As parents we all need time away from our kids, but between the cost of babysitting and the lack of reliable babysitters, going out can be a challenge.
Enter the babysitting co-op: a group of parents who babysit each other’s kids for free, exchanging hours of babysitting instead of money. If you’d like more free time and are willing to look after kids from your community to earn it, a babysitting co-op could be the answer!
Babysitting co-ops benefit both parents and children:
- Make new friends
- Extend your support network
- Exchange child care tips and information
- Exchange toys, clothes and accessories
- Meet new playmates
- Feel safer in your neighbourhood
- Feel more connection to your community
How to find an existing babysitting co-op
Check out sites like SittingAround.com or the BabysitterExchange.com to search for existing co-ops by postal code. Most neighbourhoods in cities like Vancouver and the surrounding areas have well-established co-ops that you can join.
How to start your own babysitting co-op
If you’re not comfortable joining a co-op of strangers or you can’t find an existing co-op in your city or neighbourhood, here are some simple steps to start your own co-op.
Choose your community
According to Frugal Mama, babysitting co-ops work best within a community where trust has already been established. You could look to your parent’s group, or your child’s school or sports team, but co-ops formed among neighbours tend to be most successful because everyone lives close by. A neighbourhood co-op also helps your children to become familiar with your neighbours and their homes.
Since your child’s safety and well-being are of utmost importance, you may want to require that candidates be sponsored by a current member to join.
One parent gave this advice:
“With our co-op, anyone who wants to be a member has to go through a screening process where two group members go to that person’s house to interview them, go through our guidelines and make sure it’s a good fit. This also gives the group a chance to screen the person’s home for any safety issues.”
Some co-ops also require all adults in an applicant’s household to go through a police record check. At the very least you might consider asking for personal references if you don’t have a prior relationship with an applicant family.
Choose your numbers
According to ParentsMatter.ca, a co-op of six to 15 families works best. With too few families, you may feel guilty when you can’t fulfill a sitting request. Plus, it can be discouraging if whenever you need a sitter, no one is available. With too large a group, however, members don’t really get to know each other.
Establish group rules
Each family will need a list of members’ names, children’s names and ages, any allergies, addresses, phone numbers and hours when the member is available for babysitting. Usually, children go to the sitter’s house during daytime hours, and the sitter comes to the children at night. Appoint a rotating co-ordinator to call meetings, make and distribute lists, answer questions from prospective members and interview applicants in their homes.
Record babysitting transactions
Use tickets or tokens to record babysitting transactions. One hour of sitting is worth one ticket or token. Often, extra tickets or half tickets can be charged for sitting after midnight or overnight, serving meals or looking after more than one child.
Another way to keep track is to use a central recording system. Members take turns being the recording coordinator and families report their transactions by email. This way, the coordinator knows who needs to earn hours and so might be more likely to accept a request to babysit.
Stay in touch
Hold a get-together a few times a year to meet new and prospective members and discuss co-op business. This is an important opportunity to get to know the people who will be looking after your kids. You can also hold a few events so kids get to know one another.
Don’t forget to recruit
To remain sustainable, a babysitting co-op must recruit. As member’s children grow up and families move, look for opportunities to promote your group within the neighbourhood or develop a system where a successful new member referral earns a token.
Have you had experience with a babysitting co-op? Tell us your tips and tricks – what works and what doesn’t?