Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sitters and Background Checks

As someone who has used both SitterCity and to find sitters, today’s article on, about the Newton teacher charged last week with possession of pornography who had listed on both sites confirmed what I had long suspected, a background check is no guarantee of a sitter’s qualifications.

In fact, one of my trusted sitters had raised this point with me just weeks ago when she noted that, as a sitter posting on both sites, the background checks, in her words, simply confirmed her address and not much else.

So, if we can’t rely on background checks , how do we, as parents, find sitters that we can trust?

First, I trust sitters that are regularly hired by friends and family. No, I am not recommending (nor do I) poach sitters but, situations change. Children get older, sitters’ schedules change and needs for coverage evolve. Sometimes, a sitter may be looking for extra hours as a family cuts back. These are sitters that I trust based on their long-term relationship with another family or friend that I know.

Second, I look for sitters that have some type of affiliation in my neighborhood. Perhaps they live down that the street, or work in one of the local shops or attend a local school. Again, while there are no guarantees, they are a committed part of the community and that raises my trust factor.

Third (and the case in Newton does counter this assumption), on SitterCity or, I have generally hired sitters who are teachers because they have had a CORI (criminal record) check and are part of a trusted educational institution. Again, it is that assumption that was clearly put into question with this recent charge, however, I would like to believe that this was an extraordinary exception to the rule and not the standard.

We teach our kids about “stranger danger” and I think that assumption holds true with sitters. Whenever possible, use your network to find someone who has a personal connection to you or to your community. Background checks are no guarantee of the qualifications of a sitter.