What is a babysitting co-op?
A babysitting co-op, sometimes called babysitting club or cooperative, is just a group of families in a community who decide to share the task of babysitting by swapping time with each other rather than charging money. In that way the members of the coop can get access to occasional child care services without having to be concerned about the high cost of or risk of using a paid babysitter.
There are many benefits to this approach to childcare. For starters it is easier and less expensive than regular babysitting. Also, rather than relying on one or two carers that may or may not be available you have access to perhaps as many as 10 or 20 families, which can make it much easier to find someone in a hurry.
For those without close family nearby, a coop can be a very valuable way to get away for a few hours without the children to spend with their partner or on a “date night” without the added cost of child care.
Lastly, with the cost of day care spiraling up, some people are using babysitting coops to provide regular day care for a day or two a week. Getting a child into day care for just a day a week or for occasional days can be very difficult but sharing the task amongst several families can make it much easier.
There are very few drawbacks to babysitting coops and perhaps the only one is the task of managing the process. For instance the role of the secretary can be quite demanding. There are however some new ways round this issue, see below for more information.
There are two basic approaches to running a co-op. The first uses paper based “babysitting money.” Each unit equates to a fixed unit of time. Families then contact each other directly to arrange and pay for the sit.
The second types swaps points, say 4 points for each hour of sitting. A secretary books the sits and keeps track of the point transactions. Both systems can function well but most groups opt for the points approach.
Co-ops often elect a rotating secretary. If a member requires babysitting, the secretary is phoned requesting a sitter for a certain time and date. The secretary calls members and locates a sitter as close to the member’s house as possible, attempting to find a sitter who owes points. The secretary then calls the member and sets up the sitting arrangement.
After the care has been provided, both member and sitter agree on the number of points and these are reported to the secretary who records them. Points are earned by being a sitter and providing care. Points are spent by using a sitter to care for your children.
Starting your coop
There are two main success factors in starting a new coop
- When starting your coop you need to make sure you have a clear set of rules so that everyone knows how the process will work. Rules to consider include:
- How small/large can the co-op can become: a minimum of five and maximum of 25 are generally judged to be the best.
- How will new members be introduced?
- Starting points for each family.
- How many hours is each point worth?
- Minimum points below which a family is not allowed to request a sit.
- How will the booking process operate?
You will probably also want to have medical authorization forms available so that families can formally authorize the sitting family to undertake emergency medical treatment if required.
- Make sure that you have regular (perhaps quarterly or six monthly) meetings so that everyone can introduce themselves and get to know each other. Normally these are held at one member’s house or in a park so that the children can come along.
When looking for members of your co-op it is best to find other families that have similar parenting practices and life values to yourself. There a lots of places to look including your local playgroup, school/pre-school, child care center, parents and citizens clubs, church, neighbors, and the child’s sporting or activities clubs.
One last thing to consider when setting up your co-op is the idea of using it for swapping more than just babysitting. Perhaps you can also use it for car pooling to children’s activities or looking after your pets when you go away. Once you’ve got the people and process together there are lots of other time and money saving uses for your coop.