Questions to Ask a Prospective Caregiver/Baby-sitter
If you think you should be able to trust the caregiver or baby-sitter to operate in the best interest of your child, you’re absolutely right. But many of them don’t. This might seem like a lot of questions, but all of this is information you need to have. Please don’t worry about sounding pushy or bossy. The answers to these questions are important to your child’s safety. If the person is reluctant to answer or seems put out by your questions, ask yourself why.
Ask these questions at a quiet time, when neither of you is distracted. If you can have a spouse or friend listen, you can get a second opinion from someone who isn’t busy asking the questions. Ask questions in your own way – at your own pace – and in a gentle, non-threatening manner. Laugh with her. Give her some coffee or tea and a snack. Allow her a chance to open up to you. And, as always, trust your gut instinct. There are many caregivers out there, and many will not be right (or even safe) for your child. Take your time. Think over the responses you get. If you find yourself making excuses for her (she was probably tired; she was nervous; she was in a hurry; she just forgot her references; she has a lot going on right now; I was being too hard on her), ask yourself if making excuses for her is in the best interests of your child.
Don’t ever chase a caregiver or baby-sitter. If she becomes hard to reach, if she’s always busy, if she doesn’t return calls, if her prices are exorbitant, if the quality of her care deteriorates, if your child seems unhappy to see her, if you or your partner has doubts – LET HER GO! There are many good caregivers out there. You will be doing yourself and your child an enormous favor.
- How long have you been providing child care? Why did you leave your last position?
- Are you a legal resident of this country?
- Do you have a current state child care license or registration? May I see the certificate?
- Do you have any children? How old are they? Who cares for them? Are you married? Does your husband live with you?
- Do you like to take care of children? What do you like best? What do you like least? Can you give me an example? Which ages do you prefer? Which genders? How many children are too many for you?
- What are your credentials (experience, education in child development and training)? Do you continue to receive training? What kind is it?
- Do you know first aid and CPR (and if applicable, infant CPR)? This might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people take care of babies and children with no training whatsoever.
- What would you do in the event of an emergency? What do you know about shaken-baby syndrome? Describe to me what you would do if a fire started, or if my child started to choke or drown, or if she fell and cracked her head, or if you couldn’t find her? What if you couldn’t reach me?
- What would you do if someone rang the doorbell?
- How would you describe your personality? How would you describe your caregiving style?
- What sorts of activities do you do with the children? What do you not like to do with the children? What would a typical day be like?
- I plan to have a background check done of you at the police station. I will also need to call at least three references, possibly more. Will this be a problem for you? But don’t tell her you will and then not do it. All caregivers and baby-sitters should submit to background and criminal checks to rule out anyone with a record of criminal activity, drug use or child abuse.
- How were you disciplined as a child? How do you feel about disciplining children now? Can you give me an example? What if my child was throwing a tantrum and wouldn’t stop? What would you do? What behavior on your part do you think would constitute child abuse, sexual abuse or neglect?
- If my child misbehaves, or if something untoward happens (he won’t eat, he won’t drink, he falls on his head, walks into a door, or you’re a little rough with him), will I hear about it?
- Have you ever emotionally, sexually or physically abused a child in your care? Has a child ever been injured or died while in your care? You’re going to think these questions are rude or that the person would just lie to you, but they are by far the most important pieces of information you can get. So ask — you have to know them anyway and watch carefully.
The caregiver will not be expecting the questions, and his/her body language and verbal responses can reflect a less-than-honest answer. He/she might do one or more of the following: refuse to answer, look away, look down at the floor, begin to fidget or sweat, purse his/her mouth, hesitate to answer, look upset or angry, stumble with the answer, begin talking a lot, immediately redirect the conversation to a different topic, suddenly become “very busy,” refer the question to someone else, promise to get back to you, tell you the information is private, that it’s under investigation, that it’s confidential, or that your question was rude.
For many people, “the best defense is an strong offense,” and they will turn the tables on you by putting YOU on the spot, thereby taking the heat off themselves. So, if the answer you get is “yes,” or if you have doubts about the veracity of the answer, trust your instincts. Check out the caregiver with the police department and/or just go ahead and find another caregiver for your child.
- Do you smoke? Do you drink? Do you do drugs or take medication? Do you have any long-term medical conditions, such as diabetes, epilepsy, narcolepsy, etc.? Are you pregnant?
- What happens if I can’t make it home on time? How much notice do you need?
- Are you willing to do any cooking or light housekeeping (cleaning up dishes, etc.)?
- How do you answer the telephone? How do you take a message? Again, all of this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how rude many people sound on the telephone without realizing it.
- Are there outstanding medical, legal, marital or disciplinary situations with your children, yourself or your husband? You’ll have to find a sensitive way to ask this. She will not want you to pry, but if her son is a budding serial killer, if she’s embroiled in a messy divorce or she faces bankruptcy – you need to know.
- I’ll probably hang around for a while the first day and watch you with my child. Will that be OK? (Then do it!)