Parents more likely than childcare workers to neglect children
COMMENT:The story of an Irish nanny charged with assault in the US plays on parents’ fears, writes our family columnist
News of serious injury of any kind to a child while in the care of a nanny, whatever the circumstances, sends a particular chill down every parent’s spine – and working parents especially so.
It resonates with suppressed anxiety and guilt about handing our children over to someone else to mind. If any harm, accidental or otherwise, were to befall them while we weren’t there, we would always think it would have been different if they had been in our care.
Reports this week that an Irish nanny has been charged in Boston with injuring a year-old child, who later died, come less than three months after a mother walked into her New York apartment to find two of her children dead in a bath, and their nanny seriously injured after an alleged suicide attempt.
Aisling McCarthy Brady, who is 34 and from Co Cavan, has denied any involvement with the death of baby Rehma Sabir. In New York, Yoselyn Ortega, a 50-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of murdering Lucia and Leo Krim, who were six and two, last October.
Cases such as these recall memories of the British au pair Louise Woodward, at age 19, standing in a US court in 1997 charged with the murder of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen while he was in her care at his home in Newton, Massachusetts.
Her conviction for murder and her 15-year sentence were reduced on appeal to conviction for involuntary manslaughter and a sentence of 279 days in jail – the time she had already been in prison, so she was released immediately.
The media coverage of such incidents reflects the depth of feeling they evoke. Parents want to know what happened, to reassure themselves it could not happen to them and their children. Either the circumstances are not comparable, or they would not have made the same decisions in a similar situation.
If a nanny’s involved, well that’s why they use a creche. If it’s an incident at a creche, well that’s why they go to the expense of hiring a nanny. And the grieving parents are judged from afar to see if they have brought the tragedy on themselves.
But cases of children being seriously injured or killed while in childcare are very rare. Children are more likely to be harmed while with their parents than by somebody outside the family.
US figures show that it is most often a child’s own parents who are responsible for abuse and neglect. A study found that 79.4 per cent of child abusers were the parents; the next most likely offenders were unmarried partners of the parents. Forty per cent of child victims were abused by their mothers acting alone; 17.3 per cent were abused by both parents.