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Preschool Education Articles

BABYSITTING COOPERATIVES

WHAT IS A BABYSITTING CO-OP?
A babysitting cooperative consists of a number of families in a community who decide to share babysitting among themselves without the ex-change of money. Members agree to share responsibilities of record keeping and providing and using services. Babysitting co-ops usually are intended for occasional and not regular child care. If regular child care is needed, other arrangements are usually made.

ADVANTAGES OF A BABYSITTING CO-OP
- Children make new friends, develop social skills.
- Children can become close with many families.
- No money is spent for babysitting.
- Families are helped with occasional day, evening, or emergency overnight care.
- Provides free time when parents need it.
- Provides parents with opportunities to see their children interact with others.


HOW TO START A BABYSITTING CO-OP
Co-ops usually begin with a few families with children of similar ages deciding to share baby sitting. Depending on the size of the community and the needs of the families, they can be as small as 5 or 6 or as large as 50 or 60 families. Larger co-ops will require more organization, but planning and record keeping can be kept relatively simple. To begin, a planning meeting should be held.


DECIDING ON MEMBERSHIP
If membership is selective, hurt feelings may result among friends. However, if membership is open to anyone who wishes to join, problems may arise, such as members who are not acceptable to other members and, therefore, no one sends their children to them for care or co-ops becoming too large and impersonal with families not knowing each other. It is a good idea at the initial planning meeting to set a maximum number of members. It is also suggested that regular meetings take place to discuss progress, problems, and membership. The number of meetings will depend on members' needs. Possibilities include monthly, every two months, four times a year, three times a year, or yearly.


GETTING STARTED
A co-op group may decide to elect a chairperson and/or a secretary and "pay" them with extra "credits" or "points." Another possibility, particularly in a smaller group, is to have each member take turns as secretary on a rotating basis. The chairperson can arrange for regular meetings, preside at these meetings, deal with problems that arise between meetings, and substitute for the secretary, if necessary.

The secretary keeps records of all points earned and spent for each member. The secretary also totals and balances the books and provides each member at the end of the term, monthly and quarterly, with a summary that includes the points the member has, name, address, phone number of next secretary, and any other information such as updates on the membership list and meeting announcements. This may be done on postcards. No expense is involved if all members take turns at being secretary.


HOW IT WORKS
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 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 (plus points) by being a sitter and providing care. Points are spent (minus points) by using a sitter to care for your children.


ASSIGNING POINTS
This varies from co-op to co-op and should be decided on by members when getting started. Daytime sitting may be provided at the sitter's house; evening or night sitting at either house, depending on circumstances.

A sample point scale might be:

2 points per child, per hour
1 point per child, per meal
1 point per child, per hour for overnight care with specified hours, e.g.
10:00 p.m.-7:00 a.m.


GENERAL RULE GUIDELINES

- Each member has a membership list with parent name(s), address, phone number, and names and ages of children. A monthly or periodic update is provided and new ones prepared annually.

- Each member has the right to refuse the services of a particular sitter and should communicate this to the secretary when requesting a sitter.

- Most co-ops include in their rules that a child who is sick cannot be taken to a sitter's home and that a sitter with sick children should not accept children.

- Rules can be set up regarding picking up and delivering children and transportation, if required, for sitters who come to members' homes to babysit.

- The number of rules should be kept to a minimum when starting up. New rules can be added as needed.

- Arrangements can be made between the two parties in an emergency or if the secretary cannot be reached.


THE RECORD BOOK
A record book should be kept by the secretary. It should have a page for each family with parent name(s), address, phone number, and names and ages of children at the top. Below, columns can be set up for date, other family, credit (plus points for providing babysitting), debit (minus points for using babysitting), and balance. Every time a report is made to the secretary, it is recorded on the sheets of both families.


THE CHILDREN

It is important to keep the needs of the children in mind in all babysitting situations. In a small co-op, children get to know the other families and feel comfortable with the children and adults. Parents should prepare children if they are taking them to a babysitter or if the babysitter is coming to their house. They should talk to the children about the sitter, the situation, and be reassuring about when they will return.



Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC.
Labensohn, D. (1985). Babysitting cooperatives (Pm-796f) (Choosing Care
for Your Children
series). Ames, IA: Iowa State University Extension.



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