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The Hidden Camera Debate
Should you videotape your nanny?
Experts say it is generally legal to make a video-only recording of a nanny at work in your own home, without informing the nanny. (Brian Garrigan / ABCNEWS.com)
By John Siceloff
The idea of installing video equipment in your home to secretly videotape your nanny generates strong feelings. Some parents and experts believe a nanny-cam is an essential tool in today’s world; others reject it as an invasion of privacy and a waste of money.
One Family's Nightmare
When Joel and Marcy (who did not want their last name revealed) had their third child, they decided to employ an “extra set of hands:” a nanny. They sought a trustworthy friend; but what they ultimately found was every parent’s worst nightmare. At first, Xiomara Rocha seemed to be the perfect nanny. For five months, Marcy believed she’d found in Rocha a friend and an indispensable new member of the family. But something wasn’t quite right. Suspecting that the baby had been allowed to cry excessively, Marcy and Joel decided to install a hidden camera to record whatever went on in the baby’s room. What they saw on the tape was beyond anything they had ever imagined possible: Rocha repeatedly striking their crying child’s head with a closed fist, alternately hitting her tiny hands as she held on to the side of the crib. Rocha was soon arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse — a felony that can lead to 15 years in prison. Rocha pled not guilty. Immigration authorities also told 20/20 that Rocha’s tourist visa explicitly prohibited her from working in the U.S.
What's a parent to do?
Before parents follow Marcy and Joel’s example and install a secret camera, they should know a little about the legal issues; laws governing covert videotaping vary from state to state. Experts say it is generally legal to make a video-only recording of a nanny at work in your own home, without informing the nanny. Recording audio, such as telephone conversations, is legal in some states, but illegal in others unless you get the consent of the nanny. If you purchase equipment for nanny-cam taping, your supplier will be able to inform you about the legal situation in your state. Beyond the legal questions, however, parents have to decide whether or not videotaping their nanny is the right thing to do. The family portrayed in 20/20’s report swears by it — their tape caught their nanny abusing their child and were able to put it to a stop. Here’s what they told 20/20 correspondent Perri Peltz:
> Perri Peltz: “How do you prevent this from happening in other homes?”
> Marcy: “By having people put cameras in their homes. As terrible as that sounds, how else? How else do you know what happens when you’re not there?”
> Perri Peltz: “Would [your nanny] still be working here had you not had a surveillance camera in the baby’s room?”
> Marcy: “Absolutely. One hundred percent.”
> Joel: “No reason why she wouldn’t. We never saw that reaction, that anger anywhere else, manifest itself. If we didn’t see that tape? She wasn’t going anywhere.”
> Perri Peltz: “That is scary.”
> Marcy: “It’s scary because my daughter would probably be dead, eventually, or brain damaged, or blind, or God knows what.”
But Dr. Walter F. Lambert has a different view: he says nanny-cam taping is a waste of money. Lambert is the director of the University of Miami Child Protection Team and a nationally recognized expert on child abuse. He was called in by the police to examine Marcy and Joel’s baby after the incident with the nanny was discovered. Incredibly he found the baby appeared to be happy and healthy. Lambert says those who go to all the trouble of covert videotaping may still miss abuse if it occurs. Abuse might occur in a different room, or at a time when the videotape isn’t recording. Here’s what Lambert told ABCNEWS:
> Dr. Walter F. Lambert: “My concern is that people will set up video tapes because they have the sense that something is wrong and they won’t catch anything and they will feel comfortable when something bad is continuing to go on.”
Lambert’s advice: rely on your intuition.
> Lambert: “I’m not telling people not to do it, but I just think that’s a waste of money, and if you really feel uncomfortable enough to go out and buy video taping this person should not be in your home. Because if you can’t trust that person enough that you have to set up a video taping, they shouldn’t be taking care of your kids.”
Lambert is thankful that Marcy and Joel were successful in using a nanny-cam to discover what happened to their daughter. But he says the bottom line is your gut feeling about the nanny.
> Lambert: “What people need to understand is because you’ve hired this person, if you don’t feel comfortable at whatever level, trust your instincts and just find somebody else.” Marcy and Joel say that if you do install a nanny-cam you have to be prepared to spend time reviewing the tapes.
> Marcy: “Checking once in a while isn’t enough. It has to be a regular investment. It has to be a regular thing that you do. Tape once or twice a week, watch it for twenty minutes, that’s all it takes, you fast forward through the parts where nothing’s happening. It can save your child’s life.”
> Perri Peltz: “And for those people who say, oh, I’m not going to do it, it’s intrusive. It’s invading on, on someone’s privacy. What would you say to them?”
> Marcy: “I would say, put that on your child’s head and then let’s see. Which is more important? Those feelings or your child’s life?”
The Baby’s Guardian Angel
Marcy and Joel never personally saw any signs of the violence occurring inside their home against their child and they’re thankful that their baby’s high-tech “guardian angel” did.
“I know this baby has a guardian angel, as we all do about our children,” says Marcy. “But I just truly believe, that she has been protected, because for the abuse she has received, it’s truly a miracle that she is as happy and wonderful as she is.”
Safety and Regulation of the Child Care Industry
Center for Career Development in Early Care and Education
Child Care Law Center
Families and Work Institute
National Association for the Education of Young People (NAEYC)
National Association for Regulatory Administration
ABCNEWS’ Nina Alvarez and Phuong Nguyen contributed to this report.
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