Care.com, a website intended to help parents and families find nannies, babysitters, daycare providers, or caregivers, has come under fire after a Wall Street Journal expose detailed the company’s struggles with lawsuits and bad press. The article highlighted Care.com’s vetting policies, with the headline stating that Care.com puts the “onus on families to check caregivers’ backgrounds—sometimes with tragic outcomes.”
The article began with a story about young twins who drowned in a pool while they were in the care of an in-home daycare provider near Knoxville, Tennessee. The daycare provider’s Care.com profile had claimed that her business with state-licensed. Not only was this claim untrue, but the state had filed an injunction against the home daycare months earlier after learning that the homeowner was caring for up to 11 children at once. In Tennessee, the law requires in-home daycares to have a license if they will be looking after more than five children “not related to the caregiver.”
The WSJ article indicated that these types of situations—in which caregivers claim to be state-licensed even though they aren’t—are common. The newspaper also found “about nine instances” from the past few years of caregivers listed on Care.com with criminal records later accused of committing crimes while caring for children or the elderly. These crimes—which ranged from theft to child abuse to sexual assault to murder—may have been prevented through the use of thorough background checks.
Care.com states on its website that it does “monitor site interactions and do some preliminary screening on members to promote a safe community.” However, Care.com also cautions users that it does not conduct background checks on caregivers or verify state licensing and other credentials. Instead, Care.com sells caregiver background checks as an add-on option. The WSJ article notes that these screening packages range in cost from $59 to $300 on top of the $39-per-month fee that the site charges all users.
Sheila Marcelo, the chairwoman for the company, says Care.com is like LinkedIn in that it helps facilitate connections and hiring. Just as LinkedIn does not verify the information listed on user profiles or run background checks on every user, Care.com does not vet caregivers who choose to list themselves on the site. If families wish to conduct background checks on their caregivers, they must pay for that service separately.
A federal law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, at least partially protects Care.com’s ability to take this stance by holding that technology companies cannot be held liable for the content posted by their users.
The WSJ article noted that Care.com has been slow about removing caregivers from its site after allegations about them have surfaced. In at least one case, a caregiver reported for molesting a child remained on the site for weeks after the incident—long enough to find several new victims. Parents have complained about Care.com not notifying them regarding issues with registered caregivers.
This story highlights the uncertainty that exists around background checks and vetting in the gig economy. Users of gig-based services like Care.com cannot assume that the freelancers they hire have passed background checks. Instead, it is essential to read about the policies and practices of the apps and services you use—and plan your own vetting safeguards accordingly.