Parents are particularly scrupulous when looking for daytime child care arrangements. But should you be any less careful when hiring a baby sitter for a one-night booking? It is equally important to make the right choice when hiring a nighttime sitter.
The Search Is on
Don't assume that a relative or family friend is any better than a sitter-for-hire; the most important qualifications for a sitter are maturity and responsibility. Here, three sources for finding people that meet these qualifications:
1. Get Personal Referrals
The best referrals come from dependable sources. Inquire among people you trust: ask how they found the baby sitter, if they were comfortable with the arrangement, if they would ask the sitter back again and what they paid. Places to consider when sleuthing for names are your pediatrician's office, churches and your child's school.
2. Conduct a Self-Search
A second option is to advertise. Consider a local paper or community or college bulletin boards. The New York City-based Child Care Action Campaign (CCAC) recommends that your ad give the following information: your child's age; the hours during which you need child care; the professional qualifications you require (such as certification in CPR); and the benefits that you as an employer will offer, such as gas money to get to and from your house or free meals while on the job.
3. Contact an Agency
The CCAC offers a handy guide on choosing the right child care (call 212-239-0138 to order). You can also try the Yellow Pages, looking under "child care." Some local agencies such as the American Red Cross, YWCA and Girls Inc. offer baby-sitting training courses and job referral programs for prospective sitters.
Interview with a Sitter
Once you have the names of prospective baby sitters, set up interviews to meet with them to determine their maturity level and to just "get a feel" for each person. Bruce Hirschfield, Director of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) notes that maturity, not age, is the deciding factor. "You can have a fourteen-year-old with a great deal of maturity, and a twenty-two-year-old without much maturity," says Hirschfield. "It really goes case by case. You must feel comfortable with the baby sitter."
Hirschfield lists three issues parents should discuss with candidates:
- In case of emergency. What would the baby sitter do should there be a fire, injury or trauma? Is the person skilled at/confident with administering first aid?
- Discipline. How would the person discipline a child? Is there an understanding about what a sitter can and cannot do with a child (e.g. a no-spanking policy)?
- Backup. Does the baby sitter have parents, friends or neighbors to call for assistance?
If you feel confident that this person meets your criteria, you can then have them meet your child so you can observe the "connection" between the two.
Whether you do this before or after the interview, it's critical that you check to see how much baby-sitting experience a candidate has. Some baby sitters may have completed training courses; others might have experience with their own brothers and sisters. Check the sitter's references before hiring. Ask past employers if the person is dependable, what age children were cared for and how children got along with the baby sitter.
If you have an infant, confirm that the candidate knows the proper procedures for feeding/burping, bathing, sleeping and playing. Because there are different qualifications needed to care for a 6-month-old versus a 6-year-old, make sure to address age-specific issues.
When You Find the Right Sitter
Once you've settled on someone you're comfortable with, you need to iron out certain details:
- Pay -- Although there is no standard wage for baby sitters, keep in mind that minimum wage is five dollars and seventy-five cents per hour. It is typical to pay anywhere between five and ten dollars an hour, depending on the area of the country you live in and the amount of experience your sitter has. You may want to pay a sitter with a car a higher wage than one who requires a pick-up and drop off.
- Make a list -- Before the baby sitter arrives, make a list of child care information. The list should include routines your child relies upon, such as a story before bedtime; pet care information; house rules; contact names and numbers in case of an emergency; where you can be reached and what time you will be home.
- Follow-up -- The best comments on the baby sitter's performance come from your children. If your children are old enough to talk, ask what they did, if they enjoyed their time with the baby sitter and if they want the sitter to come again.