Choosing a Safe Nanny

It is among a parent’s worst fear, but fortunately there are many things parents can do to keep their children safe from sexual abuse.
Recognizing the Facts

Contrary to popular belief, people who sexual abuse children are not strangers. Instead, ninety percent of the time, the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts such as a family member, friend, babysitter, coach, religious figure, or teacher. In most cases, the abuser is alone with the child, has authority over the child, and takes advantage of the child’s trust.

With this in mind, how can you choose a safe nanny for your child?

Choosing a Safe Nanny

Personal referrals are a very common method for finding nannies, but however good the referral, be sure to conduct your own thorough background check.

* Check three references and ask questions about appropriate boundaries. (e.g., Did you ever observe any behavior that made you question your babysitter’s boundaries with your child? Would you hire this person again to care for your children?)

* Check driving records through the Department of Motor Vehicles. * Conduct a background check using the National Sex Offender Registry ( or, but please note that these tools only reveal people who have been formerly charged – and only a small percentage of abusers are ever arrested and convicted.

Include Questions about Body Safety in the Interview

Just as you would take the time to ask a prospective nanny or babysitter about their views on discipline or play activities, it’s important to also discuss body safety.

* Share your family’s body-safety rules (e.g., “Liam knows that he’s the boss of his body: no one is allowed to touch his private parts and he’s not allowed to touch anyone else’s. He also knows that we have a “no secrets” rule in our home.”)

* Ask, “What would you do if my child asked you to keep a secret from me?”

* Discuss, “How would you respond to my children grabbing each other’s private parts while bathing?”

Listen carefully for an open response, both verbally and through body language—and be sure to trust your instinct. If you have a nagging or ambivalent feeling, or find that you are talking yourself into liking the applicant, she or he isn’t the right person for the job! By way of example, check out this Parenting Safe Children Screening Video, which features a couple interviewing a nanny. While watching it, you’ll see how to bring up the topic of child sexual abuse prevention in a completely non-threatening way. [Link to]

A Special Note about Teen Babysitters

Up to 50 perfect of sexually abuse is committed by juveniles (under the age of 18). You can’t conduct background checks on teens, so it’s very important to do thorough reference checking and interviewing

When you interview teens ask what they like to do in their free time and with whom they like to spend time. Teens who prefer to spend time with children rather than their peers may be at risk for sexually abusing children.

Conducting a Trial Run

Consider asking the sitter or nanny to supervise your children doing an activity and observe how she/he interacts with your children. Then go to another part of the house and leave the sitter alone with the kids.

Once the sitter leaves, ask your kids about their experience and listen seriously to any concerns.

Selecting the Nanny for You

When you finally select a babysitter or nanny you feel good about, don’t hesitate to put an agreement in place that includes rules about phone and Internet use, discipline, smoking, car use, and body-safety. Feel free to download the Parenting Safe Children Nanny Packet. 

Feather Berkower is founder of the Parenting Safe Children workshop and author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Since 1985, Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe.

Feather is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She also offers private consultations throughout the United States regarding issues of child sexual abuse and safety. To register for the Parenting Safe Children workshop, purchase Off Limits, or to arrange a private consultation, visit