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Is the Nanny Like One of the Family?

When two children tragically died in New York at the hands of their trusted nanny, the familiar anxieties and judgments about putting children in the care of others surged. Has the tragedy made you reassess your child-care decisions?

It tops the list of the worst nightmares of any parent: you couldn’t protect your children from injury, or worse.

The nightmare descends into territory beyond comprehension when the harm is at the hands of the person you entrusted with their care.

The Krims, a young and successful Manhattan-based family, with roots in the Bay Area, is living that nightmare, suffering the loss of two of their three children, 6 year-old Lucia, and 2 year-old Leo. 

According to police reports the children were brutally murdered by their nanny, 50 year-old Yoselyn “Josie” Ortega. Ortega evidently also attempted to take her own life when the children’s mother, Marina Krim, discovered her son and daughter fully clothed and fatally stabbed in the family’s bathtub. She had just returned home with her other daughter, 3 year-old Nessie, following a swim lesson.

Media reports indicate that Ortega was critically injured, but stable. She remains in a New York City hospital. There are not yet any details to indicate what precipitated the killings. 

As parents we can’t help but be deeply disturbed by what happened. Locally, I’ve noticed that while most people know about the tragedy, they aren’t eager to talk about it.

I wonder if the reason people are reticent is that in so many ways the Krim family looks just like so many local families? Perhaps what happened hits way too close to home?

Also, by all accounts the Krims did everything right. They were careful and diligent about whom they chose to care for their children. Introduced to them by a family friend, Ortega had worked for the Krims for two years. They had spent time getting to know her family.

Although there are no answers—and there may never be—about why it happened, many commenters are speculating, and some are placing blame.

A familiar indictment of parents who hire others to help care for their children is common in the discussions that have erupted online.

As unspeakable an event as it is, sadly it’s not the first, nor the last.

Just this week another caretaker in Illinois took the lives of a 5 year-old girl in her care, as well as the life of her own 7 year-old son. Sadly, a simple Internet search will reveal that terrible things happen to children—at the hands of parents and caretakers a like—nearly every single day.

So, why does this particular tragedy fan the flames of anxiety and debate so high, and alarm parents so deeply? 

Could a clue also be found in the oft-repeated notion of the nanny being “like a member of the family?” Echoed in many of the articles and blog posts written about the Krim case, this dimension seems to elevate a senseless tragedy to one of intensely personal betrayal.

Is the nanny one of the family? Can they realistically be?

The sometimes uncertain and shifting boundaries of the nanny role can make the relationship a complicated one, for both employee and employer. On the one hand, they are paid employees, but due to the nature of the role, they can also be personally involved with, and invested in the families they work for.

Raising and taking care of children is indisputably challenging work. How much more so when much of the work is not the nanny’s call? Some have also raised the concern about difficulties that may arise due to cultural differences, or socio-economic status disparities.

This week in Parent Chat we’d like to hear from you about how what happened to the Krim family has affected you? Has it affected/altered your child-care decisions? Is a nanny really “one of the family?”

Renae Wilber November 09, 2012 at 06:38 AM
Hindsight vision is of course 20/20, however, the moment there is obvious animosity and resentment from a caregiver (and there allegedly was in this case) towards the children or the parents, the caretaker should not be entrusted with the children; at least until the situation is resolved completely. I would never put my child's care in the hands of someone who was angry with me. Additionally, I would not hesitate to install a web cam to make sure my children were in the best of care while I was away. We wouldn't turn over our bank accounts or the title to our home to a stranger, but we often times turn over our children, our priceless treasures, much more readily, without hesitation.

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