Rehma Sabir's Death Brings Up Heartbreaking Questions

Sabir was one year old when she died from massive head trauma, and her nanny is expected to be charged.

On her first birthday, Rehma Sabir, who lived with her parents on Ash Street in Harvard Square, received head trauma so severe that she died two days later. Doctors at Children's Hospital also found multiple, partially healed small fractures in the child’s body, suggesting previous injuries. The nanny who was caring for her at the time of the injury, Aisling McCarthy Brady, 34, is being held on $500,000 bail and is expected to be charged with murder when doctors have completed the autopsy.

The story is eerily similar to that of Matthew Eapen, the baby who was shaken to death by his Irish au pair in 1997. Eapen’s au pair, Louise Woodward, was from England (Brady is from Ireland), and, like Eapen’s parents, Sabir’s are highly educated professionals. But their tales differ in the trail each family took to finding childcare for their infant. The Eapens went the au pair route, signing on with an agency and welcoming a young European woman into their home. “Au pair” translates as “on par with,” meaning the caretaker lives as an equal part of the host family.

Though the details are still being uncovered, the Sabirs, apparently, took a different route. They may have found Brady, who cared for Rehma for six months, through sittercity.com, a popular website that connects nannies and sitters to parents in need of childcare, according to the Globe. Brady had a listing there, which has now been removed from the site, according to the company. Though Sittercity does background checks as part of its service, because Brady had no convictions, her multiple run-ins with the law—including an arrest for a violent fight with a roommate and two restraining orders—didn't come to light. Had the Sabirs known she had such a record, they may have made a different decision about leaving Rehma in her care. But what’s a parent to do if a routine background check can’t uncover the grayer area of a potential caretaker’s history? How can you be sure you're leaving your child in good hands?

The Internet age has spawned a new childcare search option for parents, bringing quasi-agencies like Sittercity or Care.com with the click of a mouse. Such sites are a step (or more) below more expensive and thorough agencies, where candidates are interviewed in person and more thoroughly vetted. Yet these web-based childcare sites are also above something like Craigslist, where plenty of parents also find childcare. Still, once parents leave the safe confines of a full-scale, brick-and-mortar nanny agency, they should plan for extra layers of due diligence. For a fee, parents can enlist the help of one of these organizations to perform a background check: 4Nannies.com, Nanny Pro, and My Nanny Track. And, a helpful list of interview questions can be found here.

Yet, for all we know, the Sabirs did all this exhaustive work. Even after all the checks have been performed, the references called, and the interviews conducted, a parent choosing a caregiver ultimately has to go with his or her gut, which history shows can be an imperfect barometer. As with the random, often tragic nature of life, sometimes our judgment leads us down a dark, unfathomable path.

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  • Steel Man

    I am puzzled about immigration, employment and tax laws that may have been violated.
    “A lot of parents believe that paying a nanny “under the table” will save everyone a lot of time and paperwork. Even if that were always the case (it’s not), remember that it’s also illegal.”
    http://www.sittercity.com/article/nannytaxes.html
    So somebody A) is guilty of illegally paying someone under the table (and not asking for a Social Security number), or B) guilty of identity theft or suborning identity theft (fraudulently using a Social Security number).