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Health & Parenting

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Babysitters: What Parents Need to Know

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

by Bonnie Gibbs

Good Housekeeping Magazine Logo Finding-and keeping-a great babysitter can be a challenge. To help with the process, Good Housekeeping went to the experts with some of your burning questions. Here, information you can't afford to ignore.

Q: How can I be sure I'm hiring a good babysitter?
A: Take your time to find one: Get the names of possible sitters from people you know, and check other references. Invite the sitter to your house and watch how she and your child interact. Then remind her that she'll be responsible for your child's life. "It's critical that whoever is going to take care of the child understand that," says Patricia Keener, M.D., the founder of Safe Sitter, a program that teaches babysitting skills.

Q: Is it riskier to hire a male babysitter?
A: Yes, as far as sexual abuse is concerned. Seventy-seven percent of reported sexual assaults by babysitters are committed by males. Pay special attention to teenage boys: Nearly half of babysitter sex offenders are younger than 18.

Q: Does that mean it's safer to hire a girl?
A: Not necessarily. Females commit 64 percent of the reported physical assaults-hitting, slapping-against kids by babysitters. But keep in mind that of all assaults, sexual or physical, against children, more than 90 percent are committed by family members or acquaintances-not by babysitters.

Q: What's the deal with nanny cams?
A: You can hide these small, wireless cameras in a room and, from any computer, monitor the images they're sending. The cameras cost around $200 each and are legal in all 50 states (though be aware that in 15 states, you can't record someone's speech without her knowledge). You can also rent them; one site to try is, where cameras cost about $50 each for a seven-day rental.

Q: What else can I do to check up on my sitter?
A: Every once in a while, make unannounced visits. "Go back and say, ‘I forgot something' or ‘I have a headache,'" suggests Dr. Keener. And, at all times, the best thing you can do is trust your instincts. If you sense that something is wrong, don't talk yourself out of it. Get to the bottom of the problem.

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Reviewed on July 01, 2006

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