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In Wake of Tragedy, Nanny Experts Offer Advice for Hiring Caregivers

By Alan Neuhauser | October 29, 2012 7:50am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Just days after a nanny allegedly stabbed to death two children in her care, parents across the city are still asking what they can do to make sure they can trust the caregivers they bring into their homes.

"Every time there's an incident like this, we get calls," said Corinne Keller, director of operations at the Parents League of New York, a nonprofit that provides information for parents across the city.

"'Did you hear about the incident?'" they ask, according to Keller. "'What can we do?'"

Marina Krim, wife of CNBC digital media senior vice president Kevin Krim, was returning home to her West 75th Street apartment Thursday night when she discovered her oldest daughter, Lucia, 6, and her 2-year-old son, Leo, lying in the bathtub with multiple stab wounds, police and neighbors said. As she ran screaming from the apartment, the building's superintendent rushed upstairs and discovered their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega, slicing her own neck with a knife, authorities said.

Lucia and Leo were pronounced dead at St. Luke's Hospital, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said. Ortega was transported to New York Presbyterian-Weill Cornell Medical Center for self-inflicted wounds to her throat.

Charges against Ortega were still pending Monday morning.

"It brings to the surface the fears every parent has when leaving their children with anyone but family," an Upper West Side mother wrote on a blog Thursday.

"We can do all the background checks in the world, and we know that most caregivers are amazing and loving," she added. "But it's the random, horrific incidents like this that stay in our heads as we walk out the door and leave our children."

The heads of New York City nanny-placement agencies agreed.

"How? How? There is no explanation," said Chinthani Perera-Luneman, founder of Mom to Moms Advisor, which finds and matches nannies with families. 

Still, she and others said there are steps parents can take to reduce risk when trying to settle on the right childcare worker.

Whether parents search for nannies on their own or hire an agency, one of the earliest parts of the hiring process is the interview: talking with applicants not only to learn their work history and references, but also to gauge their personalities, experts advised.

"Be thorough," instructed Ido Dotan, 30, who screens applicants and interviews families for Tami's Agency, which is based in Forest Hills. "There's no specific science or specific interview questions to be able to screen for certain things."

Instead, the goal should be to "find someone with a nice personality that you feel comfortable having around," he added.

After talking with applicants, parents should then conduct background checks, both through an online service and by taking applicants to be fingerprinted by the NYPD, experts said. The prints are checked against the department's records, but parents should also ask for a second set to send to the FBI as a way to safeguard against identity fraud, they advised.

"What I have found is that identification is available for sale — you can buy anything," Perera-Luneman said. "It's the only way of establishing identity in the United States."

If parents have hired an agency to find a nanny, they should ask explicitly whether the company performs background checks, experts added. Some, such as Tami's Agency, only conduct the checks on request and charge a $50 for the service.

Background checks, however, have their limits, experts warned.

"No background check is ever telling you whether you're dealing with the same person or not," Dotan said. "The background check, all it does is confirm the person's ID, whether you're a sex offender, whether you have a criminal record.

"It doesn't say what you would do in an emergency situation," Dotan added. "It confirms that you at least know who's in your house."

Instead, the decision whether to hire a certain nanny ultimately comes down to parents' instincts, experts said.

"Either you have that trust or you don't," Perera-Luneman said.