Los Angeles Resister
By Bill Johnson /Staff Columnist
Does the story of the so-called “nightmare nanny” of Upland really surprise anyone?
Yes, the tale of nanny Diane Stretton and parents Marcella and Ralph Bracamonte, who hired her in March to care for their three children, does seem the stuff of the sickest fiction writer ever. Who could make up such a thing?
A couple goes to an Internet site in search of a nanny. They find a 64-year-old woman, who accepts their offer of room and board in exchange for her services. For three weeks, everything works perfectly.
And then, the nanny won’t come out of her room. The Bracamontes try to fire her in April. When that doesn’t work, they call the police, who demur by saying the dispute is a civil matter. They go to court, but even a judge won’t order her out, saying they hadn’t fired Stretton properly.
The couple, in desperation, wraps a chain around the refrigerator. They empty the pantry of food and shut down their Internet and cable services, hoping to force out the nanny.
Only after media crews descended and camped outside the Bracamontes’ Upland home did Stretton begin negotiating her final departure, which still hasn’t occurred. These days, she told a radio reporter, she is spending most nights sleeping in her car, but her possessions remain inside the home.
Yet set aside, if possible, the lunacy of that case. What it highlights most to me is the persistent crisis of parents being unable to find and afford decent child care.
The Upland couple – no doubt with the best of intentions – sought out a caregiver for their children on, of all places, Craigslist. No, you go there to find an apartment, a lawnmower, maybe a used car, but not for someone to oversee your children.
I sought out Rebecca Stewart for a number of reasons, but mostly to discover how the nanny procurement system is supposed to work. (I also asked if she’d ever heard about the nightmare nanny scenario happening before. She hadn’t.)
Stewart runs VIP Nannies & Household Staffing in Studio City, which is regarded as a top nanny agency in Los Angeles.
Few of us, it should be noted here, could afford her services. Stewart does not dispute this.
Her clients – 99 percent of them, she says – are the elite or close to it of the L.A. entertainment industry, people who don’t blink at paying a nanny $75,000 to $80,000 a year, along with assorted benefits.
“You never do room-and-board only,” Stewart, 32, told me. Not only is it against the law, but a nanny should, as a show of respect if nothing else, receive a salary, she said.
College educated, she worked for four years as a nanny for a “high-profile family” in L.A., living in their home on weekends and jetting off with them as they traveled abroad.
She began VIP Nannies eight years ago.
“Never find a nanny off Craigslist,” she said, repeating it again for emphasis. “There are so many nanny agencies in L.A. serving families of all income levels that can help people.”
She mostly places women with extensive nanny experience, some with 15 or more years in the service – professional nannies, she calls them.
“One of the first things we look for are nannies with a passion for children,” she said. “You can know within five minutes if they have it. You’ll know, too, almost immediately if they are in it just for a quick buck.”
She estimates that she interviews about 25 women each week. An astounding – at least to me – 90 percent of them never make it past the interview, she said.
Those who do must submit to a thorough background check, including state-mandated fingerprinting.
I wanted to go back to that 90 percent rejection rate.
“It’s for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Their references won’t call back. When a reference won’t call back, that’s a red flag. There probably were problems.
“You ask them about their driving record. They’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve had just a few parking tickets.’ And later you’ll uncover a DUI, maybe a few accidents, reckless driving,” she said. “We’re seeking honest people, trustworthy people.”
The lesson of the nightmare nanny scenario, Stewart said, is no one screens on Craigslist. No one monitors who you might be getting.
“It works both ways,” she said. “Weird, dangerous families also take in women off the Internet.”
One bad nanny story has made an entire nation “completely freak out,” Stewart said. She understands that, but for every bad nanny story there are a million-plus good nanny stories, like her clients who volunteer at an orphanage in Africa on their two-week break or help disadvantaged kids in their off hours.
The focus of the nightmare nanny story, she said, shouldn’t be on one woman, but on how we as a nation can make childcare both affordable and safe.
“Look,” Stewart said, “I know people try to skate around the dollar, that hiring an agency can be costly, what with the fees and everything.
“But it’s your child. Their most pivotal ages are from zero to 5. It’s a big deal. Parents need to understand that until things change, there is no cheap way to do this.”
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