Babysitter seems to have stolen. Should we confront/report her?
March 8, 2014 12:31 PM   Subscribe

The young woman who takes care of my baby nephew seems to have stolen from my mother's home. Yesterday my mother collected some money from a tenant and left it in an envelope in her bedroom, in an unlocked wardrobe. As usual, she left home to pick up her grandaughter from school and was away for around half an hour. During that time, the babysitter and my baby nephew remained in the house. When my mother got back home, the babysitter told her that she had to leave slightly earlier than usual due to some personal problems (sick relative).

Shortly afterwards, my mother noticed that half the money in the envelope was gone, and so was her gold ring, which she kept in the drawer of her bedside table. Later she also noticed that two (inexpensive) medals which she keeps in another drawer in the living room were, strangely, on the sofa. My sister tells me that a bag with medicines and some pocket money had also disappeared a few days earlier. More disturbingly, my mother found two of her kitchen knives hidden under the TV table, right next to the baby carpet where my nephew and the babysitter usually play. Conceivably, she might have planned to take them out if confronted about the stealing yesterday or before.

Needless to say, I was shocked to learn this. This young woman has only been working at my family's home for around a month. I live in another city, but I met her twice when I was visiting, and she seemed nice. I don´t know if it's of any relevance, but I learned she's 22, dropped out from high school, a born-again christian, has 7 siblings, lives in one of the toughest neighborhoods in town and helps to support her younger siblings. My mother is confused as to what to do. Even though the babysitter had been sort of flaky (arriving late often, cancelling at the last minute after having confirmed, leaving earlier etc.), she seemed to take good care of the baby and, till yesterday, my mother had a generally positive opinion of her. But no outsider could have entered the house without the bs noticing it.

There is no agency involved. I believe my sister found this young woman through a common acquaintance.

The options my family are considering are 1) have the babysitter taken to the police station and her house searched (my sister's preferred option, a judge she knows already confirmed it can be done as soon as my sister files a report) 2) Report the missing items, describing the time and circumstances in which they went missing, without pointing a finger at the babysitter (my mother's preferred option). 3) (Maybe my suggestion, but not sure it's a good idea): Phone the babysitter before speaking to the police, giving her a chance to return what she took before having her arrested. I know that will give her the chance to get rid of the stolen items, supposing she hasn´t already.

In addition to being very disappointed and still sort of incredulous at what happened, my mother is concerned with eventual retaliation from the girl or her family if the police are called in. My sister feels angry and betrayed, and wants to have the bs punished. I understand both positions. I know my mother really needed that money which was stolen. I also know the chances of retrieving anything might not be worth all the trouble. How do you see it from the distance? What sounds like a sensible approach?
posted by Basque13 to Human Relations (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What if the family who had hired her before your mother had noticed the same things? What would you have wanted them to do? Right. Report her so that she doesn't steal/conceal weapons around babies again.
posted by Tsuga at 12:35 PM on March 8, 2014 [15 favorites]

What sounds like a sensible approach?

I would go for Option 2. When you file the report, the police will ask if there's anyone you "think" may have taken the items. That's when you give the babysitter's name, age (if known), address, and phone (if known). I dislike Option 3 because it gives the babysitter a change to destroy the evidence (as you acknowledge). And while I understand the rational behind Option 1, I like it less than Option 2 because it isn't necessary - the police will follow up promptly on the report.

My experience in this comes from having my phone stolen in class, and the subsequent involvement with the police and court system.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:38 PM on March 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Um, if she stole money and easily-pawnable jewelry, the likelyhood of a search of her home turning up anything is low to nil. Even if she has a wallet full of cash, how will you prove it's not hers?

Fire her and drop it.
posted by windykites at 12:39 PM on March 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

There is also a chance of a third party perp: a friend or sibling of the babysitter. Babysitter might've let another person or persons into your mom's home during babysitting hours.

I take it your mom doesn't have any sort of security cams set up at home?

In any event: go to the police. There is zero upside in contacting the babysitter in advance. If she is in fact innocent, and isn't some sort of accomplice, then that will come out through policy inquiry (if any).
posted by nacho fries at 12:42 PM on March 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would go with option 2, but mentioning the babysitter as someone else who had access to the home during the time things went missing.

Another thought, though: is there any chance your mother may be having memory issues? Moving valuable things around to keep them safe, then totally forgetting having done it to the point of assuming theft, is a very common early symptom of some more serious conditions (not just dementia - if she's elderly, even a UTI can have this kind of effect). Things like the medals being left out on the sofa and the knives hidden under the rug is odd behaviour from a thief.
posted by Catseye at 1:00 PM on March 8, 2014 [20 favorites]

Your only option is to call the police, they will determine how it will be handled (Unless you live someplace very different than the US, I can't tell from your question).

Yes, call the police, give them the facts you have, they will take what action they can/will (and, I imagine, this varies from place to place).
posted by HuronBob at 1:04 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

The most drama-free solution: tell the babysitter her services are not longer needed, with no explaining or arguing. She knows what she did, and it'll get her entirely out of your life as quickly as possible. She's irrational, flakey, and unpredictable -- it would be best to just cut your losses and not continue direct or indirect involvement with her.

Your sister's emotions are powerful and understandable. I suggest that you listen to her, and just let her talk. Say things like, "this is very hard for you," and "that's such a terrible feeling." If you say "yes but" and "your plan of action isn't wise," she'll feel like you're not paying attention to how bad this experience has been for her. After you listen and show empathy, she may be able to see the matter with a but better perspective. Do the same with your mother -- it could help her feel better.

You could talk to the police, tell them the details, and ask what the options are. Don't assume that they'll arrest her, search her home, or even talk to her. This should probably be done by you, since you sound like you're more objective about the incident than your mother and sister are. You don't even need to tell them you're discussing it with law enforcement.

I know there are other reasonable approaches like telling the babysitter, "return the money and items and I won't go to the police. I'll give you till tomorrow to decide." Personally, I'd rather just cease contact with her immediately.
posted by wryly at 1:14 PM on March 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Option 2, plus never letting her into your mother's home or having her care for your nephew again: she's fired, effective immediately.

The probable-thefts are bad enough, but the thing with the knives? Way over the line, all by itself --- fire her, and tell her it's because of the knives: she's endangering the kid, and that's totally unacceptable.

The parts about dropping out of HS, (supposedly) being a born-again Christian or living in a tough neighborhood? All immaterial. And I wouldn't call this theft spur-of-the-moment, either: in less than half an hour she committed these thefts, which means she probably already spent time on previous occasions rooting through your mother's belongings, and knew exactly where to go for your mother's valuables.

ps: check for other missing items!
posted by easily confused at 1:18 PM on March 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I would just not use the babysitter again. You could report the missing items, but I've found the police are not very helpful in situations like this. Your mileage may vary. I don't know where you live, but I've never heard of someone being able to command the police to search someone's house for supposedly stolen cash. Thus, option 1 seems unlikely, option 3 seems dumb and option 2 seems fine, but probably fruitless.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 1:26 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a different take on this. This is the mother who is aging and finding it challenging to keep up with your sister's young kids, right, and the sister you've described in the past as mentally unstable and failing to take even the most basic safety precautions? As recently as the end of January of this year you shared that you were concerned about your niece and nephew's safety living with your sister, who gets inappropriately angry, has a regular but poorly-paying job and has neglected your niece and nephew's health at times.

I think that you should go ahead and fire the babysitter because your sister has definitely decided she is to blame, and for safety reasons I would not want a young woman coming back into a home where your sister is (and is blaming her secretly or openly for endangering her kids and stealing the money).

However - I would seriously contemplate the question of whether it is possible your sister is to blame for all these thefts. You'd previously mentioned that your sister often spends her days hanging out in front of the TV - one assumes this would be immediately beside where the knives were hidden.

Definitely fire the babysitter. Suggest to your Mother that you purchase some simple locks for her that she can lock her valuables in in the house (e.g. a little combination lock for the wardrobe). Look for a new babysitter.
posted by arnicae at 1:31 PM on March 8, 2014 [55 favorites]

If you really need that money, Option 2. If not, just let the babysitter go. Option 3 is unlikely to yield any money for you but may yield drama.
posted by salvia at 1:37 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

if you set up a sting with hidden cameras, you could catch her in the act. this would be most effective in resolving lingering questions, and it would teach her a lesson.
posted by bruce at 1:39 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

What would be gained by going to the police? The chances of recovering anything are virtually nil. I imagine that your family would find the experience frustrating and fruitless. Fire the babysitter and move on with your lives.
posted by metasarah at 1:55 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Before you do anything, a trusted person should search the house to make sure your mom didn't move the items/money someplace else and forget. I know someone who absolutely believed that the mechanic had stolen her car. She was beside herself with anger. It turned out that her car was parked in her garage. She had picked it up from the mechanic earlier that day. This was the first time her family realized she was having memory problems.

Be very careful before accusing the sitter of anything. It sounds like she has had a difficult life and I can imagine how horrible it would feel for her if it ended up that she was innocent.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:02 PM on March 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

What would be gained by going to the police?
What is gained is the babysitter would be investigated. Perhaps they'd find previous complaints against her. Perhaps she is totally innocent. But the combination of missing money, missing jewelry, missing prescription medicine, etc, is worthy of a police report and the babysitter's mention as a person who has had access to the house. Even if you terminate the sitter, I'd still get a police report on file, just for the sake of a paper trail.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:08 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think your sister is responsible for the missing money and valuables, and is trying to frame the babysitter.
posted by kimberussell at 2:30 PM on March 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

> How do you see it from the distance

You're also at a distance. You don't live with them. Let them handle it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:33 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was the first time her family realized she was having memory problems

I know there's no enforced minimum age to be a grandmother, but unless she's on the very young end of the range this is definitely the first thing I'd rule out, especially because:
my mother found two of her kitchen knives hidden under the TV table, right next to the baby carpet where my nephew and the babysitter usually play. Conceivably, she might have planned to take them out if confronted about the stealing yesterday or before.
sounds like a bit of a stretch. I'd think an unscrupulous 22-year old who was worried about being confronted would either a) keep a knife on them, since they may not be standing right in front of the TV when she's confronted, b) hide knives all over the house to cover her bases instead of all in the same place or c) realize that a pre-meditated stabbing of her theft victim would probably make things worse.

It's also possible that both things are true, that your mother lost or misplaced some of the items and the babysitter stole the others. If your mother is going through some mental changes she may also have hidden the knives herself.

In any event, I'd search the house first.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:33 PM on March 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

I second that camera idea. There are a lot of small "nanny" cameras now that are inside of teddy bears, hidden in planters, concealed in wall art, etc.

Arrange for the babysitter to watch the place while your mom is on short trip to meet someone - and record the time she is away. Then watch... Knowing she only has a short time, The babysitter will probably be in overdrive to fine and get whatever she wants. If you can watch via WiFi from a neighbors house (or maybe hidden in the back yard) you can catch her in the act.

Getting rid of her is probably the smartest thing to do, but if you want to know - try a camera.
posted by Leenie at 2:33 PM on March 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

my mother found two of her kitchen knives hidden under the TV table, right next to the baby carpet where my nephew and the babysitter usually play. Conceivably, she might have planned to take them out if confronted about the stealing yesterday or before.

"Conceivably" according to who? So... babysitter is going to take the knives out and then stab the family to death upon being confronted about stealing some stuff? She's not just an opportunistic thief but a crazed murderer (with a family that's apt to retaliate, to boot)? This is a frankly ridiculous interpretation. Someone here is an unreliable narrator.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:45 PM on March 8, 2014 [43 favorites]

Also, and forgive me for suggesting this, but:

Based on your previous question, it sounds like your niece is 8 years old. Is it at all possible that she may have had a hand in part or all of this?

It seems a little odd to me that the babysitter would know to go into Grandma's wardrobe to find the envelope, in such a short period of time (a half hour), AND would only take part of the money, AND would carelessly leave the other items lying about (medallions, knives).

It wouldn't be hard to imagine that a little kid living under the difficult circumstances that you've described in the past, might be doing some acting out...
posted by nacho fries at 2:55 PM on March 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

"Even though the babysitter had been sort of flaky (arriving late often, cancelling at the last minute after having confirmed, leaving earlier etc.)..."

It sounds like you have a good reason to fire the babysitter regardless of whether she stole anything so do that first (and change the locks immediately if she has a key or had an opportunity to copy the key) while you're deciding what else to do.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:46 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Basque13: I would seriously consider whether you know the real facts of the situation. Based on the details you've provided and your past questions I don't think you can be certain the babysitter did any of this.
posted by Justinian at 3:47 PM on March 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

I think probably the babysitter needs to be fired, since no one trusts her anymore, but I agree with others that it sounds like there are other plausible explanations.

Another possibility, that no one has mentioned, is that if the babysitter lives in a tough neighbourhood, what if one of her family members or acquaintances turned up while your mother was out - someone a bit scary who the babysitter was intimidated by? The knives thing could have been something the babysitter did for possible self-defence against that person, then the person in question might have stolen the stuff, and the whole traumatic situation might have been what made the babysitter suddenly need to go home early. I find that at least as plausible as the explanation that it was the babysitter herself who stole the stuff. Obviously even in that case, the babysitter is not someone you want to trust with your kids, but it means she might herself be an innocent victim.
posted by lollusc at 4:16 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't know what anyone should do, but I do know there is no way in hell this is a reliable tale of the events as plotted by a 22-year-old babysitter.
posted by celtalitha at 5:01 PM on March 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Your posting history suggests a pattern of your mother and sister having some sort of drama and asking you to come to their rescue. I would just be mindful of that. I would also suggest you should not be the one to instigate filing a police report or make any kind of statement about things you've only heard about secondhand.
posted by payoto at 5:16 PM on March 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

I think when terrible things happen, we want justice, or retribution, or for it not to have happened, in some order like that.

As for your sister, who believes option one is an option (having the babysitter taken to jail and her house searched), that's more of a fantasy retribution situation. Because honestly, this is still a she said, she said situation. For example, I can't just go to the police, say that you took my items *with no proof that the items even existed in the first place* , and somehow have the police go to your house, arrest you and search your home. That's some law and order/CSI how-we-wished-the-world-worked dreams right there. I'm assuming this is the states, so there's a whole lotta due process that your sister is missing, which involves the presumption that that baby sitter is innocent until found guilty.

Sooo....I understand why your sister might want that, but your mom's suggestion, option 2, is much more practical. First, let the baby sitter go. Then let her go to the police, make a report, and let the police talk to her about the situation. Because then they, not you, are the ones that raise a host of points of all sorts of details that perhaps might seem notable to their eyes with your mom, as well as explain what they can and cannot do (like immediately go and obtain a search warrant to search the baby sitters home, etc.). But simultaneously, the baby sitter, who might have done this, might have a record with them based on past behavior - so who knows.

Finally, assuming it was the baby sitter - your sister could be feeling all sorts of embarrassment that she found this person that she believes has now wronged her. No one likes to be taken in. But that isn't a good place to make decisions from. Your mom's idea is much more level headed.

Finally, yeah. Sadly, it is not entirely likely that you will ever know what happened. But just decide to support your sister and mom (by listening for a set period of time, for example), rather than feeling that you have to solve it. Healthy-boundaries wise, the person pushing this forward has to be one of them, rather than you. Regardless of age or mental health issues, try not to be a rescuer in this situation, and work from the assumption that they can handle the anger, confusion, tasks, etc. that need to be done to get through this situation.
posted by anitanita at 5:45 PM on March 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd go with the Nanny-cam, but I'd make sure your sister doesn't know it's been set up. To me, that's the only way to be sure who's playing with knives and stealing things. I'd hate to fire the babysitter if this is one of your sister's games, but if the babysitter is in a very tight spot at home she may feel pressured by someone in her own home to steal.

Really - no one knows what's going on here, but whoever's involved, it needs to be resolved and quickly.

Good luck - I hope you can figure this out promptly.
posted by aryma at 9:28 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I had a babysitter who stole from my parents. I'm not exactly sure what they did - I think they filed a police report and got some of the stuff back - but it was really obvious who it was because the babysitter was the only adult in the house I was a lot younger than your niece (a toddler) and obviously did not have a hand in anything.

But more importantly, this shit:

Conceivably, she might have planned to take them out if confronted about the stealing yesterday or before.

1) have the babysitter taken to the police station and her house searched (my sister's preferred option, a judge she knows already confirmed it can be done as soon as my sister files a report)

In addition to being very disappointed and still sort of incredulous at what happened, my mother is concerned with eventual retaliation from the girl or her family if the police are called in. My sister feels angry and betrayed, and wants to have the bs punished.

Is not how reasonable adults handle suspicions of theft. Jeeze man! Just fire the babysitter, file a police report, and if she has a key or you think she has a key, change the locks. Life isn't a soap opera unless you make it one.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:07 PM on March 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

The thefts aren't that important. The knives are an actual threat to life and limb.

Regarding the knives, you have four options:
1) Your mother is an unreliable narrator. The theft might have happened, but she likes to make events more dramatic.
2) your mother left the knives there and forgot about it due to dementia.
3) your sister is framing the babysitter (see previous question about "bipolar" sister)
4) the babysitter is crazy, because a garden variety thief would not kill someone or leave the knives to be found later even if she did have some motive for having them out (paranoia, etc.).

In any case, somebody responsible for the safety and well being of a child is untrustworthy. Your sister sounds schizophrenic from your last question. What evidence do you have that it wasn't her?
posted by benzenedream at 12:17 AM on March 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

People saying not to go to the police are forgetting the very important point that the stolen belonging may well be covered by insurance. To file an insurance claim, you must have a police report! Whether it's a good idea to claim or not will depend on the value of the items stolen and the country you are in (in the US for example it puts you at a risk for increased rates or a dropped policy, not so in France).
posted by whatzit at 12:46 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why do you have to do anything? This isn't even your kid. If your sister wants her stuff back, she can try calling the cops. I'm skeptical because she hasn't already done this.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:24 AM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

If nothing else, fire her immediately. My grandmother and our family found her first caretaker and home assistant, when she needed one, through a Jewish community organization grandma had volunteered for herself, and trusted. The woman proceeded, over a period of months, to find steal and pawn all of grandma's jewelry and valuables, and then moved on to embezzling funds from her modest bank accounts (as she was helping with writing checks for the bills, which is when we caught on).

We unwound the mess at the bank, but it required riding herd on the local DA to get her arrested and prosecuted to create a paper trail. She was forced to promise to make restitution for the personal property, but that never happened.

The knives add another even more troubling layer, given that she's taking care of small children. Nothing good can come of keeping her around, but something terrible might.

posted by snuffleupagus at 8:57 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Make a police report and answer all questions posed by the police, certainly mention that the babysitter was there. Mention the knife thing, only because it's freaking bizarre. (Also, there may have been finger-prints on the knives.)

One thing you can do is to check local pawn shops for the ring, but if it was plain gold, it will probably be melted down, and whoever stole it, may have had a third-party pawn or sell it. (You might get lucky though, and if it's convenient, you can do a cursory check of local places.)

Don't ask the babysitter back and don't make a big deal about confronting her. If the police question her, it's all in the course of the investigation. (if there even IS an investigation.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:16 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I'd go with the Nanny-cam, but I'd make sure your sister doesn't know it's been set up

Geeeze, no. That's unethical at best, to go into someone else's house and set up a hidden camera to record them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:52 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeeeeah I was actually going to say (and then thought better of it) was that the only person I have ever met in my life who would (and did) do things like this was an old roommate, who we later found out was diagnosed schizophrenic. YMMV.
posted by celtalitha at 1:29 PM on March 9, 2014

I didn't look through your history at your previous questions, but there are two big red flags for me here

1) your sister hasn't immediately called the police. Unless she's involved in something shady herself, calling the police is the obvious thing people do when stuff has been stolen. Or she is becoming less stable and has anxiety/paranoia issues around police. Is that possible here?

2) The timing of the money being taken from the envelope. Unless (you don't mention, so this is obviously possible) your mum told the babysitter what she was doing, or the babysitter watched her put the envelope away, or the babysitter knew she frequently kept valuables in that spot, I don't really get how the babysitter could have possibly gotten her hands on it so fast. Sure, it could happen, but it seems pretty improbable. So either the babysitter knew somehow, your mother has a memory issue, or the tenant didn't give her all the money to begin with. Also, taking half the money is really, really weird. That's a guaranteed way to make people ask questions.

So I'm not really sure how your sister could have taken the money--you didn't say she was home (and I assume she wasn't or why would the babysitter be there), so the only possibilities are memory loss on your mum's part or theft on the babysitter's. Ditto for the ring. The bag of medicines and pocket money could, from what you have told us, be anyone. The knives are just weird and disturbing. The medals, eh, if she'd seen or heard about them before maybe she was showing them to your nephew or something.

Your sister should call the cops to report the theft. They'll investigate. If she refuses, well, that's probably some kind of answer.

And yes, obviously, the babysitter is fired and locks need to be changed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is what the police are for, they're probably okay at it, you stand a tiny chance of recovering jewelry. Call them.
posted by theora55 at 2:42 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

After reading this and your last question, it really does sound like your sister has a drug problem, possiby in tandem with her mental issues, that she's concealing from the family.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:37 PM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

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