Free child care is possible through a babysitting cooperative. Parents form a support network to care for each other's children while exchanging nothing but their time for this dream-come-true babysitting service.
Start your own babysitting cooperative with 8 easy decisions.
Coordinator Vs. No Coordinator
Babysitting co-ops run with or without a coordinator. The choice should be based on the group's preference.
The coordinator of a babysitting cooperative is in charge of the group. She can earn extra babysitting time for taking on the day-to-day tasks of leading the co-op.
The coordinator handles all calls from parents needing a babysitter. She sets up each babysitting time and date for parents. Usually, the coordinator will contact parents with the lowest amount of earned babysitting time first.
After someone watches another member's child, she reports that babysitting time to the coordinator. The coordinator will track those minutes and provide a monthly report for all members.
Many co-ops rotate the coordinator position monthly or quarterly so all responsibilities do not continually fall onto this one person. Some groups hold voting sessions to decide on the next coordinator, while others simply rotate every member through the coordinator position.
A babysitting co-op without a coordinator is more simple if members work together. However, it can also lead to the group falling apart if the members aren't reliable.
Operating without a coordinator requires parents to get in touch with each other directly when they need a sitter. They simply call parents on a list until they find someone who can accommodate their babysitting request.
A co-op without a coordinator usually works best with a ticket system instead of points. When a member arrives at the sitter's house, she trades in her ticket for babysitting time. Members can email each other a monthly list of their ticket count or discuss it at a scheduled meeting.
Rules for the Babysitting Cooperative
Setting solid ground rules for a babysitting cooperative will save your group from chaos and disappointment. Co-ops need rules for a number of reasons.
The number one reason for rules is to ensure every child is safe. Guidelines also keep members from overuse of the system. A parent who finds herself the go-to babysitter will feel abused and parents who don't babysit defeat the purpose of a co-op.
Free Child Care Through Tickets, Tokens or Points
Instead of paying a babysitter with money, your babysitting cooperative's currency is through tickets, tokens or points. This is how your group is credited with babysitting or debited for using babysitting services.
Babysitting co-ops have different exchange systems. Your group could buy or print raffle tickets, coupons or play money. You could swap poker chips or arcade tokens.
Find New Members
Free child care shouldn't cost you a fortune in gas money. Babysitting co-ops are more effective when you don't have to drive across town to drop off your child.
Starting within your neighborhood is ideal but it's not always possible. You can also find parents through your church, children's school or playgroup. If you feel comfortable opening up membership to the general public, post your co-op's info to local message boards or ask children's shops if you can post a flyer in their store.
A group of 3-5 friends you trust is a good size for new babysitting co-ops. Starting small gives you the chance to see what works for you and what needs to be changed before opening membership to the masses.
Policies for Potential Members
Many babysitting co-ops begin with a few families who have known each other for a while. As you grow, you'll run into a situation where you know nothing about potential members.
Don't be shy about instituting a screening process before you allow them into your group. They will be watching your children after all.
Many babysitting co-ops only allow families into the co-op on a current member's recommendation. Potential members should be willing to submit to a background check through the police department, be available for a home visit and answer questions about firearms, swimming pools and other possible dangers at their house.
Decide on Fees
Babysitting time is free but some co-ops need $5-$10 from each family for paperwork, printing or buying tickets/coupons for members to swap and other minor administrative costs. This fee should be yearly and affordable.
Not all co-ops require dues. There are many co-ops running well without collecting any money from families. However, any babysitting co-op fees should be significantly lower than the cost of a babysitter.
Hold Regular Meetings
Regular meetings give your babysitting co-op a chance to discuss any issues that have come up since the last meeting. You might use these meetings to discuss potential members who want to join your co-op as well as update your group on any changes made since the last meeting.
Regular meetings can include snacks or potluck dinners. Kids should be welcome and as many members as possible should attend.
Schedule Social Functions
Babysitting cooperative are based on trust. Leaving your child with someone you don't know would make any parent nervous.
Scheduling social functions helps all parents get to know each other. Family picnics or an afternoon at the playground are perfect places to get families together just to socialize. Dads, moms and kids in the co-op should make every effort to be there. In time, your babysitting cooperative should feel like a support network of friends you can count on when you need to visit the doctor, shop for groceries or enjoy an afternoon by yourself.