Au Pair Screening and Fluffy Personality Tests

The most important role of au pair agencies is ensuring that the au pairs they provide are suitable for the job and trustworthy. This is done by screening au pairs through interviews, reference checks, background screening and personality tests.

Au pair agencies in the USA are required by federal regulations to use personality tests as part of the Au Pair screening process. Personality tests are important because no single screening method is 100% accurate and combining several tools is the only way to increase the overall accuracy of the pre-employment screening.

Here’s why:

• Interviews often fail to reveal important facts or problematic personality traits, and their predictive value is limited, even when conducted by properly trained interviewers. In a recent case involving an adoption scam by a nanny, the mother who has interviewed her, said: “She seemed like a great person, very articulate, very smart, she seemed so caring and so nice… she sounded like a textbook, great nanny to me. Just perfect.” The “successful interview” wasn’t the only failure point in the screening process. The nanny was hired through a national web site that matches parents with local baby sitters and nannies, had experience with infants and young children and reportedly passed a criminal background check with flying colors.

• References are highly subjective. How valuable is the opinion of someone you don’t know? What are his expectations, values, standards? In another recent case, a live-in nanny has been arrested on child pornography charges 5 months after being hired through a well known full-service nanny agency. According to the parents “the agency provided glowing work references.”

• Background screening is extremely important but full of loopholes. Scope, timeliness and accuracy of various databases searched may be limited. For example, a nanny was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, with her charges, ages 2 and 8, in the car. Several months later, the nanny’s profile was still displayed on another national web site that matches parents with nannies, since her original background screening didn’t show any offence. Furthermore, every criminal has no criminal record until his first offence (or actually, first conviction). Will this first offence harm your kids?

Personality tests became mandatory for screening au pairs in the USA following cases such as that of Louise Woodward, a young English au pair convicted of the involuntary manslaughter of an eight-month-old baby who died of Shaken Baby Syndrome, and another case of a Swiss au pair who escaped a burning home without making an attempt to save the 3-month old baby she was caring for.

Such tests offer additional and valuable insight into the character and personality traits of the au pair and can highlight issues which are very difficult to identify through an interview, such as problems performing under pressure or a tendency towards violent behavior. The importance of personality tests as an au pair screening tool increases as interviews are less effective once they are conducted over the phone rather than face-to-face, and databases used for background screening in many countries are often not of the same quality as those used in the USA.

Has the mandatory requirement for personality tests made au pair screening better? Not necessarily.

Some Au Pair agencies in the USA seem to be using inappropriate personality tests. According to Ilona Bray, “Any Au Pair agency can take a fluffy personality test off the Internet that has nothing to do with childcare and give it to the candidates and still be meeting the regulations.” (Nannies & Au Pairs, Hiring In-Home Childcare, USA Today, 2010).

At least a few Au Pair agencies seem to compromise the quality of tests, in an effort to comply with federal regulation at a minimum cost. One of the tests used by au pair agencies is the Booraem-Flowers Au Pair Psychometric Test, which is limited to answering whether an au pair is likely to lose emotional control under stress or more likely to make a poor safety judgment when under stress. When asked about a more complete test of personality attributes Dr. Flowers, a co-author of the test, replied: “A test for these positive attributes would be possible to devise, but difficult and expensive to develop”. He had a similar response related to producing a report that could be shown to parents: “The problem is that the cost of assessment would go up considerably if individualized reports were generated.”

Cost is indeed an issue to many parents and raising kids is a significant financial burden. But compromising the safety and well being of our kids by accepting less than optimal screening, just to save a few dollars, can lead to disastrous consequences and cannot be accepted. Furthermore, the use of adequate personality tests can reduce the chances of a re-match and the associated costs.

Not all personality tests are equal and one has to use the right type of test. Risk analysis, which highlights possible risk factors, is an extremely important component of personality tests. For example, TakeCare’s NannyTest covers the following: violent behavior, drug abuse, drinking problems, truthful reporting, respect to property and more. In addition, the test assesses personality traits such as responsibility, obedience and discipline, self control, emotional stability, coping with pressure, positive attitude and service awareness.

To protect our kids, we must ensure the screening process of caregivers is the best possible. Parents must demand that quality personality tests are used as part of the caregivers’ screening process. If proper personality tests aren’t done by the agency, or if the agency is not willing to share the test report, parents can easily perform such tests on their own. Relevant personality tests, such as TakeCare’s NannyTest, are now available online to all parents, are easy to use and highly affordable.