What happens if I get a negative reference on a nanny I want to hire?

When a parent calls a nanny’s references they usually expect to hear how wonderful, loving, responsible and collaborative the nanny has been in their working relationships*.  Why else would a nanny use that employer as a reference?  So what happens when you call and the previous employer says something like this: I’m very reluctant to give just a glowing recommendation for Maria.  Maria was wonderful with our daughter and she was a great family assistant.  But there were times when she didn’t do what I asked her to do and then she was very defensive when I talked to her about it.   She also was late several times and dismissed it as nothing important.  When I needed her to have more flexibility in her schedule she wouldn’t be available and ultimately I couldn’t depend on her. 

With this information in hand, you begin to question Maria’s character and work ethic. You may also question your own judgment.  Did you miss something when interviewing Maria?  Are you foolish to hire a nanny that has this type of blemish on her employment record?

These situations never offer straightforward, immediate and simple solutions or answers.  They most often require a brief time to separate emotion from fact before acting.

Here are a few important fundamentals you may find helpful:

  • What is the purpose of the reference?  Parents can forget that references provide an opportunity to evaluate a nanny for what she does well and where she may need support.  References are not one-sided opinions.  In fact getting a recommendation for a nanny that gives insight into her strengths and weaknesses is a good one.
  • How much of another’s experience with a nanny indicates character and how much is situational.  If a nanny doesn’t get the dishes done or laundry folded is it because she can’t manage her time, is lazy, disorganized or sloppy – or is it that the responsibilities with the children consume her day.
  • How much of another’s experiences with a nanny is idiosyncratic to that relationship or consistent in all relationships?  The nanny/parent/child relationship is complex and raising kids adds stress to the mix.  What happens in one relationship may not necessarily happen in another.
  • Recommendations are one-sided opinions until the other party corroborates them.   Unless you have the opportunity to hear from the nanny about her experience and understanding about the situation, it is a one-sided opinion.
  • Even when the relationship between a parent and nanny is warm and supportive, caring for a child often stirs up strong feelings.  It isn’t uncommon for parents – or for nannies - to compete for a child’s affections or for the best solution to handle a behavioral challenge.

 handling negative references: 3 key steps

  1. Talk with other references and compare experiences.  Focus the discussion on those areas about which you need more information and a better understanding.   Have they experienced the nanny in similar ways as the parent giving the negative recommendation?
  2. Examine your situation and determine the relative risk of having a similar experience?   Will the nanny face similar challenges in her work experience with you?
  3. Know yourself:  Have you had problematic relationships with others having similar character traits?  Perhaps there are some characteristics of others that inevitably create friction and are difficult for you to manage.

As most nannies and parents recognize, developing a positive relationship between them is critical in providing quality care to the children.  If the nanny-parent relationship is healthy then caring for the children can be enjoyable and mutually satisfying.

* References are a piece in the complex puzzle of knowing who a person is, how they care for children and the type of relationship they tend to develop with others.   Parents should do due diligence in gathering and evaluating all the required documents to support their felt experiences during interviews, including testing/training and background checks.  You may want to review Chirp’s comments on what these requirements are in our blog:  What are the Health, Safety and Background Checks Requirements for Nanny Employment?