INDIANAPOLIS - An Indianapolis mother secretly videotaped her babysitter, joining a growing trend of parents turning to technology in an effort to keep their children safe.
The State of Indiana does not regulate home caregivers until there are six or more unrelated children in the residence, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney found.
Child care experts say because of the lack of regulation of babysitters and nannies, the responsibility is largely on parents to ensure the caregiver is providing safe and appropriate care.
Many parents are turning to popular Internet sites to find a babysitter and perform background checks, while other parents are using nanny cams to keep tabs on caregivers once they’re hired.
Katie Christian, a new mom, turned to Sittercity to find a babysitter when she received a last-minute job opportunity.
"It was very short notice," said Christian.
Christian found a woman named Terry Wood who was available, and after performing a background check using Sittercity and calling a reference, Christian hired Wood.
But after a few weeks, Katie said her 5-month old, Cain, started acting different.
"He was fussy and rundown, and he wasn’t like that before," said Christian.
Christian became suspicious when she arrived home early one day to find Cain alone on the couch.
"He could easily have fallen off," said Christian. "I thought that was weird."
Christian set up her laptop to record the babysitter for nearly three hours, but did not expect what she saw.
"I felt like someone was squeezing my chest," said Christian. "It was heartbreaking."
Several times throughout the video, Wood picked up the boy, and loud burping or back-smacking noises could be heard.
The video showed Wood giving Cain bottles while he was on his back, and, it appears, without checking the temperature of the bottle.
The video also showed the babysitter getting frustrated when Cain cried.
"Stop it, that’s enough,” Wood said in the video. "I’m tired of listening to you. All you do is whine. You’re spoiled rotten.”
Christian fired Wood immediately after viewing the video.
"Nobody deserves to be treated like that," said Christian. "Babies are people, too."
The Call 6 Investigators showed the video to local child care experts with a combined 50 years of experience. The experts called Wood’s care at times inappropriate and dangerous.
"The level of trying to get that child to burp is way too harsh," said Lisa Henley, of the Indiana Association for Child Care Resource and Referral. "I think it’s very dangerous."
"It does appear to be very loud," said Mindy Bennett, of Child Care Answers. "The head could go back and forth a lot, and that could hurt the neck."
Henley demonstrated to RTV6 how aggressive burping can harm a child’s fragile neck, head and ribs.
"Just some gentle pats or maybe rubbing the baby’s back until they burp," said Henley. "You don’t want to do anything to shake a baby, because we know there could be long-lasting effects of that."
As for the bottles, Bennett said it can be dangerous to give a bottle to a baby that is lying down.
"There's a choking risk," said Bennett. "A baby shouldn't be given a bottle without being held, unless they're able to hold the bottle by themselves and have complete control of the bottle.”
"It could also cause ear infections, because of the laying down, the milk running back down into the ears," said Henley.
The experts also took issue with Wood’s tone with a 5-month-old baby, especially telling Cain he is "spoiled rotten."
"An infant is not spoiled," said Bennett. "Babies that are that age are crying for a reason. A responsive caregiver that’s paid to care for a child should honor what calms the baby."
Henley also commented on the amount of time Wood spent doing dishes and talking on the phone.
"It's not even really safe care, and it's definitely not appropriate care," said Henley. "I don't think any child should have this type of care."
Nanny cams typically run at least $100, with higher-end models running into the hundreds of dollars, and they fit into just about anything, from a teddy bear to a piece of pottery.
The laws vary by state, but people have the right to tape someone they hired in their home, especially if it’s to protect the family.
However, taping a babysitter in a bathroom could invite legal trouble.
Some nanny cams from other states have captured babysitters turning outright violent, including a Jacksonville, Fla., nanny caught abusing an 11-month-old baby under her care.
Henley said using a nanny cam or laptop camera can be a valuable tool and could be part of having an open-door policy with a child’s caregiver.
"It tells the facts of what's going on, and I think people are going to use it more and more, and they should," said Henley. "This should be the most precious thing in their life, and parents need to assure the safety of that child."
Henley suggested disclosing to a babysitter that they may be recorded.
"If they’re doing well, they shouldn’t have a problem with that oversight," said Henley. "You need some oversight
over what they're doing during the time care is being provided."
The Call 6 Investigators stopped by Wood’s home to get her side, but her husband told us she did not want to talk. Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney left a business card for Wood, but did not hear back.
Katie Christian filed a report with the Indianapolis Metro Police Department, who said the Indiana Department of Child Services is investigating.
DCS spokeswoman Stephanie McFarland said state and federal statutes prohibit the agency from releasing the status of the investigation, but she confirmed a report had been received.
"We’ve had contact with this case," said McFarland.
IMPD reviewed the video and did not find that a crime occurred.
"The video was also reviewed by a deputy prosecutor, and she agreed with our assessment," wrote Sgt. Bruce Smith, of IMPD’s Child Abuse Unit, in an email to RTV6.
Bruce said parents who suspect child abuse should contact police.
"The consequences for doing nothing are far too severe to hesitate," wrote Bruce. "It is always a good idea if you suspect abuse. All of our reports are sent to DCS. Even if we cannot make a criminal case, a sustained finding from DCS is significant to a licensed caregiver."
Though Indiana does not regulate caregivers until there are six or more unrelated children in the home, Child Care Aware of America recommends that anyone who is not a relative who watches children for a fee should be licensed.
Twelve states, including Michigan, have regulations in place for child care providers caring for only one child, but the regulations vary depending on where and how often the child is being watched.
RTV6 did not find any states that regulate temporary babysitters.
After viewing the recording, Christian contacted Sittercity, who removed Wood’s profile.
"Once a parent contacts us with a concern or allegation either by phone or through email, we err on the side of caution and remove the caregiver from the site," read a statement from Sittercity. "Once parents hire a caregiver, Sittercity encourages them to constantly monitor the relationship to ensure the caregiver continues to be the right fit for the family."
A parent or caregiver can run a background check through Lexis Nexis. http://www.sittercity.com/help/detail.html?help_id=76
"Prior to allowing caregivers to join our site, Sittercity authenticates the caregiver's identity against publicly available records. We also check each caregiver against national, public sex offender registries through Family Watchdog, the nation’s most comprehensive resource for sex offender registry checks," saod Sittercity spokeswoman Christine Reimert. "In all cases, Sittercity encourages parents to use the full complement of tools and resources at their disposal to review candidates for a caregiver position including background checks, Internet/social media research, reviews from other parents (which can be found on the Sittercity site), references and overall chemistry as determined in the interview process."
Christian wants other parents to learn from her and trust their instincts.
"I had that nagging feeling," said Christian. "All the times I missed, all the times I didn’t videotape."
Tips from experts when hiring a caregiver:
- Do background checks
- Check references
- Spend time with the caregiver before leaving the child alone
- Come home early or have a family member stop by in the middle of the day
- Count the number of diapers before leaving and when getting home
- Discuss how to care for the child, such as sleeping and eating techniques, as well as how to handle crying
- Monitor the child for changes in behavior
- Trust instincts
- Discuss having an open-door policy with the caregiver that may include stopping by or recording
Child Care Aware brochure -- http://media.theindychannel.com/docs/child_care_brochure.pdf