THE news about Aisling McCarthy Brady, the Irish nanny who has been accused of causing serious injury to a one-year-old child, who later died, has struck fear into the hearts of every mother I know. What if ...
While McCarthy Brady is vigorously defending her innocence, it is the mere possibility of a nanny harming a child that terrifies us.
Would you take off your engagement ring, hand it to a stranger and walk away for eight hours? I think not. And yet, isn't that what we do when we hire nannies and childminders? We're essentially leaving our most treasured possessions with virtual strangers. Was it always thus?
Not really. Before the advent of cheap travel, most nannies and childminders were either grannies or aunties or the daughter of someone you knew. There were only ever one or two degrees of separation.
But now, we hire young women from countries whose names we can barely pronounce, never mind find on a map. Sometimes these girls don't even speak English. We know absolutely nothing about them, except that they claim to be willing to look after our children.
We go back to work, desperate to keep our jobs so we can pay the mortgage and hope that the young girl from Uzbekistan will be nice to our child.
Childcare is a reality that most working women deal with on a daily basis. I never meet a group of friends without finding out that someone's nanny or au pair has just left, moved, got pregnant, run off with the man next door or just not turned up for work. These events leave the mother in a state of panic. How quickly can she find a replacement and get back to work?
On your first child, you tend to do mountains of research. You spend hours talking to nanny agencies, trawling the internet for information on the important questions to ask prospective childminders. They include: Do you have a criminal record? Are you are a safe driver? And for live-in childminders, do you have a boyfriend?
Is someone with a criminal record going to admit to it? Is a terrible driver going to say so? Don't all young women lie about boyfriends?
A friend of mine, determined to find the perfect nanny, interviewed 12 women and felt she had found the 'right' one. She was a lovely quiet girl from Poland who went to Mass every Sunday and was very gentle with the baby. Three months later my friend came home from work to find the nanny passed out on the couch with the baby crawling around beside her. It transpired that the nanny had found herself an Irish boyfriend who had 'taught' her how to drink.
On your first child you dream of hiring an ex-'Blue Peter' presenter who also has a degree in paediatric nursing and is a cordon bleu chef. But as time goes on and your family grows, when it comes to child number three or four or five, your standards drop and you'll hire anyone who looks half normal just so you can get out the door.
I've had babysitters from far and wide and they've all been lovely. But it only takes one bit of bad luck for all that to change ... one bad egg in the dozen.
But what's the alternative? Even women who don't want to work have to these days, and working women need to hire childminders. This dilemma affects stay-at-home mums too, everyone needs a babysitter at some point. So what do we do? How do we make the right choice when hiring someone to mind our little angels?
There is no perfect solution. You simply have to trust your instinct and hope for the best and in most cases things work out well. But it is vital that mothers are honest with each other. If your ex-nanny was irresponsible in some way, you need to pass that information on to the mother who is thinking of hiring her.
It's a jungle out there and none of us want to sit in work worrying sick about the credentials of the woman minding our beloveds. As for Aisling McCarthy Brady, we can only hope that she is innocent and that the truth will out. The alternative is too dark to contemplate.