Child Abuse & Neglect in Public: What Can We Do?

NOTE: We welcome any comments, suggestions, or best-practices people have about the information below. Please post to list or send privately to . We hope to develop a toolkit for folks witnessing or facing issues of abuse or neglect.

We've had requests from time to time from members who have observed behavior by parents or caretakers that they feel is abusive or neglectful towards children.   In some cases our members are not the ones witnessing the abuse, but they report that their nannies are seeing another caregiver behaving inappropriately.   In these cases, the incidents are happening on public property (e.g. a playground or library) and the observer doesn't know the family.   The PSP member asks how PSP can help or makes a specific request of us in notifying the parents (e.g. posting a picture of the abusive caretaker).

These situations are, of course, terribly upsetting.  Nobody wants to stand by while a child is being hurt or neglected.   What can  you do?  Here are some thoughts:

FIRST: If you see something, say something.   You have the power to make a difference and could save a life by making a phone call.  If you see a child being abused or in danger call 911 immediately.  Advise your nanny to do the same and make it clear that you support her in this action.  Take photos or videos of the situation so you have evidence of the abuse.

SECOND: What about a less clear cut but potentially abusive situation? Sometimes it's a complex situation and a hard call to know when to get involved. If you can stand up for a child who is in danger it's important to do so. In the past, advice ranged from asking the parent or nanny, "Can I help you?" (to break the concentration of the person and bring them back to the here and now), to having more than one person  approach the situation (the power in groups approach). You do risk exacerbating the situation behind closed doors; but that's a risk that may be worth taking. If you see the situation continue you can hold firm in your verbal pressure by offering to call 911 or Administration for Children's Services (ACS). However, you don't want to put yourself (or your nanny) in a situation where you (or your children) are at risk, so use common sense in dealing directly with someone who seems potentially violent or abusive.

THIRD: Will PSP post videos or photos of these types of situations? We will not. If the police ask us to post descriptions and photos of  suspects we will do that, but we feel that to post a video or photo to 5,000 people of a one-sided incident is not fair to the family or to the  nanny involved. We ARE open to people being able to communicate situations on our list that members find upsetting, but we want the details to be private, provided only to those who need to know. Therefore it is PSP policy that people post only a brief description of the location, the babysitter and the child (clothing, stroller type, etc. without names) and ask that interested parties contact you as poster without reference to an "upsetting incident," "disturbing" or other "bad  nanny" indicators. We have found that this is just as successful as writing information that could be viewed as defamatory and cause unnecessary problems for the poster, the family, and the nanny.

Why this policy? We feel that the only people who need to know the details are those involved-- you as a witness and the parent(s) employing the nanny. Once a family contacts the poster a video or photo  can be shared. Also, over the last 10 years we've had mostly bad experiences with descriptive "Bad Nanny" posts. Examples:  

-          We had someone post a message about twins who were being "badly treated" (taken into the cold without enough clothing) and it turned out that the "bad nanny" was actually the twins' grandmother. This, as you might imagine, became a huge embarrassment to the family and was time-consuming for us behind the scenes.

-          Someone posted on "I Saw Your Nanny" a post about a nanny whose employer was a PSP member. It turns out that the people posting were fellow nannies who didn't like the nanny they posted about and were trying to get her to lose her job. The children's names were included; it was a difficult situation for the nanny and family and disappointing and sad all around.

These and other incidents led us to come up with this policy since we felt it was a more neutral way to get the same message across.

FOURTH: A child's safety is of utmost importance. We've had situations where nannies say they are not willing to come forward about another nanny's abuse for fear of their own safety (or the safety of the children in their care) or "status" in the nanny community. If a nanny is abusing a child it may be the case that she bullies other people, making it more difficult for your nanny to come forward. If there is a video of abuse it should be turned into the police and ACS and the situation can be turned over to the authorities. If a nanny (or parent) is not willing to go 'on the record' in an abusive situation it's not likely that a photo or video posted on a website without witness corroboration will lead to much change. PSP works closely with the 78th Precinct so if anyone needs a contact or help in this area contact .

FIFTH: Expect pushback from parents. When people do make contact with the parents we try to prepare the original poster. Our experience has shown that parents are not always open to "good Samaritans" offering their assessment of a nanny's caretaking style.  If it is your nanny that's telling you that another nanny is neglectful or abusive, you are hearing this information from someone you trust and believe. Remember, however, that the other parents likely feel the same way about their nanny.   They may see this as a dispute between your nanny and theirs that has nothing to do with the care of their children but some personal vendetta.

People don't want to think that they've made the wrong choice in hiring someone to take care of their child(ren) so many times (actually more times than not) they don't want  to believe it, downplay the severity, or feel that the behavior was justified and acceptable. Furthermore, what may be seen as unacceptable nanny behavior by an onlooker may be viewed by the parents as appropriate and deserving of praise.

SIXTH: Be open to information if you are on the receiving end.  If you are on the receiving end of news about abuse of your child you must track down and investigate every aspect of the story. This may be one of those times when you overcome your gut instinct that it's all okay. Psychologically it's difficult to can't handle the thought that you have chosen and are paying someone who is abusing your child. Look for signs such as extreme mood swings, withdrawal, a sudden fear of people, and out of the blue bed-wetting. However, if the nanny has been with you a long time (or the child is going through the rebellious twos) it may be difficult to differentiate the behavior from natural development.

Also try to be aware of any changes in your nanny's behavior and stresses in her life that could be impacting her ability to do her job. We all know how easy it is to get short tempered with our kids when we are tired, worried, and stressed. If you know that your nanny is going through a rough patch, do what you can to help her and make sure that she is not transferring that stress to your child(ren).

Then, if you've shaken the trees, investigated every avenue and find nothing wrong, stand strong. There may be more to the story than outsiders watching the behavior realize and are privy to.  You don't owe a stranger an explanation of your parenting choices.

FINALLY: Remember that parenting styles differ. PSP members and parents in general have a variety of views on appropriate discipline, appropriate eating behavior, appropriate clothing for children, etc. One situation in which a parent wanted to complain about a nanny's bad playground behavior led to the employers commending the assertiveness of the nanny's behavior. There are all types of parents (some might label rude, unhelpful, self-absorbed) and these people may hire nannies with similar styles which would be unacceptable to you.

You need to do what feels right for you in these situations and PSP gives you a vehicle to  contact parents of nannies while protecting the identity of the parties involved. We don't want to be a venue for false accusations but we feel a responsibility to inform people who may not know what's going on while they are not with their child. We want to remind people that these are not normative cases and that in the 10 years that PSP has been around we've only heard of a handful of potentially abusive cases. However, abuse needs to be stopped and you can be a catalyst for helping make that happen.  It's a tightrope to walk, and we will continue try to do what's best for the children who may not be able to speak for themselves.

Keeping our community and our kids as safe as possible is everyone's priority!

The PSP Nanny Advisory Board

 

IMPORTANT FOLLOW UP:

In response to the notice posted above, Park Slope Parents received a message from someone who wished to remain anonymous but who wanted to highlight the complexity of seeing the behaviors of other parents and caregivers and knowing you what to do:

"People need to be very careful. Autistic kids, kids with behavioral challenges like ADHD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder, anxiety or sensory issues--and they often have several), as is the case with my child--can be very very tough.

 

There was a great point made by the editor of a compilation of essays by special-needs parents dealing with all of kinds of challenges in their kids. It's called "The Elephant in the Playroom" and I highly recommend it. Basically, the writers says parents of typically developing kids are like cat owners; people don't see the bad behavior, it mainly happens in the home. Parents with challenged kids are like dog owners; the mess, the bad behavior, is out there for all to see. Sometimes what looks absolutely terrible really is a parent struggling. They may be doing something they've been trained to do, i.e. time outs, holds, etc.; maybe not. They may actually be protecting themselves; a kid can hurt you. It can be hard not to yell. Parents like myself are constantly feeling judged as bad parents. And maybe some are. But kids with special needs can test you like you wouldn't believe.

 

So I think it's worth noting that sometimes people have no idea what's going on when they see a parent/nanny interacting with a child. Of course if a kid's in jeopardy something needs to be done. But ACS cases aren't fun. Sometimes that parent just needs an observer to show they understand, or not stare, or ask if there's anything they can do to help. Maybe they can't do a thing, but that parent will be incredibly grateful. So many people don't get it, or even try to get it."

 

Related Reading on Park Slope Parents:

What to do when you see someone's nanny behave in a way you don't approve of