In fact, my son is now 18 months old, and only three people have ever been left alone with him in all that time: myself, my hubby, and the nanny. And those who know me make fun of the extensive (okay, semi-paranoid) background screening process that I subjected the nanny to prior to hiring.
But it only takes one story like this to justify my fears. Granted, this isn’t the worst story out there, but it happened to someone close to me. And therefore hits home.
This friend of mine went back to work about 8 weeks after her daughter was born. She had searched and asked around for a good daycare provider, and found one that she liked. This woman ran an in-home daycare, was very kind, and seemed wonderful with the kids. She was also accredited. My friend interviewed her and decided she was the right fit for their family.
All went wonderfully. Her daughter adapted well, and the daycare provider was in constant touch with my friend via phone and text. There was no doubt that her daughter was cared for and happy. Everyone settled into a routine.
Fast forward 2 years. The daycare provider is now like family. She and my friend share confidences, laughs, and are even Facebook friends. The daycare provider shares her marital troubles. She and her husband are divorcing. It is a rough time and my friend is a shoulder to cry on.
As the sadness turns to defiance, my friend begins noticing that the daycare provider has begun spending many late nights out with friends, clubbing and drinking. She reads Facebook snippets posted at 4am from greasy diners after nights of partying… Two hours before she is due to drop off her daughter. She blows it off. The woman is going through a divorce, after all. She is in a rough place. She is blowing off steam.
The daycare provider begins looking increasingly disheveled as my friend drops off her 2-year-old daughter. Hungover and unshowered, with dark circles under her eyes. My friend talks to her. The daycare provider knows – she needs to get it together. She is just having a tough time. It will work out.
One morning upon my friend’s arrival, the daycare provider instructs her to drop her daughter off with the neighbor instead. My friend, stunned, asks what’s going on. The daycare provider says she is hungover and not feeling well, and that it is fine because she has already talked to the neighbor who has agreed to watch her daughter. My friend says, firmly, that she will not drop her daughter off with anybody else – especially someone she doesn’t know. She tells the daycare provider that she pays her and her alone to watch her daughter. The daycare provider concedes. But it doesn’t leave my friend with a great sense of confidence that her daughter is being well taken care of while she is at work for the day. First Red Flag.
My friend shares her concerns with me. I agree that she has legitimate reasons to be concerned. We talk about her finding a new daycare provider. She will, once she gets a chance.
The daycare provider’s drunken nights continue. She continues to confide in my friend about her relationship woes. Lines are blurring. My friend lets her know that she has to pull it together – and the daycare provider agrees.
About a month later, my friend is let off work early. She calls the daycare provider to let her know that she is on her way to pick up her daughter. The daycare provider, surprised, advises that they are actually in the car and on their way to K-Mart. My friend is shocked and angered that the daycare provider has driven her child without letting her know first, as was a term of their agreement. Second Red Flag.
Since K-Mart is closer to where my friend is, they agree to meet in the parking lot. My friend pulls in and waits. A moment later, the daycare provider drives up. My friend is appalled when she sees her daughter hop off of a simple booster in the backseat and run outside. Her daughter is still at the age when a convertible carseat is necessary (preferably rear-facing). She asks the daycare provider why her daughter was placed into a booster (not even sure that she was fully buckled in). The daycare provider, sheepishly, says that she knows it is wrong and it won’t happen again. They were in a bit of a rush. Third Red Flag.
This time, my friend and I talk a lot further about the situation. I implore her to find a new daycare provider immediately; there are too many red flags. She agrees completely, and is looking into it. She also shows up to the daycare provider’s home the following day to have a heart-to-heart. They discuss the issues and my friend’s concerns, and the daycare provider takes full responsibility. She is adamant that nothing like this will ever happen again. She is just having such a tough time with the divorce – and she appreciates my friend’s support more than she will ever know. She assures her that her daughter and her other charges remain her top priority.
It is now about one month later. My friend receives a call at her job from the police department.
“We have your daughter,” they say, “We need you to come down here.” Panicked, my friend asks what is going on?? “Your daughter is fine,” they reply, “Please just meet us here as soon as possible.”
My friend, shaking, runs off the job and speeds to the requested meeting location – a very busy intersection in a rundown commercial neighborhood. She is flooded with relief when she pulls into the strip mall and sees her 2-year-old daughter safe with a police officer.
After showering her precious daughter with hugs and kisses, she finally hears what happened.
Shortly after my friend’s daughter was dropped off at the daycare, the daycare provider drove with her to a hair salon located in an unsavory part of town. My friend recalls that before this time, the daycare provider had texted her to ask when she expected to be off work. My friend replied, and the daycare provider said that was perfect. No mention of a hair appointment. No request to leave the home with her child.
Apparently while getting her hair done, the daycare provider lost track of my friend’s daughter. The 2-year-old daughter wandered outside of the salon and began walking the extremely busy streets. She continued to wander the streets, alone, for over 30 minutes. During this entire time, the daycare provider never once noticed that she had gone missing.
A merchant at a store in a neighboring strip mall, however, did notice. She saw the young girl walk by with no adult. Several minutes later, she saw her pass by again. Finally, when she saw her pass by a third time a half hour later still without an adult, she became concerned. This girl was just a toddler! No adult! On a very busy street! And not in the best part of town.
The merchant left the store and called to the child. The child looked over and allowed the merchant to walk over to her. The merchant asked where her parents were? Was she lost? The child didn’t respond. The merchant picked up the child and began calling for a parent, a caregiver, anyone who was missing a child. Thank goodness the merchant had only good intentions.
After several minutes went by with no response and no adult in sight, the merchant brought the child into her store and called the police. The officer showed up a few minutes later. Then and only then, prompted by the sound of police sirens, did the daycare provider in the salon finally notice that the child was missing.
And this was the Final Red Flag.
My friend immediately removed her daughter from the daycare, and refused to listen to any more excuses from the daycare provider. A few days after the incident, the daycare provider emailed my friend to express her sincerest apologies. My friend responded that she could not accept her apology at this time.
My friend furthermore rearranged her work schedule so that she could send her daughter to an actual preschool instead of an in-home daycare. To my knowledge, she has not taken any legal action nor filed any complaints against the daycare provider.
So what did I learn from this? That the paranoid background check probably isn’t such a bad idea. But that it also isn’t a guarantee of anything. That as a parent, I need to continuously monitor what is going on with my child and his caregiver. And listen to my intuition. And take immediate action when I see a red flag (or even a yellow flag). And that, even with all of that, there is never any way to know completely what is happening when I am not around.
Scary, but true, and I would rather live with constant monitoring and due diligence than merely trusting that everything is going along just fine. I think I would rather live with my trust issues and being over-protective… Than not being protective enough.
And even then, I have to trust and pray that my caregiver takes her job as seriously as I hope she does.