When Nanny Ads Lie


The messages on the Bococa parent listserv come fast and furious, hundreds every
week. Tips are traded, items offered up. Plushy skunk costume yours for $10
Can I use uppababy g-luxe as my only stroller? FS: Elec breast pump (Great condition)
And it's not just information and items for the kids. The list, which serves parents in the neighborhoods of Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill and environs, is a sort of ask-it-all for thousands of members.
Need a dishwasher repair person? You've come to the right place. Wood floors need refinishing? Fire away. Looking for a Mac "Genius" who makes house calls? Plenty of recommendations. But there is one category of posting—seemingly the most natural on a parent listserv—that was abruptly banned last month, eliciting fury from some: nanny recommendations.
"The announcement, it was sudden and it surprised me," said Melissa Holsinger, who found a nanny for her son on the site. "I thought that was one of the sort of fundamental purposes of the board. It's a shame to have that resource taken away from people who are looking for nannies."
"One person had a great point," she added. "If we can write recommendations for other service providers why would we exclude nannies?"
"Due to the proliferation of inappropriate and
misrepresentative Nanny postings, the Bococa
Moderators have decided to ban ALL postings regarding the recommendation of Nannies or baby sitters," read an email sent to the listserv. Instead, parents were urged to post "ISO" (in search of) messages if they were looking for a nanny and ask people to respond to them directly.
Parent listservs have become a be-all for many community members. In some neighborhoods, like Fort Greene, just about anyone can join—nannies, business owners, dogs. In others, membership is limited to parents who live in the community.
The relative anonymity of listservs can become problematic. Disagreements get ugly; members can get kicked off. Most lists have ground rules. Some are basic: be courteous, take a "time out" when needed (yes, these are for the parents). Don't out specific people—particularly nannies—for what you perceive as bad behavior. Do it discreetly.
The Bococa list's moderator said in an email the group didn't have the manpower to check nanny references in a timely manner. "We may be able to revisit these type of posts in the future," she wrote.
Meanwhile, some oblivious or defiant members have taken to continuing to post recommendations for their nannies; listings which are sometimes later deleted—but other times slip through.
Bococa isn't the only listserv to face such a problem recently. The well-oiled machine that is the Park Slope Parents listserv diagnosed a similar problem before Bococa and began requiring parents who post recommendations for nannies to agree to an integrity code. In some cases the group had flagged suspicious postings that were common names with slight misspellings, said Susan Fox, the group's founder who oversees 15 moderators. In those cases they request an in-person meeting to verify identity.
In other instances, they've found that nannies will sign up using employers' names, — sometimes even with their permission. Ms. Fox noted that these are a small minority of the nanny postings. Still, starting this week the group's "Nanny Moderation Team" warns posters that false advertising is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
"This remains a difficult job market for nannies and we understand that people looking for work can be tempted to take unethical and illegal steps if they feel that will increase their chances of getting the job they want," reads a message the group said it would post this week. "We sympathize with the difficulty in finding work but cannot condone misrepresentation."
Ms. Fox said the citation of the penal code was made after consulting with the Kings County District Attorney's office. "We're not the police, we don't want to be the police," she said. "We just want people to stop advertising recommendations that aren't valid."
Park Slope Parents has the advantage of infrastructure. Members pay a $35 membership fee and Ms. Fox's work is a full-time job. Every message that goes through the list is moderated. And nanny postings are scrutinized. "We go through a fairly rigorous process to see whether or not this is a valid reference," she said.
Helen Panagiotopoulos, a former nanny and spokeswoman for Domestic Workers United, said such cases of fraud are "an anomaly" and a result of the way the industry is set up. "There historically have been no standards in the industry...so employers and employees alike are constantly trying to navigate a system that's unregulated," she said.
"Our role is to really engage in a massive educational effort with employer groups, particularly in Park Slope, to establish communitywide standards," she added.
As a volunteer group, Bococa doesn't have the resources to vet posts the way the Park Slope group does.
One Bococa member who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was looking forward to identifying potential nannies for his 3-month-old son.
In an email he wrote:
"I really like that there is a list where I can go to of a virtual community where I could find help when I need it, and it sucks that they've banned the one thing I needed help with!"
The solution seems easy. Allow members to post nanny recommendations and make the parents do the detective work, the same way they would if they found a nanny on craigslist. Verify identify. Check criminal backgrounds. Call references and, better yet, meet with them if they live in the neighborhood.
That is, after all, what an online parent listserv is supposed to be about—connecting a community.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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