common names, so it was impossible to verify who they were via Google.
A way to combat this is to search for them on Google using their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Something is bound to come up to proves they're a real person.
4. Ask one of the parents to come meet you at the door, or in the lobby.
If you are working at a hotel, ask that they come and meet you, if you have any doubts that they are real people in need of babysitting.
If you are working at an apartment in a building with a door attendant, ask the person if the family has children. They may be taken a back by it, but you can explain it is your first time meeting them. If it is a private house and with no door attendant, what do you hear when you come up to the house? Is there laughter? Are there shoes, scooters, or bikes visible outdoors? Is there a large vehicle in the driveway, or a friendly welcome mat?
You can always insist that they meet you halfway in your requests for a personal escort before entering their home - say its a tip for your safety when babysitting that you picked up - no parent will argue with that, and if they are the type to get annoyed or give an attitude, you don't have to work with them again! Your safety when babysitting is just as important as theirs and their children's.
5. Be aware of your surroundings - where are the children?
When you show up, do you hear children laughing, talking, yelling, etc. outside of the room in the hallway, or out in the street? And if not, when the parent opens the door and there are no children present, is there evidence of children in the room, such as children's cups, clothing, shoes, stroller, and toys? If not, do not enter.
Feel no need to be overly polite in this situation - even if your hesitations are wrong and there really is a family (maybe they just checked in and the kids are in the pool), they will absolutely respect you more for being so safety conscious - which will likely lead to you having a better review! Simply say, "I'm sorry, I was told this booking was for x# of children, but I don't see them... Oh, they are downstairs? No problem! I can meet them down there, or just wait out here in the hall or lobby. I insist."
The sitter in the story above was incredibly forward thinking to think about her personal safety when babysitting. The third strike that ultimately lead to her leaving (quickly!) was when she was alert for the entire two hours waiting for them in the lobby to show up (after they kept texting, "10 more minutes"), she noticed no children walking through the lobby and up to the elevator. That, coupled with their unwillingness to escort her up, led her to walk right out. She made the right decision when considering her own safety when babysitting for this new family.
So by now you may be wondering how did the family receive the news that their sitter played hardball and left after they would not call back or come and get her from the lobby... Well, after she texted and explained why she would wait 10 more minutes and if she didn't hear back, she would be leaving after waiting nearly 2.5 hours, they never wrote back to confirm, criticize, or say they understood and respected her reasons.
Had she listened and just went upstairs as they insisted, I'm not sure what, if anything, would have happened to her, though given the high possibility this was not a family, she absolutely did the right thing.
Very few of these tips above are "Deal-breakers," however when they are all coupled together, it can spell trouble. Be aware, and keep yourself safe.
If you have any other safety tips to add below, please do! We can all protect each other.
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