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We are seriously thinking of hiring a nanny, as my wife wishes to hold on to her job in these tough times. I have seen what are called, "nanny-cams" (like the one here), that help us monitor the nanny at home.
The video on the main page, showing nanny mishandling the kids, is enough to instill fear in me to worry about the decision of hiring a nanny.

That apart, I wonder if has anyone tried these surveillance cameras. More questions follow me, a resident of Michigan,
Could such a 'hidden-camera' it be termed illegal, and could it lead to lawsuits, etc.,?
Should the presence of a camera be disclosed to the nanny (employer-employee contract)?

Would greatly appreciate any help, information on this topic.

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The legality questions are going to be too locale specific to really be on topic here I suspect. –  cabbey Sep 29 '11 at 16:43
    
Just a thought, some day care centers near me (in Metro Detroit) have password protected webcams so parents can check-in through out the day. I won't debate the merits of in-home vs. center-based care, but you certainly can get better monitoring of employees in some centers. –  Christopher Bibbs Sep 30 '11 at 17:26
    
Agreed with cabbey my state has strict laws on recording of people over phones and in homes, not others in the US do. You'd best talk to a lawyer about that. Regardless, the video in that site looks very staged, I saw a few edits that showed me things were not the way they appeared –  MichaelF Sep 30 '11 at 19:38
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3 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

First of all, a disclaimer. IANAL. The legal issues will vary widely based on jurisdiction. Check your local laws.

Second, we never used a nanny. My wife worked for the first 3 years, but we used home-based day care providers who we found through referrals. If I were to hire a nanny today, I would absolutely put a video system in the home. I would also make clear to the nanny that Mom and Dad are watching.

To specifically answer the question ... below is my (non-exhaustive) list of pros and cons.

Pros

  • Piece of Mind - This is really the point, isn't it?
  • Legal Evidence - If you need to call the authorities or even just fire the nanny, you will have evidence.
  • Information - The video will have useful information about sleep habits, patterns, etc., that can't otherwise be obtained. Why won't your kid go to sleep easily? Perhaps the nanny is forcing a long nap in the afternoon to watch soap operas.
  • Milestones - The chances are that your kid's first crawl, first step, and most other first will happen with the Nanny. At least you'll be able to see it.

Cons

  • Limitations and Expense - IMHO neither of these is really an issue today. Video equipment is cheap, and can work on your home wireless network. Complete systems can be purchased at reasonable costs. It does take some thought and planning, but isn't hard.
  • Time to review/monitor - It's pointless if you don't look, and it takes a while to watch 10 hours of video, even at fast-forward speed.
  • May become a crutch - I can see the video becoming a rationalization for not paying enough attention, supervising, etc.

Other Notes

The video on the main page, showing nanny mishandling the kids, is enough to instill fear in me

Well, that's the point isn't it. The web site is trying to sell nanny cams!

Surveillance can't replace trust.

No kidding. But trust is hard to come by, and any trust you may feel from a short interview is shallow and misplaced anyway. We are talking about our kids here. If putting in video will help smooth your transition to trusting, it is probably a good investment.

To quote my favorite president, "Trust but verify."

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Thank you! Yours is definitely the best answer, it really helps me. Thank you for (a) sharing your personal experiences and beliefs, (b) excellent points on pros and cons, (c) giving a mature and impartial answer. –  CMR Sep 30 '11 at 15:19
    
+1 for time. If you have time to monitor the nanny, you have time to be the nanny. At best you can use cameras to play back events, but you'd have to be lucky the event happened in front of the camera. –  w00t Oct 3 '11 at 18:05
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I think a nanny cam is worthless, for technical as well as social/legal reasons. In a sentence, it cannot replace trust. Let me first answer your questions, then provide some thoughts:

The video on the main page is enough to instill fear in me

I think the video you link to is made explicitly to put the force of fear in you, with "you" being a potential customer, and "customer" meaning profit for the shareholders.
--> This is not about the safety of your child.

Could it be termed illegal? Should the presence of a camera be disclosed?

Yes, in some places it certainly is illegal, and in some places you must disclose the fact in advance.
--> Check your local laws.


Surveillance cannot replace trust
If you trust the nanny so little that surveillance is necessary, then you should question your choice of nanny. Of course it can be very difficult to find someone to put that much trust into, and even if there's trust, it's no guarantee against bad events -- accidental or not.

Technological limitations make the whole exercise questionable
Bad events might take place inside the camera's viewing angle, or off-camera. Because one camera cannot cover the entire home, you'd need several just to cover the most obvious places. This seems impractical and expensive.

Legal matters
In many places in the world, video surveillance is only allowed (legal) when the observed people are informed in advance. If you do inform the nanny, she might deliberately move off-camera. If you illegally monitor but don't inform, then using that evidence might get you more trouble than it's worth.

Reaction time
Monitoring provides no protection by itself, it merely tells a story after the fact. If you're watching an event happen, what can you do? You can't assist directly. Sometimes calling your home phone (or even emergency services) might be helpful but lacking any statistics I suspect that case to be very rare.

I was going to write that the only situation in which I think a nanny cam might be useful is when using it as a video baby monitor -- say, when you're sitting downstairs while the baby is supposed to be sleeping upstairs. Having a (night-vision) cam would save you the trip of going upstairs to check. But that's a video baby monitor, not a nanny cam, and if it's that difficult to reach your baby then you might consider being closer to it in the first place.

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"Surveillance cannot replace trust. If you trust the nanny so little that surveillance is necessary, then you should question your choice of nanny." This simply could not be said any clearer. I want to add that you shouldn't go into this with a general demeanor of mistrust, or even fear, that the nanny is going to do something nefarious. Be vigilant, but that attitude it is neither practical nor realistic. While i may not have liked some of the things done by a couple of the people i chose to watch my kids, I never had anything truly bad happen and the people were always actually caring. –  monsto Sep 30 '11 at 7:36
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The biggest problem we have with our baby monitor camera is coverage, even placed in the corner of the room and way up to get a good vantage of the room, you'd have to have 3 or 4 of the darn things to actually cover every place in the room where something bad could happen.

To be honest, I think a lot of it comes down to trust. A friend of mine used to be a nanny, she says the BEST relationships she had with the parents, were the ones that didn't hire her so that her first day with the kids was their first day back to work. The ones that had her start a couple weeks early and watched the kids while they cleaned house, or did laundry, or worked out, or even just went in their bedroom and read a book, always turned out to be the best long term parent/nanny relationship. That gave the parents a lot of time to monitor in person the nanny interacting with their kids, to see how she handled their worst case tantrums.

I have a co-worker that has non-hidden cameras in all his kids bedrooms (the small dome kind that are about the size of a smoke detector) and playroom and common spaces. Other than catching the nanny badmouth him in spanish (thinking he doesn't speak it) the best use for it so far is his toddler saying "I know you're watching daddy, I'm not tired, can we play mario cart?" over and over and over until he fell asleep.

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+1 for starting with the nanny some time ahead of when she's actually needed - a wise investment. Not only can you establish some trust, but you also ensure some time to find another nanny if the first choice turns out to be below expectations. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Sep 30 '11 at 8:55
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aw man, good story last paragraph. +1 for wanting to spend time with daddy playing catch... er i mean the new version of that which is playing video games. –  monsto Oct 2 '11 at 17:38
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