Focus on hiring after death of baby in Irish nanny's care
The tragic death of one-year-old girl Rehma Sabir and the charging of 34-year-old Irish nanny Aisling McCarthy Brady with battery and assault has turned the spotlight on a job traditionally filled by thousands of Irish women working, sometimes illegally, on the US east coast.
Irish nannies were in the past typically recruited by employment agencies specialising in placing childminders with families, and by word-of-mouth. But in recent years websites have multiplied where nannies can post profiles of themselves for families looking for childcare.
McCarthy Brady, who is originally from Co Cavan but has been living illegally in the US for more than 10 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charge over the death of Rehma on January 16th, two days after police found the infant unconscious with injuries, after she called 911 for assistance.
Her defence lawyer Melinda Thompson told the courts that there was “more to this story”.
The Irish woman had posted an advert for her services on a website in which she said: “I had six younger brothers and sisters and four older ones. I’ve been babysitting since I was 13 for neighbours. I’ve been nannying in Boston now for 10 years. I love what I do.”
Brushes with law
McCarthy Brady has had brushes with the law for public order offences. Since 2005, two restraining orders have been issued against her and she faced criminal charges in a third case. None of this detail obviously appeared on her personal ad.
“We have been very nervous about families using these websites without doing proper background checks,” said Irish man Michael Dinneen, who has run the Irish Agency for Nannies in Manhattan since 1987 and placed 1,000 nannies over the past five years.
“They offer a $20 or $30 fee for a check on a person which is insufficient when you are dealing with someone who may not have a social security number. You cannot do a proper background check for that kind of money,” said Dinneen, who uses an external agency to vet nannies.
Nanny websites have become more popular in recent years given the increasing demands for childcare among working couples, while the lure of earning an average of $15 to $20 a hour and between $75,000 and $90,000 a year working for wealthy New York families has led to a flood of inexperienced women seeking work as nannies online.
Nannies earn between $50,000 and $60,000 a year on average working full-time in the Boston area, where McCarthy Brady worked.
“It is certainly one of the more popular sectors of employment not just for the Irish but for a lot of people,” said Orla Kelleher, executive director of the Aisling Community Centre in Yonkers, New York. “Nowadays most people have qualifications in childcare.”
While the websites have improved their checks since last October, when a nanny from the Dominican Republic was accused of killing two children in her care in Manhattan, they still fall far short of the proper checks required to vet prospective nannies, says Dinneen.
He has carried out checks on people listed on websites and found some were using fraudulent references and had given friends as reference contacts when in fact they had no experience. He referred to the Childcare Background Research Corporation, which charges $109 for a comprehensive check.
“A check like this should have discovered that girl’s [McCarthy Brady’s] previous brushes with the law and the family would then decide whether to go ahead and hire or not,” he said.
“Most young people have no idea what they’re doing the first time they hire a nanny.
“Hiring online yourself without the experience of a qualified professional can be risky.”
Alicia Mazzarini, a placement counsellor at the Boston Nanny Centre who has placed two experienced Irish nannies with families in recent years, believes that the death of Rehma may make families more cautious about checking the backgrounds of their childminders.
“It might affect how people will get nannies in general, not just Irish nannies, and that they need to take a step back and do more background checks,” she said. “It is hard for families to hire nannies and trust them to leave their child at home. When they hear fear stories like this it makes them nervous so we are making more background checks.”
Irish women working as nannies on the US east coast are concerned that this case may prevent them from finding work.
“It is hard to predict what the effect of the case will be but I think it will be seen as a once-off in the fullness of time,” said Paul Finnegan, executive director of the New York Irish Centre.
Michael Dinneen believes it will not have a big effect.
“I wouldn’t think so. Did Louise Woodward give British nannies a bad name?” he said, referring to the British au pair who was convicted of killing US baby Matthew Eappen in her care following a well-publicised case in 1997.
“It is a tragic, tragic situation.”