I refuse to give out my baby sitter’s information. It took us too long to find one and I don’t want her to get so popular that she’ll be too busy to watch our kids,” says mother of three Alyse Fabizak of East Syracuse.Whether you need someone to watch your children once a year for a company holiday party or every month for your book club meeting, finding a sitter who is both qualified and affordable eludes many parents. “We had to cancel our plans several times because we didn’t have anyone to watch our kids,” says Fabizak, describing a common plight among parents.
To avoid the fate of the homebound parent requires diligence and a good deal of networking, but following these suggestions should help lead you to a baby-sitter—and a well-deserved night on the town.
1. Define expectations. Determine what you expect from a sitter before hiring one. If fun, playfulness and enthusiasm are the priorities, then personality might factor higher than maturity. If you’re concerned about your children respecting and listening to their sitter, hiring a next-door neighbor might not be as effective as someone they’re not familiar with.
2. Ask but you may not receive. “We were in a bind because our sitter got sick the day before we both were going to be in a wedding and I asked my neighbor for any possible baby-sitting options. I was thrilled when she suggested her son’s girlfriend. She wound up becoming our regular sitter,” says Jeannine Tessier of Liverpool.
Asking friends and neighbors for suggestions might not always yield your desired results. Many, like Fabizak, closely guard the names of their sitters. Additionally, if whoever you’re asking doesn’t need or use a sitter, you might not garner any leads.
3. Canvas the community. The National Honor Society or the guidance center of your district’s middle and high schools may have the names of students looking to work as baby sitters. If you’re seeking someone a bit older, check with Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College or Syracuse University for students seeking work as child care providers.
4. Prescribed referrals. Ask your OB/GYN, pediatrician or nurse practitioner for a referral. They often know of nurses who are willing to occasionally baby-sit, or they have teen-age patients they are comfortable recommending.
5. The other age of the spectrum. If experience is your main concern, consider hiring someone who has experience raising children and possibly even grandchildren. Ask around for names of mothers and grandmothers who are looking for a flexible part-time job that gets them out of the house while feeding their baby fix.
6. Surf for sitters. Sites such as www.craigslist.com, www.callforsitters.com or www.sittercity.com have led many to a baby sitter. “I’ve found some great people and also interviewed some not-so-great ones, but I think that happens regardless of the method,” says Vicki Carlton of Jamesville, who admits that she did more background checking on a sitter located on the Internet than if she used someone referred by a friend.
7. Get the word out. Let people know you’re looking for a sitter. If moms in play group or on the playground hear of a potential sitter, they’ll know who to share the information with. Use non-conventional resources such as placing and reviewing the classified ads and church bulletin boards.
8. Make a list. Define at least 10 interview questions in preparation for interviewing candidates. Everything from whether the person is certified in CPR to if they are allergic to the animals in your home will help narrow the list of potential sitters your search has yielded.
9. An on-the-job test. “I am lucky that I was able to sit in when our baby sitter first started watching my children,” says Carlton. “Before leaving her alone with our children, I had her watch the kids while I worked from home.” Hire a “mother’s helper” for a working interview of one or two potential sitters.
10. Set the rate. Establish a rate of pay prior to hiring a sitter. Some charge a flat rate per hour, while others charge per job. Often the number of children and their ages factor heavily into the rate baby sitters expect as well as what parents are willing to pay. Remember, experience and certifications tend to drive the hourly rate up.