Sweet Peas Agency: Caveat Emptor

Sweet Peas Agency Review
(There are several nanny placement agencies named “Sweet Peas”–this review is for Sweet Peas Agency located in Oakland, California).

Because Yelp only allows 5001 characters, I’m posting an unabridged review of Sweet Peas Agency, here…(And yes, I’m mad. Yes, I waited over a month before posting this, in order to let my anger simmer down). If you wish, you can read my abridged yelp review.

Apologies to those of you who usually read this blog for posts about my life and writing/reading.

Complete review follows after the jump.
….

I am sure there are clients pleased with Sweet Peas. Perhaps I am the only one with this experience, but again, I wish I had known the caveats of working with them. I went in with complete trust, and I should not have done so. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made a different decision based on my own needs, and avoided four weeks of pain. I spent a lot of money on Sweet Peas and the ensuing nanny hire mistake, after which I emerged exhausted with an unhappy newborn. You can, hopefully, make an informed decision, though your mileage may vary.

Full disclosure: I was a recruiter in high tech for 15 years. So, while I don’t have intimate familiarity with industry standards around nanny placement, I have a good degree of familiarity with managing hiring processes, and client/hiring manager and candidate expectations. I have worked at both an agency and in-house, and understand why clients pay a premium for placement/search. I’m also very aware of industry standards with regard to billing for recruiting services.

This is a lengthy review—I put in as many details as possible so as to back up the veracity of my experience.

Caveats about Sweet Peas/my review:

  1. Read the contract verrry carefully. There are some unorthodox terms in there, like how they want payment before the start date (even though they are contingency (i.e., only get paid when they find someone for you)). When I asked them about this, they said “all nanny agencies do this, and many agencies get cheated,” so they protect themselves and only themselves. Surely they can come up with a process for getting more aligned between parent, agency, and candidates? BTW, back to my recruiting experience: no contingency recruiters in any industry get paid befor the candidate starts. The day an offer goes out is irrelevant in all other hiring.
  2. They will contact your nanny in process to negotiate salary—if they contact the nanny in order to protect the nanny or you that would be great. But their focus is on contract term changes that lead to more revenue for them. We offered the nanny a dental benefit after talking a bit and they considered that compensation and wanted their money. They continually contacted the nanny trying to make her uneasy about us and us about her so that they could stay in the middle for what seemed only to be to sniff out more revenue such as this dental benefit.
  3. They are verrrry aggressive about collecting payment. I personally didn’t appreciate being treated like a criminal. They drove by to pick up the $200 deposit check, which I just shrugged off as enthusiasm to start the search. But then when the full payment was due, they said it was immediately due and volunteered to drive by to pick up the final payment check (this was 7 days after being invoiced, and before the nanny started work). Eventually, I was told the payment wasn’t due for another week. This is very different from other reviewers who said Sweet Peas worked out a payment plan. BTW, I didn’t need, or ask them for a payment plan, I was going to pay them in full. I did pay them in full. On time. And was still harassed. Any agency that exhibits their cash flow or management challenges openly with clients should be highly scrutinized as to their ability to focus on the right priorities.
  4. When I called them to discuss lack of client management (i.e., they only called me when payments were due, and they didn’t follow up with a phone call after presenting me with an INEBRIATED nanny candidate, and they didn’t call while the relationship was completely eroding), their response was, “You know you can pick up the phone and call us anytime.” I told them that that was their job to make sure I was okay, especially when they make mistakes, but they shrugged it off.
  5. They said they are not in the business of taking care of my needs. They said they just provide candidates and it’s my job to figure the rest out. Why am I paying a premium (thousands of dollars) for this service? Aren’t they supposed to be guiding me as subject area experts? Their final word to me after we closed things out was that they are a placement firm, and they had no responsibility to manage me through the process. This is very different than what some of the reviewers experienced here.
  6. At one point towards the end of our relationship, they actually emailed me, “We merely place. If you need advice, that’s not what we do. We are here for questions or guidance once you hire your nanny, but our primary [sic] is a nanny placement agency. We provide you with qualified candidates and once you make a decision to hire one of them the rest is up to you.” They merely place. I also discovered they barely prescreen.
  7. They say they hire and rehire from a mostly fixed talent pool. It became clear that they had never met any of the candidates they were forwarding me. In fact, their work practices are clear from their Facebook page. They get parents to let them recruit in a non-exclusive way. They then post on the Internet in a general call for nanny candidates. Not the other way around. This is tantamount to lying. If you start with open reqs and then find candidates to match, I expect a deep background search. They do a cursory one and they are happy if candidate searches come up clean. In fact they told us a detailed background search is our problem and extra cost–they don’t know how to get them done. If you started with a pool of nanny-talent then this would be far less of an issue. And you wouldn’t be sending me drunk candidates and you wouldn’t be discovering candidate’s needs at the same time I am. And you wouldn’t be calling candidates all the time trying to manipulate the closing process. Net-net, the rhetoric was attractive but the actual delivery was the opposite of what was claimed.

Even though Sweet Peas says they are full service, know that there are a bunch of things that make that not so. They won’t be doing anything but bare bones placement. If you’re fine with that and paying a fee for that purpose, go for it, Caveat Emptor.

The Details of What Happened:

I hired Sweet Peas after a very pleasant first meeting with both Stacy and Lindsay, the agency partners, at our home. They said they had nanny candidates ready to go based on my criteria. Our criteria included nannies with no political extremes and who were able to travel with us should we want to travel abroad.

They slammed nanny candidates in within days.

  1. The first candidate was someone I liked, but who could not travel.
  2. The second candidate was someone I liked. We brought her in for a second interview when we were told she had another offer. She showed up drunk to that interview (she smelled like alcohol to my husband, who was sitting 2 feet from her)—so inebriated that she could not successfully change my baby’s diaper. She insisted on changing my kid’s diaper and we watched her mess up 5 diapers and 3 waterproof changing pads over the course of 25 minutes. I timed this. When we alerted Sweet Peas via email, they expressed shock and promised us the next candidate would not have a drinking problem. We did not receive any other follow up other than an email response that began, “What an unusual situation?” and another email that said, “I guarantee [the next candidate] will be sober and present!”) I should hope so.
  3. The third candidate was someone who could travel and who was not drunk, who was personable. By this time we were so traumatized and so hopeless, we decided to hire the third candidate because in comparison to the second candidate, she seemed great.

Before we drew up an offer letter, they instructed the nanny candidate to give notice based on our interest, thus locking both parties (nanny and us) into the situation that benefited Sweet Peas best.

Though Sweet Peas says they do background checks, it is not a 50 state background check, and they do not check alias names of the candidate, either. It was lackluster, and we were very nervous before the nanny’s start date, especially given that their second candidate was an alcoholic that they’d not caught in their prescreen.

That said—I was ultimately not happy with the nanny hire from Sweet Peas, either. Sweet Peas will probably wash their hands of the issue and say it was my own fault for hiring her, as this is their M.O.–to wash their hands of responsibility, as they’ve done every step of the way. Seriously, my other options were a drunk nanny, and a nanny who wasn’t able to travel due to her school schedule. I was a sleep deprived new mom and they took advantage of my circumstances.

The nanny we hired was not deeply experienced with newborns (my daughter was 3 months old), despite my asking for a nanny with infant experience. The nanny claimed she had taken care of infants as young as 8 weeks old, but I have every reason to doubt the veracity of that statement–every time my baby cried, she thrust the baby back into my arms. My baby is not a difficult child, for the record—I had a team of doulas helping us out in the first weeks, and they can attest to my child being very even tempered.

Instead of building my confidence in her ability, her behavior made me less and less confident as she admitted she had no idea what to do, and said that because I was an “attachment parent,” she couldn’t figure out how to bond with our baby.

This is a major fail on Sweet Peas part in prescreening. If I just wanted nannies thrown at me without consideration of my requirements, I could have just done it all on my own and sifted through the Berkeley Parents Network mailing list without having had to pay an agency thousands of dollars, and then spending a month on a failing nanny’s pay. I mistakenly assumed that the agency had done some prescreening in my interest.

I didn’t even call Sweet Peas to ask for a replacement, even though I let the nanny go inside of the trial period, because I never want to work with them ever again.

They only want to make money. Off you.


p.s. We had also asked Sweet Peas for a nanny with “no extreme politics.” We asked the nanny her dietary requirements during the interview, as we planned on providing snacks and light meals for her. She said she was “vegetarian.”

Well, she was not vegetarian. She was vegan (imho, vegetarian is a big world of difference from vegan—and as a vegan, I’m sure she knew this when she said she was otherwise during the interview process). And it interfered with her job. At one point, I was so desperate for lunch after holding my baby over 75% of the time the nanny was on-site, I had to grab McDonald’s for lunch. When I asked if she wanted to join me to sit down and eat, she said, “No thanks. McDonald’s makes me sick. That smell.” Gee, if she’d done her job and watched the baby and kept my baby from screaming her head off, I wouldn’t have had to resort to “disgusting food.” Furthermore, I later saw a website where in her bio she says that she “is always looking for ways to integrate her veganism into her teaching and work with children, often to the chagrin of the parents!” To the chagrin of the parents. To the chagrin…of…the parents.

What.

I tried very hard to work things out with the nanny, in good faith, despite a baby who cried in her arms so much that I could hear my child screaming inside the house from out on the sidewalk. I urged her to take my daughter on a walk in a stroller; she returned after 5 minutes saying she was so embarrassed that people might think she was kidnapping our child that she had to return home. Each time my baby cried, the nanny asked me what to do. I gave her several soothing techniques, all of which failed her, and I threw up my arms after a couple weeks and said, “You’re the professional—do you have any insight?” She replied, “I don’t know what to do. I’ve never run across this before. I think she only likes you and is too bonded to you.” So it was my fault.

So Sweet Peas gave me a nanny with very little infant experience. The nanny had a college degree in child development and preschool teaching experience, but I ended up holding my child close to 75% of the time, which exhausted me. (I also found out that her previous employers were about to fire her when she gave notice). Every time I got my baby to sleep or in a good mood, the nanny took her from me. So I never got to enjoy my child while she was happy. She also asked me to hold my baby so she could eat (I was never able to eat), and when she had to use the bathroom (I can’t tell you how many times I was holding my bladder with my kid). Seriously, what does she do when she nannies for women who work outside the home?

When after four weeks, I sat down to talk to her about expectations and more ways in which she could add value, I thought things might improve. Later that evening, she sent me an email; I was hopeful that it was an email in which she would provide more value. No. In the email, she said that she appreciated our talk and that she wanted to put in “some requests” as well. Her request was, “Two, half hour lunch breaks,” because as a vegan she gets hungrier, more often. I couldn’t take it anymore. She shouldn’t be a nanny if she needs regular mealtimes.

About these ads

5 Comments

Filed under Parenthood

5 responses to “Sweet Peas Agency: Caveat Emptor

  1. haleyms

    Give Angies List a try, they do non-biased reviews of places for next time you try to do a nanny search.

  2. I have to be honest, I only read about half of it. But I seriously love that you did this.

  3. Francis

    Why in the world would you spend so much time destroying a small business not only on yelp but continuing to vomit your ignorant, careless and frivolous complaints on a blog. Do you understand that yelp is an invaluable tool for small businesses to grow and succeed, or did you, with full intent, completely ruin a small businesses credentials out of spite based on your isolated experience.
    It’s not like you had a hair in your food and left a bad review for a restaurant with 600 other reviews. This is a new small business that had worked hard to earn the handful of well deserved 5 star reviews. Now, thanks to your scathing review, the vast majority of prospective new clients won’t bother to consider this business due to the compromised overall rating.
    Truthfully (and I am an honest person when it comes to well deserved constructive criticism) after reading the unabridged extention of your slaughter on yelp, I have learned one thing. It’s that you are an extremely passive aggressive person that would rather let people disappoint you so that you can complain about it later, instead of offering your honest opinion and communicating your needs in the moment to avoid future conflict.
    Every complaint in your blog and yelp review sounds like things that could have been avoided if you were communicative to both the nanny and the agency when you felt things were not meeting your needs.
    Ie: Choosing to practice attachment parenting and not understanding how this might affect your babys reaction to a new caretaker, and proceeding to accuse the nanny of being unprofessional instead of coming to a mutual solution to a very specific issue due to your choice of a specific parenting style.

    I hope you consider how careless and malicious you were to ruin a small businesses reputation because you lack the ability to speak your mind clearly and compassionately.

    In the future, don’t be afraid to speak your mind in the moment and be real. Otherwise it may result in you destroying a budding small business and wasting yours and other peoples time writing about what happens when you don’t know how to work with instead of against people.

    • Doug

      Yes, Yelp is an invaluable tool for small businesses, but people should be able to read both positive and negative reviews. I would be extremely disappointed to find out that there were other people with negative experiences that didn’t speak up, or were prevented from doing so. If a budding small business is not satisfying customers, then maybe it should work on improving its business or not be in business at all.

      I don’t find Christine’s interactions as being passive aggressive. From her review, it sounds like Christine tried to work with the agency to remedy the situation and was communicating her needs, which the agency chose to ignore.

      Being a new parent is stressful and overwhelming, and details are often missed. Interviewing a nanny or childcare provider is also stressful, and you wonder if you’re asking the right questions, developing a rapport, and figuring out if you’re baby will be safe with this person. Nannies are hired for their expertise in childcare and should be asking questions about how to best help the family.

      When I hired our first nanny, I only had a general idea of what I was looking for and had no idea how I wanted to communicate my needs. Even now after 14 months, our childcare providers and I are still developing our relationships, and I’m still finding out what I want and need from them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s