Should You Spy On Your Childcare Provider? The Great Debate


You searched high and low for the perfect babysitter. You sought recommendations from friends, perhaps you employed the help of a childcare service, and you conducted a slew of interviews. Now that you’ve settled on the person (or daycare center) you think is just right for the job, how do you keep a close eye on things? Should you pop in periodically unannounced? Set up a nanny cam? How else will you know what exactly goes on when you’re not around?

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Even when a parent chooses a daycare center, there are usually opportunities to check in. Most centers have an open-door policy that allows parents to drop by and observe or take part in scheduled activities, and quite a few have apps, webcams, and other systems that allow parents to see what’s going on throughout the day via a computer or phone.

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Just about every major retailer has cameras watching customers’ every move. Most public institutions as well as private organizations have security cameras strategically placed in key locations. So why should it be any different when it comes to recording the actions of the person or people you’re entrusting with your child’s life?

Some parents grapple with the ethics of watching over a caregiver’s shoulder. They claim that if you trust someone enough to care for your child, spying isn’t necessary, but others feel nanny cams are essential. Given that the practice in general is widespread, is it OK to spy on your childcare provider?


What the research says

Many Americans — about 17 percent of homes in the U.S. — have installed in-home security cameras, many for the sole purpose of keeping an eye on a babysitter. But while visual recordings are legal in all 50 states (except inside bathrooms and private quarters, such as a live-in nanny’s bedroom), audio recordings are not. This means you may be able to see everything that’s going on with your little one, but you may not be able to hear anything.

A recent survey conducted by found that 62 percent of parents haven’t checked a babysitter’s references before hiring them and 64 percent without running a background check. In the survey, 41 percent of parents said they “completely trust their sitter.”

However, 70 percent of respondents in a BabyCenter poll said they would use a camera to keep an eye on their babysitter, but it may not be just for the purpose of spying. There are several benefits to so-called nanny cams. For one, they allow you to observe everything, not just the bad stuff. If your kids are spending too much time indoors or on digital devices, you can make suggestions for the caregiver based on those observations. On a bittersweet note, having cameras set up also means you may be able to observe milestones you may not be present for, such as a baby’s first steps.

What the experts say

“I don’t see a problem with a parent wanting to know what a child and caregiver are doing throughout the day,” marriage and family therapist Tania Paredes tells Yahoo Parenting. “What starts to feel wrong is when do you do it secretly behind the nanny’s back.” The key, she says, is to be upfront about it, and if you’re doing it because you suspect something is wrong, “don’t let that go on for long because it endangers the child. Talk to the babysitter and consider ending his or her employment if you have to.”

It’s not just recording devices that parents turn to for help. In response to horrifying news stories about nannies mistreating, neglecting, or altogether ignoring the children they’re looking after, the number of parents hiring professional investigators to spy on their kids’ babysitters is also on the rise, Tom Ruskin, head of CMP Group Investigations, told ABC News.

For suspicious parents who can’t afford a private eye, he suggests using cameras. “After a while, everyone forgets they’re there and the real behavior shows through.” He also recommends that parents pop up unannounced at places they know the child and babysitter will be, but watch them for a few minutes before approaching. In the end, “if your gut is telling you something is wrong, 99 percent of the time, it is,” he says.

What the parents say

“Trust, but verify. I would even monitor a family member if they were left alone with my child — you just never know.” — Luba Gladkova, Atlanta

“If it was a close friend or family member whom I trusted completely, there’s no need for a nanny cam. If the person is hired and a stranger, nanny cam for the win!” — Amber Wyatt, Fort Collins, Colo.

“We have cameras around our house for various reasons, but partly to watch our kids no matter whose care they’re in.” — Courtney Wright, Lawrenceburg, Ky.

The bottom line

Given that the use of video surveillance is both legal and widespread, there’s no compelling reason not to take advantage of it, but if you do, make sure the caregiver knows about it first. Otherwise, it can cause embarrassment and discomfort for both parties. If you completely trust your babysitter, it’s perfectly within your right to not install cameras, take advantage of apps, nor pop in unannounced from time to time. Each parent must decide what feels right for his or her family. One thing all parents should do is to trust their instincts. If they’re telling you something is amiss, don’t ignore it, but rather ask questions, stick around, or watch your child and the caregiver interact when they think you’re not watching. If you bring up concerns and the sitter scoffs, it may be a sign that he or she is unwilling to take criticism and make the changes necessary to help you feel comfortable. When it comes to the health and well-being of a child, it’s best not to leave anything to chance.

Photo: Alamy

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