As CEO of a business that connects families with childcare providers--babysitters and nannies--I'm often asked how I feel about nanny cams, the personal surveillance cameras that are either hidden or installed in plain sight to record a nanny's activities on the job. The topic can be hotly debated. Some feel it's wise to use what technology has to offer to monitor kids' safety and care. Others feel that the use of a camera--especially one that is used to record people without their knowledge--is a breach of privacy or at very least uncomfortable for the person who is being watched.
The bottom line is that a nanny cam can be a useful tool if it is used appropriately, and can also be a quick way to destroy a relationship if it is used improperly. Here's what you need to know about nanny cams in order to decide if they are right for you:
Know the Law
It's legal to make a video recording of anything that happens in your home, as long as you have a legitimate reason for doing it--such as monitoring your baby or caregiver. It doesn't matter if the camera is hidden or not, though if you are recording your nanny you need to do it public areas of the house, such as the kitchen and living room, and not in private area such as the bathroom or a live-in nanny's bedroom.
In several states (including California) it is illegal to make an audio recording without the knowledge and consent of the person being recorded. For this reason, many nanny cams do not record audio. If you do make a video with audio recording and find evidence of neglect or abuse, the tapes are inadmissible in court and you could be liable for breaking privacy laws (https://it.ojp.gov/privacyliberty/authorities/statutes/1285).
The Arguments for Using a Nanny Cam
• Who couldn't benefit from a little peace of mind? It can be difficult to leave your children in someone else's care, especially with a new nanny or sitter. Nanny cams can provide comfort by giving you the ability to see that your kids are safe and content.
• Monitoring for safety is common practice. There's surveillance in many workplaces, including most daycare centers and schools. Why should your childcare provider be exempt?
• Young children can't tell you what's happening while you are gone. It's easier when kids are older and can let you know if their nanny is distracted by her phone, avoids outdoor play, or doles out snacks you forbid.
• You don't want to miss a minute of their childhood. Technology allows you to feel closer to your child while you're away. It's nice to check in and see his face or catch a glimpse of milestones you may otherwise miss.
• Childcare is expensive. You want to know you are getting high-quality care.
Cons of a Nanny Cam
• No one likes to be spied on. If a nanny discovers a hidden camera has been watching her, she can feel violated, offended, hurt that you doubt her abilities or intent, or simply embarrassed.
• You don't see the whole picture. Cameras typically cover a specific area. You may catch a glimpse of a crying baby and not see your nanny preparing a bottle to sooth her, or you may see an exhausted caregiver taking a well-deserved break while a tot naps, but fail to see the activities and play that exhausted them both.
• There are laws to consider. States have different laws concerning privacy and recording. Be sure you know the laws in your state (https://it.ojp.gov/privacyliberty/authorities/statutes/1285).
• You risk damaging an important relationship. If you record your nanny without her knowledge, you are risking her trust. The International Nanny Association encourages employers to discuss the use of nanny cams with a prospective nanny before she takes the job. You both need to be comfortable with your decision for the relationship to work.
• Nanny cams are often used for the wrong reason. The purpose of a nanny cam should be to deter or prevent neglect or abuse, not capture it.
• There are other effective ways to ensure and motivate proper care. These include thoroughly vetting potential caregivers through interviews and background and reference checks; being upfront about expectations; occasionally dropping in on a caregiver to observe interactions; keeping open lines of communication; and trusting your gut if the relationship or your child's reaction to the provider doesn't seem quite right.
Whether you plan to use a nanny cam or not, it's best to be upfront with your nanny about your plans. A strong relationship with the person you entrust with the care of your kids relies on open and honest communication. The reality is that if the trust isn't there, she may not be right for the job.