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Nanny Screening: How to Investigate a Nanny's Background

by Kathleen Webb, HomeWork Solutions Inc.

A nanny, by definition, has the full charge care of children as her primary job responsibility. This is generally in an unsupervised setting, the private home, when the parents are absent. It is absolutely critical to the safety of the children that the parents thoroughly check the background of the person they are considering hiring. Even if she comes recommended by a friend or family member, check things out yourself anyway!

A thorough background investigation is an orderly process. First, have the nanny complete a formal job application. You can find these forms on the web - check the online resources at the end of this article. This collects the needed information you will use in the background checking process.

Require that the nanny show you original documents confirming her identity (drivers license, passport, college ID card, etc.) at the beginning of the job interview. At least one document should have a photo. Do not accept photocopies as these can disguise alterations. Compare the information on the identification documents to the job application and note any differences (legal name Kathleen Webb instead of Kathy Webb for example).

Assuming that you and the candidate hit it off in the interview processes, it is time to start doing the background check. Begin by establishing a chronology of work and education history. Look for unexplained gaps. If significant gaps exist, ask the candidate to help 'fill in the blanks.' Make sure the candidate's history is in month/year format. Ask probing questions - often gaps indicate a prior poor employment experience, but they can signal a myriad of other problems.

protect your child background check nanny

"Your child is counting on you to thoroughly screen and background check the nanny."

Kathleen Webb
HomeWork Solutions Inc.

Personally contact all references. You may obtain forms forms and guidelines for these reference checking interviews online. References from teachers and clergy are encouraged, and are often the only real references the younger candidate may have. Follow up all written references with a telephone call if possible, or better yet try to meet the person informally for coffee to chat. People may be reluctant to admit to concerns on paper, but will sometimes share them 'off the record'.

Families using the services of a professional nanny referral agency are advised to check the candidate's references themselves, even though the agent has already done so. Families recruiting via online services such as 4nannies.com should consider using the professional reference checking services the reputable online services make available to their clients.

  WARNING! Detecting Fake References

Because nannies work in private homes, they have an easier time 'faking' references than applicants with former business employment. The nanny applicant may arrange with a relative or friend to pose as a former boss. The applicant provides a phone number or other contact information, and when the hiring family contacts this person, s/he receives a glowing report about the applicant. How can this be detected?

Fake references have been briefed by the applicant, but they are typically not very good at their job. Change minor details of the nanny applicant's story when talking to references and expect to be corrected. You might change the location of the job (Q: You are the family in Newton, right? A: No, we are in Chestnut Hill), the ages or sex of the children. If the reference doesn't tell a story that agrees with the applicant's, this is a huge red flag. Reverse telephone directory look ups are also helpful, although these phone numbers are typically unlisted cell phones.

When talking to a nanny's references, try to obtain a third party or 'wild card' reference. This would be someone else known by both the reference and the candidate who you may use as an additional reference. Third party references are invaluable, as they have most likely not been cherry-picked by the candidate and have not been briefed on the reference check ahead of time.

When you are satisfied that you have a reasonable chronology of employment and education experience and all references have been checked, it is time to order the professional criminal background investigation. These will cost between $50 - $150 on average. The professional investigation will generally start by verifying the SSN of the applicant. The SSN Trace, obtained from credit bureau records, will provide you with names and addresses associated with the candidate's SSN for the last 7 years. With the SSN trace results in hand, the professional investigator can order criminal records checks in the various jurisdictions. The candidate who has moved often will require more searches, as these records are generally maintained on a county by county basis. You should also validate the data in the SSN trace with the chronology of the candidate's experiences you have already established.

If you expect your nanny to be driving your vehicle and/or transporting your children, you should require that the nanny provide you an original, current DMV record. Optionally you can order that as part of professional criminal background investigation. Reputable search firms will require the signed consent of the candidate before they can order the drivers record report.

In the end, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Don't worry that your spouse or coworker might think you are paranoid. If your gut says there is something wrong, move on to other candidates.


  • Employ a nanny without checking references and employment history.
  • Ignore unexplained gaps or discrepancies in work and education history - always check them out until you are completely satisfied.


Suggested Nanny Interview Questions
Order a Criminal and SSN Check
4nannies.com Nanny Employment Application
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Kathleen Webb is the President of HomeWork Solutions Inc. Ms. Webb has provided payroll, tax, and recruiting support to families nationally since 1993. The working mother of three children, Ms. Webb also has considerable hands on experience in the field!