Safety Matters: Looking for a nanny or babysitter?
Before choosing a babysitting app, make sure you know what “background checked” really means?
In this article:
- Surprising facts about background checks – and why they don’t always mean what you think
- App-by-app comparison of trust and safety standards
- Beyond a background check: a simple way to find someone you can trust
For new parents looking for help, apps are a fast, convenient option. Whether you’re looking for an occasional sitter or to find a nanny that meets all your requirements for schedule, location, and checks all your boxes, today’s apps make it easier than ever. You can find different levels of detail on the popular apps, but, generally, you can find someone that meets your basic needs in a matter of clicks.
Where it gets tricky is that “trust & safety” piece. So often, we assume if they’re on one of these sites, they’ve been screened carefully.
Go to any of the major babysitting sites and you’ll see some reference to “trust,” “safety” and “background-checked.”
But what does “background checked” really mean? What are they checking? How often? And are their standards the same as other sites—or, more important, as yours?
There are some surprising details when you dig a little deeper…
From babysitting sites that do ZERO checking before someone can be listed to confusing rules about what is run automatically and what you should pay extra to run before you hire someone.
The Swiss cheese problem
It’s important to remember that all the major babysitting sites are designed more like Uber than a nanny agency. They’re looking at your location, your schedule, and some basic matching algorithms, like your kids’ ages. Memberships and models vary, but at the core, they are pretty much the same. Sign up, swipe, book. Their job is to provide a listing, not to help you find the right person.
Second, background checks are, to be candid, a mess. They are full of holes, of all different sizes – just like Swiss cheese. They are confusing, even to experts. And they are inadequate, incomplete, and inconsistent.
Here are a few facts most people don’t realize about background checks:
- 40% of all crimes go unreported, so there’s no record at all
- The so-called “National Criminal Database” only contains complete criminal data from 16 states! NY and MA are among the states that don’t report any data to it at all.
- Even “enhanced” background checks only screen the county where the person lives. Lots of people go to different counties a few times in just one day!
Top babysitting apps: What does their screening include?
We looked in detail at what’s included in a background check on Care.com, Sittercity, Urbansitter, and Bambino. Following is what we found at the time of this blog.*
Care has had a lot of challenges with safety, including children dying in the care of someone hired off the site, a family that had $300,000 stolen after paying for an upgraded background check that missed a record of convictions, and more.
According to the site, they ask each applicant to complete a “CareCheck.” If they do, they run the following:
- Social Security number trace
- National sex offender public website search
- Multi-jurisdictional criminal database search (this is the National Criminal Database we referenced above)
- Federal and county criminal records search
Parents can pay for an upgraded background check if a sitter agrees to get one.
The information on Sittercity isn’t easy to find. More important, is the first sentence you see when you drill to the page entitled “What does each background check cover?”
“It is important to know that background checks are not automatically run on members.”
From what we could see in our research, the only thing Sittercity screens automatically before letting someone be a babysitter on their site is the Sex Offender Registry. Then, they offer a “Basic Background Check” for $15. That Basic check runs a Social Security Number Trace and only the National Criminal Database.
As of May of 2020, UrbanSitter screens for the following:
- SSN Trace
- Nationwide Sex Offender Registry Check
- Global Watchlist Check of terrorist, sanction, and other watchlists
- National Criminal Search for history of felony and misdemeanors
- County Criminal Search of most recent county of residence (emphasis ours)
To their credit, UrbanSitter is the only site we found that clearly states “If a sitter does not pass their background check, their profile will be closed and they will no longer have access to UrbanSitter.”
If trust and safety are your primary concerns, you’ll want to be extremely cautious when using this app. To start, when researching for this post, we couldn’t find any link for Trust & Safety or background checks on the home page.
The only reference we found to background checks on the site was on the “Sitters” page where it said:
Want to standout as a sitter?
Background checks instantly increase your level of trust with new parents and your credibility as a Bambino Sitter. Background checked babysitters get 2x more requests per month on average!
For parents, the sole indication we saw that background checks existed was in the list of pricing by level that said “Elite” sitters are “background checked.”
When we drilled down from the sitters’ page, we discovered that sitters can pay $19.95 (on sale) for a background check that includes ONLY the National Criminal Database, the Sex Offender Registry, and the Global Terror Watchlist. There’s a much better chance your perspective sitter committed a crime in a jurisdiction that wasn’t covered than that they are an international terrorist.
While it’s technically not a babysitting app, there are thousands of babysitting and nanny groups on Facebook. They are a popular – and free – way to find help.
On the plus side, you can see the person’s profile, check out their photos and their friends to get a sense of them. Also, admins typically review people before letting them join a group, and kick them out if there are concerns raised.
That said, Facebook and the groups do no screening so you will have to take it on yourself.
How to use the app of your choice more safely
When choosing a sitter off any site or app, we recommend only hiring someone who has chosen an enhanced background check and displays it proudly. We aren’t saying without that they have something to hide. We believe a sitter who understands the important of trust and safety is simply the best choice for maximum peace of mind.
Look, we aren’t trying to scare you. Statistically, there is relatively little chance of something happening. And even a clean background check can’t guarantee safety.
We believe it’s important that you have all the facts so you can make the most informed decision.
That’s why, at SafetyPIN, we want to educate you on what a background check does and doesn’t mean. It’s also why we’re working to overcome the gaps in the background check system and make it easier and safer for you to find someone you can trust, on any site.
Our founder, Jenny Thompson, had a shocking experience when the dog sitter she hired online faked her own death…seriously. Jenny discovered she hadn’t stayed with her dogs and confronted her about it. Instead of taking responsibility, she created an elaborate scheme to fake a severe accident and say she died 5 days later.
That’s why we set out to create a new standard in personal safety designed for the on-demand economy. In our relentless pursuit of a more reliable safety standard, we worked with:
- the former Chief Security Officer of the White House
- the FBI agent that captured Saddam Hussein
- the former lead forensic psychologist from Leavenworth Maximum Security Prison
- retired NYPD criminal profilers
- a Federal investigator that runs high level security checks for the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense, and
- the clinical psychologist running the psychopathy lab at an Ivy League school
Working with them and a top tech team, SafetyPIN developed a better screening method that includes a broader, deeper criminal background check and a proprietary behavioral review that helps eliminate people that set off red flags even if they don’t have a criminal record. We also rescreen regularly so you can always check to confirm the person is in good standing.
The best part for parents? SafetyPIN works on any app or website. So you can look for a sitter or nanny that meets our tough standards – and yours — anywhere. To make it even easier, SafetyPIN has a simple Chrome extension that highlights sitters in your area that have a SafetyPIN. So you don’t need to pay for extra background checks or get multiple memberships. Just download SafetyPIN Safer Search and check your favorite site to see which sitters near you have met their strict requirements – and are still in good standing.
*please note that procedures may be updated since our research
+all research was done on websites, not the accompanying apps
Sitters with a SafetyPIN badge reported an average of 17.9 jobs, versus sitters not using a SafetyPIN badge reported 8.4 jobs, over the same period of time. The average amount earned across the board for all sitters was $74 per job. In other words, parents booked SafetyPIN sitters TWICE as often as non-SafetyPIN sitters. Learn More.
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Most background checks only screen the “National Criminal Database,” which excludes 22 states completely, and leaves out a LOT of counties across 12 other states. Better background checks will screen down to the county someone lives in, and, in some cases, the counties they’ve lived in for the past 7 years. But we know criminals don’t stop at the county line – so neither do we.