Nanny Cams: Better Parental Control, or Violation of Caregiver Privacy?

VIDEO: Many struggle with choice of installing cameras to watch babysitters in action.
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Melanie Hamilton returns to work in a few weeks, and in addition to diapers and feedings, the new mom faces the daunting task of finding a nanny.

"Looking for a nanny does stress me out … What if he falls?" she said of her 3-month old son, Trey. "Or what if something happens where he needs to be taken to the hospital, you know?

"This is a huge decision."

She says she wants a nanny who will care well for her son.

Hamilton is not alone in that regard.

More than one million nannies or professional babysitters work in family homes in the United States, and recent, well-publicized reports of nannies who've treated their charges badly have triggered a growing demand for technology to watch caregivers' every move.

Nanny Advocate Objects to Surveillance

"We're noticing a lot more information is being shared … there's a website where it's possible to post information about nannies," Risa Goldberg, the co-founder of Big City Moms, one of the nation's largest new mom support groups.

Goldberg says there's a growing interest among moms to monitor nannies online. On one blog called I Saw Your Nanny – which was founded by a former nanny -- moms, nannies, and even total strangers are invited to detail the exploits of nannies behaving badly around the nation.

Photos of inattentive caregivers talking on cell phones or speaking harshly to their charges are posted online. Postings describe sitters leaving children unattended in grocery stores, or even slapping children.

Mommy message boards and meet-up groups throughout the nation are catching on to the trend. They are posting similar nanny reports.

Many moms calls the cyber postings a means of protecting innocent children, but Denyse Kapelus is troubled by it all.

Kapelus is the founder of the 25-year-old Professional Nannies Institute. She worries that the tattletale websites are the 21st century's version of Big Brother, and that it may all spin out of control.

"I find it disturbing people can literally destroy someone's reputation on what may be a temporary lapse," she said.

Kapelus says she does not excuse the actions of bad nannies, but worries about websites that enable people to anonymously post photos of nannies that can be taken out of context. She additionally worries that the privacy of the nannies' young charges is violated when the photos are posted.

I Saw Your Nanny reports that at least 12 nannies lost their jobs after parents became aware of items posted on the site, and the site hopes to start allowing people to upload videos of nannies in coming months.

Donna Ellenbogen, a social worker who specializes in counseling young mothers, says checking out tattletale nanny blogs is just one of the latest steps parents are taking to take control of their nannies.

And with the proliferation of technology, Ellenbogen says she doesn't expect that to change anytime soon.

A growing number of Ellenbogen's clients are now tracking their nannies' movements during the day with GPS technology, she said.

These mothers typically place their nannies on a family cell phone plan, and track the nanny through her cell phone, to ensure that nannies are where they say they are supposed to be – classes, school pick-ups -- at different times of the day.

"It's giving them that sense of, 'I know what's going on,' or it's a false belief of, 'If I can't be there, this is the closest I can be to knowing what's going on,'" she said.

Add to GPS monitoring the hidden nanny cams that have been on the market for years – and made famous by films such as "The Nanny Diaries" – and parents have a dizzying array of options to monitor their caregivers.

"GMA" contributor Elisabeth Hasselbeck talked to a panel of working moms, and they were split on the question of monitoring their nannies.

Parents Struggle to Balance Control, Trust

"I think it's a double-edged sword sometimes," Val Neustadt said. " Because I think less is more. So it's kind of like I think if, what you don't know is better … I think it's a little micro-managing, you know. And I just feel you have to be trustful."

"You know, my daughter's at the age where she's starting to tell me some things. And I don't know if they're true or not. Or what to believe," another mother said. " And it's more so like I kind of wish there was a way that I could actually have my eyes on, well, you know, just what goes on when I'm not there."

"Of course, I want to know what's going on when I'm not there. But if I, for a second, doubt that she's doing anything that's not in the best interest of my children, I think I should just let her go … there's no reason to have somebody that you don't trust in your house all the time," someone else noted.

Another woman said jealousy could factor into the enhanced monitoring.

"You know, my daughter's at the age where she's starting to tell me some things. And I don't know if they're true or not. Or what to believe," Allison Citron, the mother of two children, said. " And it's more so like I kind of wish there was a way that I could actually have my eyes on, well, you know, just what goes on when I'm not there."

"Of course, I want to know what's going on when I'm not there. But if I, for a second, doubt that she's doing anything that's not in the best interest of my children, I think I should just let her go … there's no reason to have somebody that you don't trust in your house all the time," Bena Shah, the mother of a young daughter, said.

Another woman said jealousy could factor into the enhanced monitoring.

"You know, there are days where I'm, you know … know I need to go to work and I don't really want to. And I'm, you know, I'm resentful of my nanny that she gets to stay home and be with him when I'm not there. So I definitely think that that would be the impetus to, like, be more micro-managing the situation," Amy Greenbaum, a working mom with one young son, said.

"GMA" also spoke to nannies, who themselves were divided on the issue of monitoring.

"Nanny monitoring? I think if you're doing a good job, you shouldn't worry about it. I don't have a problem with it," one nanny said.

But another nanny said she didn't like it.

"It makes you feel very on edge and very careful – not yourself," she said.

Nanny Cam Business is Booming, Owner Says

Rhyder McClure has no reservations about nanny monitoring. His nanny cam business enables parents, grandparents and friends to watch a nanny from anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.

The cameras can run from about $400 to $4,000, and McClure says 20 percent of his clients fire their nannies within a day of installing the equipment.

That's because parents have observed nannies "shaking children, slapping children, ignoring children … The baby would be on the floor crying, or on the couch, and they'll be gone, you know … doing something else," he said.

Melanie Hamilton says she's not sure what, if anything, she'll do to monitor any nanny she hires.

Right now, the new mom says she's busy scanning the nanny boards on the Baby Bites website, and taking things one step at a time.

"He is my most precious cargo. And, so, I want somebody who cares about him ... you know, almost as deeply as I care about him. Although, I know that's probably not possible," she said, laughing.

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