Take a drive through any prosperous leafy suburb in South Africa and you’ll see nannies, alone and in groups, pushing strollers and carrying babies and toddlers to and from the local parks. They mind the kids, keeping them safe from cars, dogs, strangers and many other dangers. They also take care of the household, keeping the children fed, clean and protected within the relative safety of the home.
Many nannies and child minders travel long distances to work by foot, taxi, bus or train, leaving and arriving home sometimes in the dark.
In each of these scenarios, these women are at risk. Local crime stats clearly illustrate how women are targeted by criminals every day in South Africa.
And if that woman is charged with the care of your children, you need to help her to keep both herself and the children safe in a variety of situations. Take care of your nanny by arming her with the information and tools to protect herself and the children in her care, to ensure a safe and happy family life.
We spoke to Kelee Arrowsmith of ACT Personal Safety, who provided us with some top tips to help you help your nanny to respond to various dangerous situations both inside and outside your home.
Show her how to use the alarm
There must be clear communication between you and your nanny. ‘Show, don’t tell’, is a great place to start. Don’t be afraid to use role play to illustrate scenarios and reactions. Show her how to use the alarm and panic buttons, and check in regularly so the information stays up to date and fresh.
Discuss safety and suggested precautions regularly, including role play in some situations. Practise how to respond to various scenarios, such as making an emergency call under pressure, or responding to an armed intruder, regularly too.
Introduce your nanny to the local security patrolmen and to your security company. Provide her with the direct numbers of your security service, and any other local neighbourhood watch and the local police and ensure they are programmed into her phone.
Set out in writing clear rules for your children. Assist your nanny in enforcing the rules by explaining how she should react in given situations. For example, if your child is not to be touched by anyone, be very clear if this includes other parents, nannies, siblings and even relatives. Arm your nanny, and your child, with the words to speak up and enforce the boundaries you have set.
Teach your nanny to be alert to her surroundings, to notice when someone might be following her, to pay attention when she might find herself in a vulnerable position (such as alone in the park with the kids on a gloomy afternoon), and to move away from the potential threat immediately.
Explain to her that well-lit areas with lots of foot traffic are safer than quieter areas, and encourage her to arrange play dates in advance, to ensure safety in numbers. Encourage her to report anything or anyone that may seem suspicious in the neighbourhood.
Strangers fishing for information
According to ACT, over 80% of house robbers and burglars base their crimes on information received from someone in your employ. It is useful to teach your nanny how to recognise and report attempts at information gathering, thereby reducing your family’s exposure to these risks.
Arrowsmith explains that criminals will often start a seemingly friendly conversation with a nanny, but all the while gathering info about your home, possessions, routine and security. Ask her to let you know if someone asks her any questions.
If your nanny has a house key, stress the importance of not sharing this fact with anyone. When approaching and leaving the house, show her how to discreetly activate the gate, unlock the door and deactivate any alarms.
Let no-one in, ever
Make sure your nanny knows to never let anyone onto the property, in any situation. If you live in a complex, make sure she knows not to let anyone in, whatever their story. Criminals will disguise themselves as repairmen, police and government workers to gain access to properties. If you are expecting a delivery, let her know who is coming and when they are expected and tell her to ask the courier for proof of identity.
Help protect her in case she gets mugged
In the case of a mugging or robbery, help your nanny to stay as safe as possible by setting her up with the following:
Kelee Arrowsmith advises that generally a criminal wants money, and if your nanny doesn’t have anything to give them, the would-be mugger is likely to get aggressive and agitated.
If your nanny is held at gun or knife-point, she must be able to quickly hand over something of value in order to ensure her safety, and possibly to be able to run away. Very often, if you give a robber what they want, they’ll leave you alone.
Arrowsmith suggests that you encourage your nanny to always have a few small notes on them, kept in a pocket or handbag or otherwise easy-to-access place. If an old cell phone is available as a dummy phone, it is a good idea to have it handy to hand over.
Secure her salary
If your nanny does not have a bank account and must be paid in cash, consider using a money transfer system such as a Shoprite Money Market transfer, or one available through the banks such as ABSA and FNB, so she doesn’t have to travel far with large amounts of cash on her. Or pay her in smaller amounts more regularly, to minimise the damage if she is robbed of her wages.
Your nanny must have a charged working phone loaded with all the emergency numbers they need. Make sure they know exactly who to call in any situation and what to do or who to call next if that person isn’t available.
How to protect her and your children during a robbery
Arm your nanny with the following:
Your nanny should wear a panic button on a lanyard or in their pocket at all times, as part of their workday uniform. Make sure they know how and when to use it, and test it often.
Your nanny should know how to use the alarm. Make sure she has the relevant passwords, including the “safety/distress” password: in a hostage situation with your children, the security companies will come to their aid with appropriate caution.
Select a room in the house to be the safe room. The aim of this room is to be a place they can run to with the kids, and lock themselves in. Keep a key on the inside of this door at all times. If you have a toddler prone to locking themselves into rooms, then stick the key high up on the back of the door with tape or Prestik.
Arrowsmith advises that this room be close to the entrance of the house so your nanny can access it easily. It might be necessary to have another room upstairs if you have a double-storey house.
Purchase a small safe, put a bit of cash in it and put it and the key somewhere the nanny can access it easily in a break-in situation. If they are forced to show a criminal the safe, they can be seen to be complying by showing them the dummy safe.
If your nanny feels she is in danger in your home, make sure she knows to alert you and the relevant security services immediately. It is helpful if you have a nanny cam or security cameras installed, so you can appraise the situation yourself and make the appropriate emergency calls on her behalf if necessary.
Apps to help your nanny stay safe
There are also a variety of free personal safety apps that can be downloaded onto smart phones. Take a look at the following:
- bSafe is packed with features for both everyday safety and real emergencies, making it the ultimate safety tool. The ‘Follow-Me’ feature can be activated for walks to the park and surrounds.
- Scream Alarm does only one thing: it will cause your phone to emit a loud scream in a woman's voice when activated. This is handy for when alone in the park or on the street and your nanny is approached by a suspicious stranger.
- Life360 Family Locator helps you to stay in touch with your family members and friends tracks their location.
- Sentinel Personal Security SOS allows you to send SMS and email alerts containing your GPS location, time, and direction of travel. It can work without a working Internet connection or network, making it great for trips to the park and commuting.
- PanicGuard sends your current location and route from the time of activation to your emergency contacts via SMS, email, Facebook and Twitter updates. The app also automatically starts secretly recording video.
By setting and communicating clear rules and guidelines with your nanny, you will lay the foundation for safety and security for your children.
Do you have any other safety tips for families and nannies? Do you have a story to share of a super nanny who kept your children safe in a tricky situation? Send your tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish your letter.
Stay abreast of Parent24's latest articles! Subscribe to our weekly newsletter here.