Undoubtedly, there are people you know and trust enough to allow them to babysit your children or care for a vulnerable adult in your home. Sometimes that trust is based on personal knowledge, and other times it is based on the vetting process one presumes a professional agency utilizes to screen employees. Unfortunately, that trust is far too often misplaced, resulting in abuse and neglect that goes undetected, often for months or even years. Caregiver abuse is difficult to prove, since bruises and other injuries can and do happen even with the most careful and attentive workers, and often the child or vulnerable adult is unable to accurately express what did or did not happen, when or how. Traditionally, there have been few options for people who wanted some way to ensure that their loved ones are safe and being adequately cared for. Recent digital advances and the trend towards ready availability of affordable surveillance equipment have made it possible for nearly anyone to take steps to protect their loved ones and put abusers behind bars. Read about this case in Florida where parents suspected their long-time sitter of abusing their child. They installed a hidden camera and turned the footage over to police for prosecution. If you hire sitters, a nursing service or individual caregivers to work with children or vulnerable adults in your home, you should face the reality that yes, it could happen to your loved one, in your home – and you have the right and the duty to protect them (within whatever restrictions Federal or state law impose).
Some tips for using home surveillance to record abuse/neglect:
1. Check the laws in your state and/or consult a reputable attorney to ensure that you do not violate state or federal law. Then check again to be sure!
2. Decide what risks are apparent and try to think of others that might not be so obvious. Consider neglect as well as abuse, and pay heed to the red flags that you may have dismissed as overreaction or overprotectiveness.
3. Try to identify locations in the home where abuse may occur, or where neglect would be apparent. Think about what kind of evidence you are looking for and where you are most likely to get it. Think about the time the equipment will need to be in operation (an evening? a full workday? a weekend?) Depending on your budget and/or time restrictions, you may need to make some difficult choices.
4. Few people need or want to have color high-definition video, with audio, of every square foot of the home 24/7. Consider using audio surveillance without video or video without audio. Would time-lapse still photos be sufficient? How about motion- or sound-activated equipment?
5. Identify places where a camera would record the activity/lack of pertinent activity, then pick one or two that would provide the best view. What is currently located in that spot? Shelves? A dresser? A closet? Electrical outlet? Light fixture? Picture? What space is available for the recorder itself (if separate from the lens) and is there a place to hide wire(s)? For audio, consider background noise, distance to source, need (or lack of need) to record low voices or whispers, etc. Remember that every piece of surveillance/recording equipment requires a power source – typically the more detailed/sensitive the video/audio, and the longer the recording times, the bigger (physically) the power source will be.
6. If you have decided to purchase your own equipment, shop for equipment that will work in the locations you identified – there are many “nanny cams” on the market, hidden in everything from teddy bears to radios. Audio recorders without video are also widely available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Consider the lighting and distance, any potential interference, background noise, reflections or glare, and be sure to purchase equipment that will provide good quality, useable recordings. Make sure you understand the specifics of setup, wiring (if any) and the limitations of any wireless signals the equipment may use, as well as storage capacity and how that translates into recording time. Remember – you get what you pay for, and far too often you get something less. If you’re creative and/or handy, consider purchasing just the recording equipment and installing it yourself in an item or place that is already in or part of the room.
7. If you don’t have time or are hesitant to research, purchase, install and test surveillance equipment yourself, contact a reputable, licensed private investigator like Byrd, Stilllinger & Associates. We can make recommendations on where and how to set up surveillance, as well as the best equipment to use for your particular circumstances. Many, like BSA, will rent you the equipment and/or install it for you, as well.
8. Don’t let on to anyone that you’ve installed surveillance equipment. Be sure that no one sees the equipment itself or where it is installed – children, the elderly and loved ones with limited cognition may inadvertently reveal the surveillance verbally, through behavior changes or even by just looking repeatedly in the direction of the recording equipment without realizing it.
9. View recordings in private, without the child(ren) or vulnerable adult present.
10. NEVER confront a suspect yourself based on video or audio evidence. If you feel that terminating the person’s services is necessary, do so promptly and with as little explanation as possible (consult an attorney if you are unsure of what is required of you). Of course, ensure that the child/vulnerable adult receives thorough medical and/or psychological assistance as soon as possible.
11. If the incident appears to involve a violation of law, consider all the circumstances and proceed in whatever way is best for the victim(s), keeping in mind that in most states, there are some crimes you are required by law to report – some reports are required because of the age or condition of the victim, others are required due to the nature of the crime, and mandated reporting by people in certain positions and/or certain professions may be a factor, as well. Check your state’s laws or consult an attorney if you are unsure what is required in your state.
12. If you are not required to report the incident(s), you can certainly choose not to do so, but keep in mind that there may be others the suspect has abused or neglected, and that there may be more if you decide not to report.
13. Local law enforcement should assist you in preserving the audio/video evidence. Most departments and/or prosecutor’s offices have Victim/Witness Assistance programs – if you’re not referred by the officer, ask how you can get in touch with V/WA.
14. If the suspect has a license or permit, consider reporting the incident to the licensing agency. In situations where a report to law enfocement is not mandated, this can be in addition or an alternative to a report to law enforcement.
15. In most states, you cannot be successfully sued for making a good faith report of abuse or neglect to law enforcement or other appropriate agencies – consult an attorney in your state to find out your rights and what protections the law provides to you.
16. If serious harm has been done to your loved one, consider requiring those responsible to pay for your loved one’s medical and counseling costs. If not required as restitution during a criminal case, these costs may be recoverable in some other forum. A qualified, experienced attorney can explain your alternatives and help you with any claim you or your loved one(s) may have.