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Alleged nanny killing evokes mother's greatest fear

By Allison Gilbert, Special to CNN
updated 4:49 PM EDT, Fri October 26, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A New York nanny was arrested for allegedly stabbing two children to death
  • Allison Gilbert describes her fear when entrusting her children to a nanny
  • Background checks are a good idea but can't guarantee a child's safety

Editor's note: Allison Gilbert writes about parenting for CNN Living. She is the author of Parentless Parents, Always Too Soon and Covering Catastrophe.

(CNN) -- Months before my son was born, I began searching for a nanny. The prospect of leaving my first child home with a stranger while my husband and I worked wasn't ideal, but the only day care center in our neighborhood had a year-long wait list and our families weren't in a position to help. Entrusting Jake, now 12, to a babysitter seemed like our only option.

The catastrophic story unfolding in New York City of a nanny who has been arrested for stabbing to death two young children she was paid to care for is unimaginable for any parent.

While I could never have envisioned anything as demonic as what 50-year-old Yoselyn Ortega is now accused of, I was anxious in those early weeks nearly every morning before I left for work: Would our new nanny shake my son if he cried? Would she scald him accidently, even intentionally, when she bathed him? I was so concerned that my husband and I installed nanny-cams around our apartment and hired a private company to perform criminal background checks.

The Krim family likely followed their own safety checklist and never could have anticipated such a horror either. Their tragedy highlights the question turning in the pit of every parent's stomach: Is my child truly safe with this woman?

Ms. Ortega was hardly a stranger to the husband and wife who hired her. On the mother's blog (which has since been taken offline) she apparently wrote about spending more than a week visiting with her nanny's family in the Dominican Republic. "We spent the past 9 days in the Dominican Republic. We spent half the time at our nanny, Josie's sisters home in Santiago," she reportedly wrote. "We met Josie's amazing familia!!! And the Dominican Republic is a wonderful country!! More pics to come!!"

As soon as I heard news of this story, it reminded me of the New York Times Magazine piece written by Lisa Belkin in 2007 about her babysitter, Noreen.

Noreen Mulholland cared for Lisa's two sons, but went on to become a nurse in Ireland who was later convicted of assaulting two patients, poisoning one of them. One day when Lisa's son was 5, he confided in her that he didn't want Noreen to come anymore.

"Noreen scares me," Alex told her. Alex was never hurt, but her son's words and her nanny's reaction to them made Lisa start thinking that something wasn't quite right with Noreen.

How can any family really know all there is to know about their nanny? Nanny- cams can't see into a person's soul and mental illness won't necessarily show up on a background check.

I asked New York State's Office of Children and Family Services what parents can do during a nanny search to make the best (and safest) choices. The agency recommends obtaining a prospective caregiver's school records, criminal history, credit background and driving record. New York parents have access to this information in part because of Kieran's Law, passed in 1998 and named for Kieran Dunne, a 10-month-old boy who died in 1993 after a nanny threw him across a room.

While all of the above might be helpful, the guidelines seem utterly toothless in the face of the evil we've seen in New York. The Krims could have done everything in their power to investigate their nanny before hiring her -- and none of the research could have predicted a mental snap of such massive proportions.

My son grew up unscathed and developed a loving relationship with our nanny. And two years later when our daughter was born, our nanny was still with us, providing love and much-needed support. Clearly we were lucky.

The opinions expressed are solely those of Allison Gilbert.

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