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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Table Talk Thursday: A Nanny's Duty to Protect in Cases of Abuse/Neglect

We are proud to have our own Myrna Alphonse as our guest blogger today. She is addressing a difficult topic that every nanny needs to read.

Clarifying Grey Matters: A Nanny’s Duty to Protect in Cases of Abuse/Neglect
Myrna Alphonse, MA, NCC

Imagine this job description: high profile single Dad with three children in need of an exceptional nanny. Hours are as needed with extensive global travel required. In this economic climate, some nannies might find this offer appealing, others might think twice. In the case of Michael Jackson, a nanny named Grace Rwaramba fit the bill. I don’t know anything about her but the few images of her shielding the kids from the media show eyes of strong nurturing support. I can’t help but think of the recent death of Michael Jackson and the impact on his kids. They have suffered dual losses this past year. First their long term nanny and now their primary parent as well.
My first thoughts were what will happen to his children, what are they feeling, and what had they seen in the past? In light of the alleged claims of prescription drug abuse, bizarre behavior, and isolation who was protecting the children? There was one constant figure in their lives: their nanny Grace. What did she do to retain their innocence? As a member of the nanny community, I felt a level of empathy for her situation and a learning opportunity as an outside observer.
Although, I’ve never worked for a high profile family, I could only imagine the torn emotions she must have felt over the years when their primary parent was alleged as unstable to provide adequate care. We can use the fact that Jackson had numerous doctors who routinely administered health care. In the general population, it is not much different than a child who may have a terminally ill parent or one with significant disabilities. Even if round the clock child care is provided for the kids, is this grounds for parental neglect? This leaves a lot of ground for speculation. However, the law is clear for child care providers, including nannies working in homes.

Maybe you wonder: why should I report? Because any child care provider who receives a salary is required by law within three days of the incident. While it is not our job as nannies to dictate “good parenting” choices, it is our responsibility to report cases of abuse or neglect while children under the age of 18 are under our care. There is a fine line between abuse and discipline. Discipline is a learning process to guide a child to more appropriate behaviors. Abuse only stops the intended behavior but it fails to teach healthy alternatives only to avoid punishment. The goal is to assist in raising healthy balanced children with elevated esteem. Even if you are unsure if it is abuse, you can contact your local department of social services or the National Child Abuse Hotline for an anonymous consultation.


So, what exactly does abuse look like? There are clear physical cues that make some instances clear depending on severity. However, less visible injuries from emotional/mental maltreatment or sexual abuse are common. It is our duty to report that as well. How can one go about that task when you work for powerful people? There are ways that make it clear from the onset of employment that you are a child advocate. Any breeches of confidentiality are necessary if the children are in harm’s way. It is NOT, I repeat NOT our responsibility to prove abuse, it is only our job to report suspected cases.

The types of abuse are: physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and/or neglect. They can be an isolated incident or occur over a length of time. A nanny is in a prime position to be alert of changes in her charges or in parental attitudes. The ability to recognize the difference between everyday childhood bumps and scrapes from playing with siblings or friends and adult infliction is key.
Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is defined as any act which, regardless of intent, results in a non-accidental injury. This may happen to a frustrated or angry caretaker. The questionable physical indicators are the following:
Bruises & welts
Cuts, scrapes, scratches, lacerations or abrasions
*The child may exhibit extreme behaviors that is not limited to being uncomfortable with physical contact, afraid of adult contact, wears inappropriate clothing to cover injuries, withdrawn or aggressive, or verbally reports being hurt.

Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse is defined as acts of sexual assault and exploitation of minors. It is important to note that both boys & girls can be victims of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes:
Indecent exposure
*The child may exhibit behaviors that are not limited to difficulty walking or sitting, pain or itching in the genital area, engages in highly sexualized play, or may have a sudden noticeable change in their academic performance.
Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is defined as acts of verbal assaults and/or neglect that limits a child’s developmental fulfillment. Emotional abuse usually causes a child to live up to the degradation that they are inflicted with. The family in question often has constant conflict. The questionable physical indicators in a child are as follows:
Frequent stomach or head aches
Speech disorders
Failure to thrive medical diagnosis
Lags in physical development
Learning problems

*The child may exhibit behaviors that are not limited to regressive behaviors, neurotic rituals, overly compliant or aggressive, emotional or intellectual delays, self-destructive behavior

If you have determined that you need to make a report, get support from someone you trust to maintain the boundary of confidentiality. It may even be helpful for you to have someone with you when you make the call. According to the 2008 guide for mandated reporters, they encourage providers to have as much information as possible. This includes:
Name, address, and telephone # of the child and custodial parent(s)
Child’s DOB, gender and race
Name and ages of individuals living with the child
Any special language needs of the family
Specific facts of suspected incident(who, what, when, where, how)
Your name, address, and phone number

Although, it is never easy to actually make the call, your voice can make the difference in a child’s life that may be unable to speak for themselves. If you give your personal information, it will be documented that you fulfilled your obligation as a mandated reporter. In Grace’s case, her vocalized concerns to the extended family caused her termination of employment. Interestingly, she is now back in the Jackson home caring for those children again. You can never go wrong with choosing to do the right thing.

Guidelines are provided by the VA Dept. of Social Services
“A Guide For Mandated Reporters in Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect” 2008

Additonal information can be found here:

Child Abuse Hotline-1-800-552-7096(language line available)
In my next installment, find out how to support a child who is suspected of suffering abuse

Myrna Alphonse is a career nanny/parent consultant of 19 years transitioning to the counseling field. She specializes in families in crisis by bringing calm to chaos. Myrna resides in Washington, DC.


Anonymous July 30, 2009 at 10:26 AM  

Every state has different laws. Nannies are not trained to know the law. Those who are professionally REQUIRED to report neglect and abuse are those who are medically or legally trained to know the law. Cops, doctors, teachers, and lawyers are required to report suspected neglect or abuse. Nannies are not required by law to do so. But, it is the ethical and right thing to do.

Anonymous July 30, 2009 at 10:54 AM  

Childcare workers are mandated reporters.

April July 30, 2009 at 9:44 PM  

Depending on the state that you live in, I would look into the law. In Michigan there is some gray area with who is a mandated reporter and who is not. If I thought something was wrong I would always call.


april July 30, 2009 at 9:45 PM  

we also don't refer to them as "cops" that is more of a street word, we call them police officers


Myrna Alphonse July 31, 2009 at 8:32 AM  

I hope that instead of waiting to consider the technicalities of whether a nanny is required to report,let's not hesitate to contact the proper authorities on behalf of a child in need. This is an initial glance of how to recognize potential abuse.
As a former Montessori teacher, there was never any formal training on the specifics, did that make me exempt? No. It's good to know that there are professionals in the social services, medical, and law enforcement fields that can assist you in your decision. Nannies are part of the child care providers spectrum. They have an ethical responsibility to advocate for chidren under their care. I hope this spurs you to learn more about the requirements in your home state!

Tara July 31, 2009 at 7:03 PM  

It is an excellent article!

It's also a good idea, if you have not already, to look up the mandated reporter laws and procedures in your own state. The article has it's information from the state of Virginia, and laws do vary slightly from state to state. For instance, in the list of information needed when making a report, the blog article lists the name and contact information of the person making the report. In my state (Michigan) this is NOT on the DHS list because in Michigan any person (mandated or not) can make a report anonymously.

Nannies in my state are not listed as mandatory reporters. Most of us consider ourselves to be either by moral/ethical conviction or because we've worked/volunteered in other positions where we were mandatory reporters. In Michigan, if you have ever been a mandatory reporter, you are considered one for life. You don't have to have proof that a child has been abused or even be able to name their abuser...but if you have the suspicion (based on observing the child's behaviour or home) you are required to make a verbal report within 72 hours. If you do not, and it is later discovered that you suspected abuse or missed the signs of it, you can be criminally prosecuted.

Anyway, it's a very very very good idea to look up and be familiar with the mandated reporter laws and regulations in your state. It's very simple to find...just google your state name and the term "mandated reporter". I'm sure most states are like Michigan, too, in that you can request DHS (or CPS...whatever the agency name is in your state) to provide yout group/agency a mandated reporter training class. It's well worth it, IMO.

Lisa August 3, 2009 at 12:04 PM  

I agree with what was stated about reporting regardless of knowing the laws in your state. It's not about legalities it's about what's best for the children.

While specific information is needed by children's services, the thing is your tip does remain anonymous.

I have had to report a parent regarding illegal drug usage in the home.

And, I can say calling family services is a lot easier than trying to get family members to intervene after going to them. Sometimes they are in denial too. Co-dependents, etc. And you alienate yourself from the family as well. (This I know because of other previous positions where prescription drugs and alcohol abuse were occurring.)

Lisa August 3, 2009 at 12:06 PM  

Oh, and reports are received all the time from nonmandated individuals as well.

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