Solve the case of the missing babysitter
Clues to finding a reliable caretaker for your kids
Deciding where to go to dinner on date night is a breeze compared to finding a good babysitter.
Once upon a time, families counted on a trusted babysitter to walk down the street to watch their children on a Friday night or after school. Now with more teens filling their free time with sports, volunteer work, part-time jobs or other activities, the neighborhood babysitter has become a unicorn.
Parents also want sitters to have experience, transportation, and the ability to care for children with varying needs — traits difficult to find in a teen child care provider.
So what do you do?
Recruit like a boss
Lauren Arnold of Rochester is a mom to three boys, ages 12, 9, and 8. The oldest of the three has a form of autism, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, which requires a provider who can be trained to understand his special needs. Arnold said the most important traits a sitter should have is a love for children and the ability to be calm and think on his or her feet.
An employment recruiter by profession, Arnold has relied on a variety of techniques to source quality sitters. In addition to using online sites such as Care.com, Sittercity.com and Facebook groups such as Seacoast NH/ME Moms and Seacoast Sitters, she’s reached out to departments at the University of New Hampshire, in particular looking for college students studying psychology, occupational therapy or therapeutic recreation.
“Finding new or additional sitters in this hiring climate is hard and usually takes months,” she said. “It’s hard to compete against a call center or a posh retail store. People keep finding part-time work in other fields that pay more. Training someone and having them leave for another job is tough.”
Dinah Berch, who moved to Dover last year from Quincy, Mass., said she originally sought child care for her preschool-age daughter and infant son while she worked as a freelance web designer during the day. Berch relied on a roster of three different sitters sourced through online sites, and since has added caregivers. Like Arnold, she put a lot of time into the recruitment process.
“I prefer world-of-mouth recommendations from friends, but we were new to the area,” she said. “A few responded to online requests and then stopped responding or never showed up to the meeting. I listed those so that I would never hire them in the future.”
Berch said she made sure she met and screened every caregiver prior to hiring her. Traits like reliability, responsibility, good communication skills and a fun demeanor were all things that she evaluated during interviews. She also said any sitter she hired has to be familiar with diaper changing, car seat rules, and how to use an EpiPen, because her son has a peanut allergy.
Think outside the box
For larger families, finding a sitter can prove to be even more challenging. Airial Sillanpaa of Portsmouth said she finds that hiring just one sitter for her six children, who range in age from 4 to 8, is sometimes not enough. However, Sillanpaa has found a sitter to watch all six at once and will pay up to $25/hour for that service — even if the sitter occasionally watches just two of the children at the same time — as an incentive.
“I purchased a one-year membership to Care.com and found it very helpful, but placing an advertisement for a sitter will net you lots of inquiries. It’s pretty time consuming to weed through them, call references, conduct interviews, and potentially upgrade your membership to allow background checks,” she said. “Unless a family is seeking a nanny, one family cannot always offer enough hours for a qualified caregiver. As a result, the caregiver will work with multiple families. This causes availability challenges again, especially if you only need an occasional or ‘short-notice’ babysitter.”
As a result, Sillanpaa said she reaches out to friends, friends of friends, and paraprofessionals in the school system. The caregivers she hires must have their own transportation, be reliable, flexible, and be able to think on their feet. She checks references and will sometimes come home “unexpectedly” to make sure “the six kids haven’t tied her up in the playroom,” she joked.
“I typically seek those who have CPR training, or offer to help pay for and find a local course for those who are not. I talk to them about my expectations, discipline style, and family dynamic beforehand,” Sillanpaa said. “I also try and have activities prepared to pass the time and indicate which kiddos can have screen time, and how much.”
It is much easier for parents to find quality child care if they allow sitters to bring children to the house. Another way to find good child care is to consider “swapping” child care services with other families, Sillanpaa suggested.
“I might take a couple of children for another family on a Saturday, and they do the same for me the next week,” Sillanpaa said. “No money changes hands and the children are awarded with playdates.”
Other tips for sourcing quality sitters include taking advantage of programs like the YMCA’s “Parent’s Night Out,” which designates certain nights parents can drop their children off for an evening of crafts and athletics while they go out. Many gyms, including the YMCA, also have onsite child care for members to use while they work out. Or, you can reduce your need for babysitters if you instead seek out help for house cleaning, grocery shopping, yard work, or other services rather than hiring a sitter to care for your children while you tackle those tasks, Sillanpaa said.
Pay a fair rate
With hourly rates of up to $20 per hour, babysitters can command a steep hourly rate. A sitter’s pay rate varies and is highly dependent on your location, the number and needs of your children, the sitter’s level of experience, and the length of time the sitter will be at your home. Special requirements, such as light housekeeping, driving students to activities, or caring for children with a medical condition can command even higher rates, according to Care.com.
Julie DiBona of Laconia has three children, including twin four-year-old sons and an 11-year-old daughter. She said she paid $40 for a month’s subscription to Care.com and previously paid $16 per hour for a sitter to watch her children during date nights, but now pays about $12 per hour.
Berch said she pays a 13-year-old mother’s helper $8 per hour, but pays about $15 per hour for her regular babysitter. Sillanpaa will pay up to $25 per hour for a sitter to care for her six children.
According to Care.com’s 2018 Care.com Cost of Care Survey, the average babysitting rate in 2017 was $243 per week, or $16.20 per hour — an increase of $11 from $232 per week in 2016. The Care.com website also includes a babysitting rate calculator to help parents calculate a fair rate. Families can input their zip code, number of children, sitter’s level of experience, and the estimated number of hours of care needed per week to calculate a suggested rate.
For example, for a Manchester resident asking for occasional babysitting for two children with a sitter with five years of experience, the pay rate calculates to $15 per hour.
With unemployment in New Hampshire hovering around 2.5 percent, according New Hampshire Employment Security, it’s especially important for parents to pay sitters a fair rate to attract quality sitters and to retain them.
Seek out sitters with specific training
Most parents want to ensure a sitter, particularly if the sitter is a teen, has the maturity and qualifications to care for their child. The American Red Cross offers two babysitting courses (a basic and advanced class) and is the leader in training and certifying babysitters in the United States, according to Paul Sullivan, American Red Cross regional manager for training services covering the Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and upstate New York territory.
In the American Red Cross Babysitter’s Training classes, students gain the confidence and competence to care for children, he said. The curriculum, which is offered both in-person and online, covers basic care for infants and children, basic first aid, child behavior, emergency protocols, professionalism, and leadership. The advanced class is about four hours longer and covers CPR.
“Eight out of 10 families will pay more for certified sitters,” Sullivan said. “Parents are much more comfortable hiring a Red-Cross certified sitter when they are looking for someone to care for their child.”
Sullivan said that he often gets calls from parents seeking certified sitters. In addition, parents often call asking where they can get either their teens or babysitters certified. Families can go to www.redcross.org/take-a-class to search for Babysitter’s Training classes in their area or online, he said.
Some independent instructors also post their own classes as do town departments of recreation and hospitals.
Sue Ayers of Rindge teaches Babysitter’s Training class, CPR, First Aid, and other American Red Cross courses. A Red Cross instructor since the 1990s, Ayers team-teaches the eight-hour Babysitter’s Training class with her husband. During the class, students learn how to feed a baby; for example, how to prepare formula or breast milk. They also learn how to correctly hold and change a baby. But the biggest part of the class focuses on getting teens to understand how to step up to responsibility.
“Just because you are young, it doesn’t mean you can’t take responsibility,” Ayers said. “They learn how to be a leader; when to sit tight; when it’s an emergency you can handle; or whether you should call mom or dad, your parents, or 911.”
She encourages teens to ask plenty of questions and emphasizes that it is a sitter’s job to understand what families expect of them.
“There is a fear of going into a household and not knowing what to do. We spend a lot of time in class on how to interview the family,” Ayers said.
Teens also learn the business side of babysitting, including how to create and stick to a schedule and establish a pay rate. The class also teaches teens how to create a resume, answer questions during an interview, and understand that they are doing the job of a service provider, she said.
Certifications and knowledge of safety and first aid are definitely plusses, DiBona said, but overall, a good sitter should truly enjoy caring for children.
“Nothing is more important than watching those interactions during the first meeting,” she said. “I want someone who loves being with kids.”
Krysten Godfrey Maddocks is a former journalist and marketing director who now regularly writes for higher education and technology organizations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Mom to 4-year-old Everett, she has lived in the Seacoast for the past 20 years.