Friday 23 February 2018

Chill of fear for working parents after child deaths

Ryan Faughnder and Renee Dudley in New York

Injured nanny found stabbing herself next to bodies has yet to be quizzed

When Marina Krim found two of her young children fatally stabbed upon returning home to the family's Upper West Side apartment, their nanny alongside them, stabbing herself, the world of New York childcare was instantly changed. As the news quickly spread, parents across New York City and beyond were shaken to their core.

For decades, the business of entrusting young children to a nanny has been a fraught yet informal affair for busy dual- career New York couples. Leaving children in the care of others tended to be a process that was patched together, word-of-mouth affairs with little more to guide parents than a wink of encouragement from a trusted neighbour.

Now, the wisdom and safety of that time-tested approach has been crushed. In neighbourhoods, workplaces and on blogs, professional and stay-at-home parents alike are questioning their path forward.

"I can imagine every mother who's heard about this is scared to walk out of their house," said Lisa Berger, a married mother with a six-year-old in Brooklyn, New York, who has two jobs and works 60 hours per week.

"Everyone puts their children into the hands of others," Berger said. "Sure, you can run a background check and drug tests but you can never determine how people are going to act in certain situations or know their breaking points."

The Krim family could never have known the terrible consequences of their choice of childcare. One-year-old Leo Krim and his six-year-old sister Lucia were found in a bathtub by their mother, Marina, who returned to their home at about 5.30pm on October 25, according to police. The children had been left with their nanny, Yoselyn Ortega.

The children's father, Kevin Krim, works at CNBC as general manager for digital.

Ortega, 50, was in critical condition at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Centre, and police hadn't been able to speak with her, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said during a press conference. Possible charges had yet to be determined, Kelly said.

"It's difficult to say" when police would be able to speak to the nanny, because she was intubated and had cuts to her wrists and neck, Kelly said. "Obviously, it depends on a doctor's determination".

Ortega, a native of the Dominican Republic, is a naturalised US citizen and has lived in the country for about 10 years. She was referred to the family by friends and had been working for them for about two years.

The nanny lived at another location on Manhattan's West Side with her son, her sister and her sister's daughter. The nanny's family was co-operating with police, the commissioner said.

There is no history of mental illness with the nanny of which police are aware and no domestic incident reports involving the woman.

The mother had gone to a neighbourhood YMCA for swimming lessons with her three-year-old daughter Nessie and was supposed to meet the nanny and the two other children at a dance studio later in the evening, Kelly said.

When the nanny didn't show, the mother went to the apartment and found her one-year-old son and six-year-old daughter clothed and in the bathroom with stab wounds to their bodies, said Paul Browne, an NYPD spokesman. When the mother entered the bathroom, the nanny started to stab herself, Browne said. When police arrived, the nanny was on the bathroom floor with a knife next to her.

Detectives met the father of the two children, Kevin Krim, who was on his way back to the city from a business trip, at John F Kennedy International Airport and escorted him to the hospital.

The tragedy that's befallen the Krims is every family's worst nightmare. It has parents across the US rethinking how they go about hiring nannies.

Heather Stone, a stay-at-home mother with a one-year-old son in Williamsburg, said she hired her child-carer after a 20-minute interview and a recommendation. She trusted her nanny, she said, but the killings made her rethink how she approached the hiring process.

"Next time, I would definitely get more references," she said.

The fallout is likely to affect day-care centres to which parents may turn in greater numbers. Lisandra Lopez, director at Mabel Barrett Fitzgerald Day Care Centre in Manhattan, said the most common question she got from parents choosing day care was how the staff were screened.

Anyone who worked at her centre got background checks, Lopez said.

"I'm a parent and a grandmother," she said. "If you're going to trust your child to anyone, no matter what the situation, that person should be screened, totally."

Terri Brax, founder and chief executive officer of TeacherCare, a personal childcare and education company, said the events prompted informal internal discussions emphasising the importance of detailed screenings of all job candidates. "People might see how valuable all that screening is," Brax said.

Some anxious parents are turning to a technological fix. Daniel McBride, owner of American Eagle Investigations, a Manhattan surveillance company, said he received three calls from parents before 9am on Friday.

"One caller wanted everything possible, and others just wanted some advice," said McBride, whose company installs in-home security cameras that parents can monitor remotely. "It's a knee-jerk reaction, but they're practices people should think about."

Meantime, parents' groups are grappling to make sense of the tragedy. There's a feeling of solidarity among parents when such a tragedy occurs, said Leslie Venokur, the co-founder of Big City Moms, a social organisation for working parents in New York.

"The whole mom community, we feel like we know each other and we know each others' kids," she said. "When something happens to a fellow young family, it feels like it's happening right in our backyard."

New York nannies are also grieving and say they worry that the tragedy will result in distrust from local families.

Cliff Greenhouse, president of the Pavillion Agency, a Manhattan group that places caregivers, said nannies had called him to share their sadness over the tragedy and their worries about how it will tarnish their reputations.

"They're devastated because this is what they do, and they love what they do," Greenhouse said. "The nannies we're working with are doing this by choice."

Sunday Independent

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