The Hand That Rocks the Cradle?
December 6, 2012 8:01 PM   Subscribe

What to do about a babysitter who appears to be having a mental breakdown/serious depressive episode?

So a while back we used a few professional babysitting sites - background checks and whatnot included - to locate a sitter for the one day when both of us work. Our sitter worked out fine at first, but lately (the past two weeks, at least) she's been acting... off.

1) She seems spacey and distant, taking up to five minutes to, for example, walk inside once we open the door to greet her. She wanders pretty aimlessly while inside, too. If I had to guess, I'd have said she was sedated.

2) She mumbles a lot and says things that don't make much sense, randomly coming out with phrases like, "How can I ameliorate the situation?" or "I just want to do better. Maybe I can go to community college."

3) She doesn't seem to hear what we say. For example, today, my wife told her several times that the baby was sleeping in his room, but right before my wife left, the babysitter went wide-eyed and said, "Where's [the baby]!?" As though he'd been there and disappeared or something.

4) Weird reactions. when I spoke with her, she seemed to be responding to remarks other than the ones I made. For instance, she said a phrase in French and, when I said, "Ah, I don't speak French. We had a choice in high school and I went with Spanish 'cause it's easier," she reared back and said, "Why does it have to be offensive? If it's a choice. Why does it automatically offend someone if I speak French?" (Note: She is not French and actually I previously had no idea she knew any French at all.)

5) As near as I can tell, she had some kind of panic attack while sitting tonight and decided that our apartment was haunted or possessed or something. My wife got a weird voicemail in which the sitter said she heard "knocking" and asked if she could "take the baby for a walk." When I got home, she tried to tell me something about hearing sounds and "echoing voices." (We live in an apartment; knocking noises and echoing voices are par for the course, and I can't think how she wouldn't have heard such things before.) She seemed very embarrassed and wasn't able to express herself clearly. (See above RE: random remarks, mumbling, bizarre non-sequiturs.)

6) The thing that has freaked out my wife is that, when the sitter was leaving, the baby started shouting (just making noise, as babies will), and the sitter said something about how the baby wanted to come with her. When my wife opened her laptop, she saw that the sitter (who is allowed to use it to browse the internet if she wants) was apparently watching a slideshow of our picture collection of the baby. (And an image of Patrick Stewart from the Internet, oddly.)

From previous conversations, the best I can guess is that something unpleasant is happening in her life with reference to her children (10-14 in age) and her ex-husband. She's mentioned several times about how she "misses her children" but insists that she's "fine... physically" when asked about it. I suspect an issue with custody is at stake and she's having a major depressive episode as a result, since some of the symptoms seem to fit.

So the question is this:

What do we do? My wife wants to call the police "just in case." I feel like that's kind of pointless and/or overkill, since the police can't do anything about someone acting spacey and she hasn't done anything overtly threatening.

We don't know any of her relatives' names or how to contact them, which would be my first preference. Obviously, we're not keeping her in our employ at this point, but presumably she'd go back to the websites and apply for more sitting jobs, and if she's this erratic, something unfortunate might happen. I suggested just e-mailing the sites in question, but my wife, again, thinks that we'd need a police report so they will "take us seriously."

Should I call the police? Is this a thing they do? Does one need to have it "on the record" so as to have a faster response in the event that the sitter starts lurking around our apartment complex or something equally tabloid-y?
posted by Scattercat to Human Relations (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You're correct, there is no Division of Precrime at your local precinct, so all you can do is contact the site.
posted by availablelight at 8:04 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Well, step one is obviously to not let her take care of your baby anymore. You don't have to tell her why.
posted by ocherdraco at 8:07 PM on December 6, 2012 [31 favorites]

Yeah, like I said, definitely the end of this particular gig for her. I guess a broader question would be:

Is there anything I can/should do to help make sure she and those around her stay safe?
posted by Scattercat at 8:11 PM on December 6, 2012

Obviously, we're not keeping her in our employ at this point, but presumably she'd go back to the websites and apply for more sitting jobs, and if she's this erratic, something unfortunate might happen.

I assume this is as of immediately. Your gut is telling you something is off, so definitely don't leave your child alone with her.

I would definitely call the agency and describe what you've said here. If the agency is any good at all, they should take your complaint very seriously. It would be pretty bad for their business if they sent this woman to another client like this; I assume they'd lose that client immediately. It shouldn't matter if there's no police report: hopefully their standards for sitters are higher than just not having a criminal record.

It sounds like the sitter needs help, and needs not to be taking care of children until she gets some help.
posted by pompelmo at 8:18 PM on December 6, 2012 [13 favorites]

Don't call the police, call the administrators of your service, I also assume they have to be licensed as they are providing such a service. Keep track of this sitter's availability (if possible) and if she still remains "active" contact the licensing body with your concerns. That is the extent you should be involved.
posted by edgeways at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Hi, Agency? I hired Jane Doe through your site, and I'm sure she is a wonderful lady but she seems to be having some real problems right now. You might want to talk with her and make sure everything's okay, because some of the things she said and did struck me and my spouse as quite off."

And if they ask you to expand, do so in as objective and detailed a way as possible.

Poor lady. I hope she works out whatever's going on with her.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2012 [41 favorites]

I wonder, is this something CPS would investigate?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:21 PM on December 6, 2012

How about asking the babysitter what's going on? I can't really tell from your post if you've done this or not, but it seems to me like she's your best bet for understanding what's going on. If you've been otherwise happy with her service, I'd think you'd have a vested interest in helping her work through whatever's going on, as opposed to reporting her to an authority.
FWIW, as I was reading your post, my brain was screaming "DRUGS OR ALCOHOL!!!"
posted by segatakai at 8:27 PM on December 6, 2012 [6 favorites]

Yes, please talk to the admins of whichever sites she advertises on. This woman is in no shape to be solely responsible for young children.

But also, it would be a kindness to sit her down for a coffee and talk, then listen. Tell her you're worried about her. Find out what's going on in her life, if you can. It sounds as if she is getting into a really bad place.
posted by Salamander at 8:33 PM on December 6, 2012 [10 favorites]

Sit her down and talk to her out of concern. She may have a mental illness or substance abuse problem. Definitely don't have her watch your child any more, though.
posted by xenophile at 8:44 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't talk with the sitter, ask her questions or try to solve her problems. You will only get deeper into this quagmire. You should call the agency, explain you no longer want to employ this sitter, but do they have someone else to recommend. They will ask if there is a reason and you give them a brief explanation and move on. Stick to facts.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:52 PM on December 6, 2012 [11 favorites]

If we're talking about one of the websites like, there is no "agency", it's just a site anyone can advertise on if they pass the background check. It still might be worth checking with the site management to express your concern.

I'm not sure what else you can do.
posted by medusa at 9:06 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

It would be awesome if you had contact phone numbers for her relatives.

(Next time, get an emergency contact number from anyone you hire. Call references and keep them on file, too.)

Please try calling a mental health clinic, hotline, or hospital. Or check with the police non-emergency number. Ask them if there is a way to get this woman a welfare check or similar.

I don't know what kind of services your community offers, but it is worth looking into.

You don't have to go through any extra effort, but it would be nice of you to do so. It does sound like she is having some kind of break from reality or breakdown. Maybe she's schizophrenic and has gone off of her meds? Maybe she is self-medicating and requires an intervention of some sort? Who knows.

See what you can do as far as notifying a care agency or relative about her condition.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:21 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're getting some odd suggestions here. This woman hasn't asked you for help and isn't likely to thank you for sitting her down for a personal interrogation or siccing the local authorities on her. Nor should you prolong the acquaintance.

Yes, next time get an emergency contact number for anyone you employ. Yes, contact the site administrators and let them know everything you've told us. No, do not call the police on this girl, she hasn't done anything.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:32 PM on December 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

I agree with jbenben that mental health agencies should be contacted. Calling the police is overkill.
posted by Autumn at 9:46 PM on December 6, 2012

I think you're really giving her the benefit of the doubt by thinking this could just be depression. My first thought (similarly to several others here) was that she is either experiencing some symptoms of psychosis or on drugs. When she said she is hearing voices and seems afraid, you're thinking that she's hearing voices that actually exist... I wouldn't be so sure about that. Seeming distracted, as if one is listening to or paying attention to something else, and then responding oddly/inappropriately in conversation, those can be signs of psychosis as well. There is really no way of knowing, of course, from the story you're telling here, I'm just speculating and I do not think you should take any drastic action based on speculations from internet strangers.

I don't think calling the police will be helpful here. They can be called if you think someone is really an imminent danger to themselves or others in a psychiatric sense, but it doesn't sound like her behavior is that extreme. I do not think she is going to do anything that would necessitate a police 'report' to give them a heads up.

The problem is, you really don't know this woman that well and you don't know anyone who knows her well, either. That really limits what you can do. I do think if you talk to her about it you could mention that she seems to be behaving oddly lately, and you're worried about her and think that maybe she should talk to someone if she's having trouble.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:14 PM on December 6, 2012 [3 favorites]

Adults have a pretty broad right to mess up their lives how they want without government interference. If she is not an immediate danger to herself or others, no one in the government (police, mental health agency) is likely to interfere.

The big exception is if you are concerned for the welfare of her own children. If you think that they are being neglected or their well-being is in danger, call child protective services. They will go out to the house and interview her and the children and decide if anything further needs to be done. Odds are that nothing will happen, even if things are less than optimal but at least you will have brought to the attention of someone with the responsibiity to care.
posted by metahawk at 10:19 PM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Actually, the police spend an overwhelming amount of time dealing with the mentally ill during the course of their jobs. Calling their non-emergency phone number and asking for references to services available isn't unheard of. Likewise, I believe they are the ones who perform welfare checks.

If the OP is thinking that they need to file some sort of incident report, I agree the police probably won't be able to do that since nothing happened.

This is a really tough situation to figure out what the "right thing" to do is.
posted by jbenben at 11:14 PM on December 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

What I think you should do is contact the babysitting service and tell them what you told us, and suggest that they pass that information on to her emergency contacts.

Make it clear that she hasn't done anything wrong, but her mental state has changed for the worse and you're not confident she's well enough to babysit.

I am surprised that you are chalking this up to depression when she seems to be hearing and seeing things that aren't there, but it's not your place to diagnose her one way or the other. All you know is that she clearly isn't in the best of mental health right now.
posted by tel3path at 2:59 AM on December 7, 2012 [7 favorites]

If she were still in your home, one option would be to call EMS and then have them evaluate her/take her to be evaluated. Or convince her to come with you to an emergency room.

But, she's not.

Notify the website admins that this lady is NOT in any shape to care for children.

That said, you've done what you can, she needs to do for herself, or have someone in her life help her out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

This either sounds like she's on drugs at work, or she's experiencing a psychotic break. Both are pretty darn serious.

If I found myself in this situation, I would attempt to contact a family member to inform them that something is off with her behavior, and to contact the agency to tell them that something is seriously wrong.

Beyond that, not much you can do.
posted by zug at 6:54 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

I suffer from depression.
This does not sound anything like depression.
As I read this it never once sounded like depression.

It sounded like this woman has gotten herself majorly messed up with drugs. It could be a non-drug induced psychological break, but frankly it doesn't matter why she is behaving this way. What matters is that she is clearly very unstable and dangerous. What you need to do right now is:
1) make sure she never works for you again and you keep her far from your child (saying how the baby wanted to go with her would scare the ever loving christ out of me, and it makes me feel like she should never see your child again in any capacity. Her saying that in the context of the rest of her bizzare behaviour strikes me as threatening and dangerous, and if she is in the grip of some drug or in the process of a psychological breakdown she is probably capable of convincing herself that your child really DOES want to go with her...)
2) she not work taking care of any children until she is healthy.

When you call the agency I would make a point of stressing how uncomfortable and worrying her saying how the baby wanted to go with her was, especially when taken with all the rest of her bizzare behaviour. I would tell them about how she had been looking at slideshows of pictures of your baby on your laptop prior to saying that. I would do what I could to get them on high alert of her. You want them very aware of the fact that she is totally unfit to be working as a babysitter. You want them to take this very very seriously so that she doesn't get sent off to work for another family.

I really hope that she is able to get help/clean up, but for now all that matters is that you protect your family. If she had a key to your home I would change the locks as quickly as possible. If your apartment building has a security guard/door man, maybe inform them that she is no longer working for you and that her presence is unwelcomed. Is that overkill? Maybe. I am anything but a helicopter "oh noes the world is out to get my kid" type parent, but this I would never mess with. Unstable people are capable of making very irrational and dangerous decisions.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:48 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

This doesn't sound like depression. There's nothing to report to the police, but do report whomever runs the service you were using.

And change your locks.
posted by spaltavian at 9:12 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, this doesn't sound like depression. It seems more like drugs, or possibly the onset of something like schizophrenia. I would definitely contact the agency you hired her through, maybe they have emergency contact information for her, and can take whatever steps are necessary.
posted by sarcasticah at 9:19 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

N-thing that this sounds most like a drug problem, and you should let the agency know that something's up. Maybe I'm reading your post wrong, but it sounds like your wife is worried she might steal the baby? That's the impression I got. Obviously, if you see her lurking around or if she comes in contact with you again, you're well within your rights to call the cops, but from what you've told us she's done nothing yet except be creepy.
posted by sonmi at 10:03 AM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Did this woman have access to your housekeys while she was babysitting? If so, and if you are concerned that "the baby wanted to come with her" means that she would possibly take the baby, then you should change your locks ASAP.
posted by belladonna at 11:11 AM on December 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

Not that it changes the outcome as far as you're concerned, but bad (prescription) drug interactions can cause this sort of thing, too.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:52 AM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be a designer at a very well known babysitting site like the one you are describing. No police report is necessary. They take things like this very seriously and will actually appreciate you calling. Call customer service asap and describe what you said above or copy and paste it into an email to them.
posted by twoforty5am at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

In some jurisdictions, this would be under the purview of Adult Protective Services or an Adult Social Work program. You can look for an intake/report/hotline number and make a report. They may or may not follow up, again depending on the area and their policies.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:08 PM on December 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Change locks and do whatever else is necessary (including letting all other caretakers/relatives know what's going on, so she can't social-engineer either) to make sure she doesn't have access to your child.

At this point, police are unlikely to make any formal report, but that doesn't mean you can't ask them for advice via their non-emergency number. When I dealt with an ex who'd become extremely irrational and was making implied rather than explicit threats (saying I belonged with him, etc., rather than saying "I'm going to do thing X"), the police did file a report of Harassment against him, but that was because of his *pattern* of harassment (he'd sought out my family and friends, saying these things to them too and specifically trying to get access to me). In other words, implied threats aren't criminal but a pattern of harassing behavior is.

She hasn't exhibited a pattern yet, but in the event that she might, please hold on to your records re. anything of concern she's said/done.
posted by kalapierson at 8:59 AM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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