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Charlotte Foster tutors four boys, is active in the Junior League and is a board member of the Children's Museum of Houston, where she conducts tours for first-graders. She volunteers at her three sons' schools, drops off treats for Christmas coffees she can't attend and says her time is not her own.
Five years ago, Foster co-owned a communications company with her brother-in-law in Dallas; she was regularly out of town for meetings and needed someone to pick up her sons from school, take them to soccer practice and fix dinner on nights she couldn't -- so she hired a part-time nanny. Even when she was in town, Foster says, it was nice having an extra person to help with her boys, now aged 16, 14 and 12. "The three kids always had sports events on three different fields all at the same time," she says. Also, having a nanny allowed her one-on-one time to help each child with his homework.
Rachel, the first nanny Foster hired from the Houston-based Nanny Professionals Inc., told Foster during the interview that she had been accused of shoplifting at Foley's, Foster says, and that she had a clean driving record, but neglected to tell Foster that she had been in a major wreck the weekend before. She yelled at the boys in public so much, Foster says, that complete strangers at the country club told Foster to fire her. After nearly a year, the nanny told Foster that the only way to discipline her middle child was to spank him; Foster fired her.
Foster spent the summer nanny-free; in the fall, the placement agency sent over Veronica. "She was a doll," Foster says. The boys loved her. Veronica worked with them for a year before she left, intending to get a teaching certificate. The boys liked the next nanny, too -- Arlene was college-age and they listened to the same music. A few weeks after hiring Arlene, Foster went out of town for the weekend. On Monday morning, Foster says, the agency informed her that Arlene wasn't coming back, "for personal reasons."
She says the agency told her that the only available nanny candidates were men. So three years ago, Foster hired a brown-haired, blue-eyed man with a high forehead and a square jaw who introduced himself to her as Stephen Glenn Davis. The nanny pronounced his name "Stefan" and spoke with a slight foreign accent, which he explained by saying his mother was Belgian.
He started working in mid-October 1999; during his first week, Foster went with him to pick up the boys from school and showed him where the soccer fields were. A few nights after he started working, Foster had to attend a meeting. Foster's husband told the nanny to make the kids macaroni and cheese for dinner, but the nanny said he didn't know how.
That set off an alarm in Foster's husband's head. Foster told him that it was probably a cultural difference -- maybe Kraft Dinners aren't a staple in European diets.
Still, when Foster's husband went to work the next day, he asked his company's head of security to conduct a background check on the nanny.
In Texas, nannies aren't required to take a test or have any kind of training. They aren't regulated, monitored or watched. Five years ago, New York enacted Kieran's Law, which allows parents to send a potential nanny's fingerprints to the FBI and the Division of Criminal Justice Services for a comprehensive criminal background search.
The law is named after Kieran Dunne, a ten-month-old boy murdered by his nanny. When the baby tugged the nanny's hair, she picked him up, threw him across the room and cracked his skull. Kieran's mother, Peggy Dunne, testified before the New York state senate that before hiring the nanny, she had asked the FBI and the New York state police for a copy of the nanny's criminal history, but she was told that information was only for law enforcement officials. After Kieran died, Dunne testified that she had learned the nanny had an extensive criminal history: There was a bench warrant for her arrest, she had a suspended driver's license, false license plates, and a history of violent outbursts and firings. The nanny had falsified references and lied about her education and employment history.
Texas legislators have batted around the idea of creating a law like New York's and have talked about licensing or regulating nannies, says Estella Olguin, Children's Protective Services spokeswoman for child care licensing. But no one has taken serious steps toward legislation, she says. Parents oppose the idea because it would hike up already high child care costs, she says, and prevent parents from asking the 15-year-old next door to watch the kids for an hour or two.
In many cases where nannies have been convicted of killing children, background checks missed huge parts of the nanny's life, says Pamela Rowse, a nurse who founded the Kierra Harrison Foundation for Child Safety after her granddaughter was murdered.
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