With the recent viral videos that have been doing the rounds on Facebook and Youtube – where two nannies, namely in Uganda and here in SA, have been caught abusing the children in their care – one cannot begin to wonder if having a nanny is the right thing. Also within recent months, there have been at least two recent incidences at crèche’s – the first being a day-mother who was giving children Panado and Cough Syrup to sedate them and make them easier to manage; and the second being a child who was physically beaten and abused at a day-care centre. We cannot help but ask ourselves questions like: Should I employ a nanny? Should I rather send my child to crèche? How can I keep my child safe?
It is of paramount importance to acknowledge that these are isolated incidences. The reality is that there are millions of well-cared-for children in Childcare, be it with a nanny, a crèche, a school or similar. Though there are always horror stories, the majority of children still receive good, loving, healthy childcare from their caregivers. At the same time, we need to regularly check on the well-being of our childcare situation, evaluate how our children are doing, and act on any concerns that we have.
While researching this article, one of the psychologists I spoke to told me that it is vitally important to know that often-times, a sign of abuse (like a bruise or a child being ‘clingier’ than usual) doesn’t mean that there IS abuse. The warning signs need to be investigated fully without conclusions being jumped to.
This raises the BIG questions: what are the big signs that something is wrong? And, what can we do?
In order to understand the signs that we are looking for, we need to understand that abuse can take different forms; a child can be physically abused and beaten (as seen in the recent videos), sexually abused, or they can be emotionally and verbally abused. Neglect is also abuse, as a child needs adequate interaction and care.
Signs of physical abuse will be that your child has bruises, cuts or welts frequently – and these cannot be explained. The child will also seem nervous, and “on-guard” as if waiting for something to happen. Often, injuries will have a pattern, like a hand, strap etc…
Emotional abuse is a little harder to identify, as there are no physical signs. One needs to look at things like: Has my child become withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong ; Is my child showing excessive behaviour (like being extremely compliant, extremely passive, extremely aggressive?) ; Is the child battling to form a bond with their caregiver (naturally, there is an adjustment period for small children to get used to a caregiver, but if 3-4weeks have passed and the child is withdrawn and not attaching to a caregiver).
When a child is being neglected, we can see signs such as clothes being ill-fitting or filthy. The child is not being cleaned and bathed regularly. Babies might be developing frequent nappy rash (it is important to investigate that there is not a medical reason for this); the child is left unsupervised, alone, or put in a situation that is unsafe for them.
So what can we, as parents, do to make sure that our children are being well cared for?
My recommendations would be that if hiring a nanny to care for your children, make sure that she is properly trained in Childcare. References or a verifiable track record are an absolute must. If you have any doubts over the validity of a reference, the candidate should immediately be discounted. If someone is prepared to provide fictional references, chances are high that there are other aspects of their lives or experience that are made up as well. I also believe in performing fingerprint-based criminal checks, just to make sure that there is no criminal history as well.
If you are looking at day-care centres and crèche for your child, go and visit the crèche during their workday. I know that some crèche’s prefer an appointment; however, it is wise to drop in unannounced and see how the crèche is being run in the middle of the day. If you get there as the last of the parents are collecting or dropping off their children, speak to the parents and ask them questions like: how long have their kids have been in the school; has the child bonded with the caregivers at the school; has the child adapted well; is the child keen to go to school each day.
Once you have hired your nanny or found the right crèche, close monitoring is still essential. Though the person/school has passed your original checks and balances, you want to make sure that your child happy going forward, and receiving the best care. The candidate or school may have passed your initial checks, but it is a good idea to monitor for a month or so, to make sure that the candidate is the calibre of person you intended to have care for your child.
I firmly believe that nanny-camera’s are an excellent investment. I also believe that reputable crèche’s will also consider installing cameras that the parents can log into during the day.
Legally, you need to let your staff know that there are camera’s in the house (and there should be a sign outside indicating that that the property is monitored. Any nanny that is genuinely good at her vocation will not mind having nanny-camera’s in the house. She knows that she is performing her job well, and will be happy to be seen doing so. A nanny that shows reluctance to this should be questioned as to why she is not keen.
If you are concerned, or believe that your child is being neglected or abused, the best way to handle the situation is to remain calm (easier said than done, I know), and investigate fully before making accusations. Make notes on what you are seeing (with dates and times – if you have a nanny-cam, keep the footage), be it a change in your child’s behaviour, injuries etc… Investigate these fully by asking the child questions about what happened. It is VITALLY important that the questions are not ‘leading’, so ask “how did you get that sore?” and NOT “did so-and-so give you that sore?” If you ask leading questions, the child may often embellish stories.
If you find that there is a possibility of abuse, seek help! Do not act alone – have the child evaluated by a psychologist and if there are findings that the child’s being abused, seek legal action and lay a charge against the abuser. Simply removing your child from the school, or firing the nanny does not help. These individuals need to be brought to book and have a public record of what they do.
Lastly, and the most important point I would like to make is that it is crucial to remember that for every horror story out there, there are thousands of stories of happy, loving caregivers. We should not always expect the worst, but, at the same time, we should make sure that we are keeping an eye on our child’s behaviour, well-being and development.