Sittercity.com, a Chicago based website connecting families with babysitters, nannies and other caregivers has recently raised a $22.6 million to expand its operations. The site offers an important service, helping parents find potential caregivers. Sittercity and similar companies (e.g. care.com) are gradually replacing traditional nanny agencies, offering a low cost do-it-yourself solution which becomes more acceptable as the economy remains weak and as parents become used to finding everything they look for on the web.
The problem arises when a company such as Sittercity boasts that "Safety is our top priority". Is this statement backed by effective measures to ensure our kids’ safety, or is Sittercity just providing parents with a false sense of security?
According to Sittercity’s website, the caregivers they provide are "reviewed". What does it really mean? Who has reviewed them and how?
Other then providing parents with access to a background screening service, Sittercity.com does not perform any screening of nannies or babysitters. Parents are left to perform by themselves the most crucial parts of the screening, the interviews and the reference checks.
The interview is the most universally used employee selection method, but all employment specialists agree that both the validity and reliability of interviews is low, even when multiple constructed interviews are conducted by trained and experienced professionals. Most parents lack the necessary training and experience and even though parents may believe they have some fantastic "intuition" which allows them to accurately judge the character of a potential caregiver, this is rarely the case.
The effectiveness of reference checks by parents is again limited, for the same reason. No hiring expert will rely on written reference letters and a proper reference check is conducted by interviewing the referees.
So, if parents need to perform most of the screening process on their own, how can Sittercity claim that safety is their top priority?
A recent case involving Sittercity ("Upper Providence family survives nightmare nanny") demonstrates the safety issues involved. An Upper Providence mother has found a nanny for her 7-month-old daughter through Sittercity. The nanny had experience with infants and young children and passed a criminal background check with flying colors. The mother, who has interviewed the nanny, said: "She seemed like a great person, very articulate, very smart, she seemed so caring and so nice…She sounded like a textbook, great nanny to me. Just perfect…But she was anything but that." The nanny, according to law enforcement authorities, was an adoption scammer — someone who promises babies that don’t exist for emotional or financial gain.
Online matching services such as Sittercity.com and care.com, and classifieds sites such as Craigslist may be an excellent way to find nannies or babysitters. Yet, parents should be aware of the security related issues and shortcomings.
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