Reader Mail: Nanny monitoring?
Almost nine months ago (ironically), Hoboken411 ran a post about a web-based Nanny monitoring service called “HowsMyNanny.com”. (some funny comments there, actually)
A reader had recently mentioned that the NY Times had recently run a similar article about an anonymous blog called Isawyournanny.blogspot.com. While this doesn’t appear to be the same concept as the other serial number based site 411 pointed out, there are some racial undertones that disturb many people. Read her letter, plus the NY Times article below.
I know you ran something earlier this year about the IsawYourNanny blog, looks like the NY Times is just getting around to it! As Hoboken is also clogged with nannies and stay at home moms (similar to the Upper West Side and so many other Manhattan neighborhoods) I wonder what the follow up response is from our Hoboken contingent.The subtle undercurrent of racism that sometimes accompanies these blaming posts is distubing to me as well. While I am sure there are some bad nannies out there, I would imagine that most of them are honest hard-working women who are compassionate and just want to do a good job. Are my glasses too rose colored?
What do Hoboken Moms and residents think?
Spies Around the Sandbox
By CAROLINE H. DWORIN
October 14, 2007
IT is early afternoon on the last Friday of summer, and several nannies are gathered on a pair of benches at J. J. Byrne Park on Fifth Avenue near Third Street in Park Slope. One nanny, a 32-year-old Trinidadian, tends to twin infant boys and their older sister; when one child stops crying, it seems, another starts. Next to her, a nanny from Barbados keeps her eye on a sleepy toddler.
On any pleasant weekday, scores of nannies can be seen watching children in the city’s playgrounds and parks. What might not be visible are those who watch the nannies. The age of “The Nanny Diaries” has spawned an array of devices to do just that, ranging from private investigators and nanny cams to stroller license plates and diaper bag G.P.S. devices.
And now, a far more participatory tool in the world of child care surveillance can make nanny scrutiny everybody’s business.
The new resource is ISawYourNanny.blogspot.com, a 15-month-old New Yorkcentric Web log that has recorded hundreds of anonymous posts, or “sightings.” What happens is that a stranger, maybe a passer-by in the playground, witnesses a scene between adult and child that looks alarming. If the child is white and the caregiver is not, as is often the case in New York, the passer-by tends to assume that the caretaker is the nanny, not the mother.
Many of the sightings have the intricacy of a police report, including the date, time and location of the incident, along with detailed descriptions (“Adult female, 30-38 y.o., 120-140 lbs. … wearing a large khaki-colored jacket with lots of snaps and zippers”). Sometimes the post is accompanied by hastily snapped cellphone shots, with faces partly obscured by the Web master. Occasionally, the post also includes a child’s first name, as it was heard called out by a nanny on the playground.
Posts describe restless children strapped into strollers while caretakers chat idly on the phone, or nannies feeding children junk food, and some posts are simply bizarre. One claimed that a nanny at the Billy Johnson Playground, near the Central Park Zoo, had tossed a screaming child’s live goldfish, encased in a water-filled plastic bag, into a garbage can.
READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE AFTER THE JUMP!
Since its launch in August 2006, ISawYourNanny has had 1.7 million hits, according to the blog’s counter. While the blog is national in scope, New York is the top state contributor, and most of its postings come from New York City, primarily Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn.
Although the posts center on nanny sightings, comments spill over into subjects like privacy issues and cultural differences in child-rearing. Nannies, who contribute about half the comments, frequently post to complain about how they are treated by their employers.
Other sites and blogs that cater to city parents, among them Babycenter.com, UrbanBaby.com and various regional “mom blogs,” also support forums for debate. But when it comes to monitoring interactions between child and caregiver, ISawYourNanny has become the talk of the playground.
“I haven’t seen any other blogs dedicated to nanny sightings that have gotten any real traction,” said Genevieve Thiers, chief executive of Sittercity, a national online child care agency. “It’s a fascinating look into what people are feeling and what their emotions are in terms of leaving their kids with a nanny.”
The Two-Faced Nanny
ISawYourNanny was founded by a 37-year-old woman from Greenwich, Conn., who had worked as a nanny for more than a decade. The impetus for the blog, she said, was a conversation with a child she had once cared for; the child told her that her new nanny, whom the woman had helped select, was “one way in front of you and different when she’s around us.”
“To me, that was a warning,” said the woman, who said she insists on anonymity because she wants to avoid problems in her job as a personal assistant and because she has received threatening e-mail related to ISawYourNanny. She goes by “Jane Doe” on the blog.
In addition to serving as an alarm system for abuse, the blog earns her about $175 a month, through ads from Amazon.com, investment firms and various nanny and housekeeping services.
The early sightings were few, filed from around the country. But by September 2006, after the blog publicized its need for “bad nanny sightings” on the child care portion of Craigslist, that month’s number of sightings shot up over 60, with about 500 other comments on the sightings posted.
“I had no idea how controversial it would become,” the blog’s founder said. The next month, the blog was receiving a few sightings daily; of the hundred or so reported that month, about a quarter came from New York. The blog has become even more New York-oriented; last month, nearly half of the sightings came from the city.
The blog provides a link to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, but an official of the agency said no sightings from the blog had been referred there.
Whatever the blog’s purpose, Denyse Kapelus, founder of a nanny placement agency called the Professional Nannies Institute, finds it invasive.
“I think there’s something really ugly about it,” she said. “It smacks of Big Brother.” Ms. Kapelus even compared the blog to the Stasi, the infamous intelligence agency of East Germany, which commanded a multitude of civilian informants.
The blog does not confirm posts — anyone can post an item, and anyone can read it — and Jane Doe rarely removes them, a policy that can lead to errors and unwarranted invasions of privacy.
Further, in the opinion of legal experts, the blog dwells in a potentially libelous area. “What it’s talking about is the nanny’s professional performance,” said Lawrence Savell, a lawyer with Chadbourne & Parke, “and one of the classic formulations of libel law is if it injures someone in their profession.”
Some members of the blog’s target audience are not among its fans. One critic is Lisa Iulo, 41, a real estate lawyer and Park Slope mother who employs a nanny for her three children.
“There are a lot of nosy, neurotic parents out there,” Ms. Iulo said, sitting on a bench in J. J. Byrne Park beside her daughter’s stroller. “I say just leave it alone unless you see the woman shaking the kid. But I’m not your typical Park Slope parent.”
In terms of on-the-job surveillance, the New York Civil Liberties Union hears far more complaints from nannies and other workers about hidden cameras than about blogs like ISawYourNanny.
However worthy its stated goal — to stop mistreatment of children — the blog has its limits. “It’s basically a site after the fact, after someone has seen something happen,” said Sandra Brown, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the Office of Children and Family Services, which maintains a register on reports of child abuse.
Ms. Brown recommends that cautious parents investigate potential nannies before hiring them, which they can do under Kieran’s Law, a 1998 state measure that allows them access to caretakers’ criminal, educational and credit records.
‘Write This Down Now!’
Jennifer Gardner, a 30-year-old Upper East Side mother of two, has no problem with checking ISawYourNanny often, or even with the idea of posting.
“I see it more as an information share and less as an intrusion,” said Ms. Gardner, an administrator in an orthodontics office. “It’s a way to open dialogue.” In her opinion, a parent should not necessarily fire a nanny sighted on the blog, but rather might use the post to discuss behaviors, like disciplinary methods, that may be culturally based. “I see it as a nice way to let people know what’s going on and to deal with it in their own way,” Ms. Gardner said.
Another mother who has good things to say about the blog is Melanie Lukacs, from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, who works as a nanny and checks the blog daily. She even posted a sighting in June, snapping a picture of children running around barefoot in Tompkins Square Park. It troubled her to see a nanny putting a little girl’s shoes on without first wiping her feet.
“I don’t go looking” for playground misbehavior, Ms. Lukacs said by instant message. “But if I see it happen,” she said, “I will take a picture and post.”
One Brooklyn mother posted a sighting to ISawYourNanny in April after witnessing a violent interaction on the street. The woman was walking to a doctor’s office on West 59th Street, chatting on her cellphone with a friend in Atlanta, when she noticed a woman scolding a little boy in a stroller a few steps ahead of her.
Something about the scene was troubling to the woman, who, like many of those involved in the blog, insisted on anonymity. “It was the way she was talking to the child,” the woman said. “Through her teeth.” As the Brooklyn mother passed, she heard a slap and, turning, she saw the woman, crouched in front of the stroller, hit the child across the face several times and shake him. Only when their eyes met did the woman stop.
“Write this down now!” she told her friend in Atlanta, and for the next 30 minutes, while dictating details on the phone, she tailed the pair from a distance. Eventually, the two entered a large apartment complex, but although the woman reported the incident to the doorman, left contact information at the front desk and posted the sighting on ISawYourNanny, as far as she knows the caregiver’s identity was not discovered.
Still, the woman does not regret her efforts. “People never want to be the informant,” she said.
In at least one instance, a parent identified her own children on ISawYourNanny and fired the caregiver. The parent, an Upper East Side mother of three, received a phone call last October from her husband, who said a co-worker of his had recognized the family’s two sons in the posting. The post specified the name and school uniform of the older boy, the approximate ages of the children and the location of the sighting — the Ancient Playground, in Central Park just north of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
According to the post, the nanny “was abusing those children with words and her body language”; the post went on to describe how the woman ignored, scolded and threatened the boys to a point where onlookers took note. “I can tell these are nice children,” the poster appealed to the mother. “Please take this woman out of their life.”
The mother, who had given birth to her third child just three weeks earlier, was traumatized. “I was in tears, hysterical, crying,” she said. She describes the blog as “wonderful,” though she also acknowledges its inevitable impact.
“Even if it wasn’t true, the lack of trust there is irreparable,” the mother said. “This site affects multiple lives. After what happened to our family, my only hope is that people do this for the right reasons.”
The View From the Bench
Increasingly, the culture of suspicion colors the advice that child-care agencies give their nannies. Lisa Magaro, the owner of Pinch Sitters, an agency that furnishes last-minute baby-sitting services, warns her workers to assume that they will be watched.
“I tell them to expect a nanny cam in the home at all times,” Ms. Magaro said. “If you always act as if there is one, you’ll have no problem.”
But day to day, being the subject of such pervasive examination can feel deeply unsettling. Back at J. J. Byrne Park, where some nannies have been decried as “obnoxious” and “cliquey” in ISawYourNanny postings, emotions ranged from fatalism to indignation.
“What are you going to do?” said a Jamaican nanny named Gwen. “Life goes on.”
By early afternoon on that summer Friday, several nannies sat chatting on the benches, a gathering that a poster on ISawYourNanny derided as “the J. J. Byrne Bench Sitters’ Club.”
“Mostly there’s a group of us that get together,” said Joyce, a longtime nanny from Barbados. “And parents start gossiping. They describe what you wear.”
“We gather together in little groups because we look out for each other,” Joyce continued, stirring banana purée into oatmeal for the twin infant boys being cared for by Prudence Forde, the nanny seated beside her. With her other hand, Joyce gently rubbed the back of the boys’ sister.
As for the term “bench nannies,” Joyce shook her head. “I ignore it,” she said. “Everybody’s got to sit down, and we sit on a bench.”
Resentment is a common reaction to many of the complaints posted on the blog, like the use of cellphones. “Wait, what mother doesn’t talk on her phone?” Ms. Forde asked.
As nannies are frequently several skin tones darker than their charges, it can be easy to identify them. Ms. Forde mentions that nannies are often automatically blamed when a child seems to be neglected. “When a child starts crying in the playground,” she said, “the first thing a person will do is strut over to us and yell, ‘Who’s taking care of this child?’ before asking the other parents.” But, Ms. Forde said, “it’s often one of theirs.”
Another day, several nannies sitting on the park’s benches shared some complaints about their jobs: work hours that can extend from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., a pay rate in Park Slope of little more than $12 an hour, the expectation that they also clean houses and apartments, and requests that they work on Christmas. One nanny, from St. Lucia, recalled an interview during which the mother, a lawyer, refused to pay her on the books.
“‘Why is it so important to pay Social Security?’ she asked me,” the nanny said. “And this is who’s spying on me? Please.”