On a warm July morning last year, Amelia Wieand left her twin toddlers at an in-home day-care center outside Knoxville, Tenn. She had read about the facility on Care.com, the largest online marketplace for babysitters and other caregivers.
The listing said the center was state-licensed. It wasn’t, state records say. In fact, after receiving reports that the woman who ran it was watching up to 11 children, a state agency had obtained an injunction two months earlier barring her from operating an unlicensed facility.
None of that was available to Care.com members such as Ms. Wieand. At one point, the day-care center indicated to clients there was a problem with its license, but assured Ms. Weiand and other parents it was taking care of the matter.
Hours after being dropped off, the children, Elyssa and Elijah, a month away from their second birthdays, were pulled out of the baby sitter’s pool. Both died.
Care.com Inc., with about 32 million members in over 20 countries, charges up to $39 a month to see listings on its site. Shares of the Waltham, Mass.-based company have quadrupled in three years as revenue has surged. Its biggest stockholder is Capital G, a fund backed by Alphabet Inc.Behind Care.com’s appeal is a pledge to “help families make informed hiring decisions” about caregivers, as it has said on its website.
Still, Care.com largely leaves it to families to figure out whether the caregivers it lists are trustworthy. It does what it calls “preliminary screening” of them, which isn’t a full background check, and doesn’t verify credentials. It does no vetting of day-care centers listed on its site.
Care.com suggests that customers purchase additional screening packages, which cost $59 to $300.
In about 9 instances over the past six years, caregivers in the U.S. who had police records were listed on Care.com and later were accused of committing crimes while caring for customers’ children or elderly relatives, according to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed police records, court records and local media reports. Alleged crimes included theft, child abuse, sexual assault and murder.
The Journal also found hundreds of instances in which day-care centers listed on Care.com as state-licensed didn’t appear to be. Care.com said it has made more than 1.5 million successful matches since it began service a dozen years ago.
Sheila Lirio Marcelo, chief executive, chairwoman and founder, said the company invests heavily in ensuring the safety of members. She said the marketplace is designed for “shared responsibility overall,” with families having the option to pay for more screening.
“Care.com is a marketplace platform, like Indeed or LinkedIn,” Ms. Marcelo said. “Like those services, we do not generally verify the information posted by users, interview users or conduct employment-level background checks.”
The company said it sends many messages during the membership application process—through its website, emails and other alerts—stating that it doesn’t fully screen caregivers and that parents are responsible for background checks.