Child watch: New service protects babysitters and parents

An online service matching parents with suitable child minders has been set up. But many mums and dads are not properly briefing them on what do in emergencies, writes Arlene Harris.

With primary school summer holidays starting this weekend, many working parents will be feeling more than a little stressed as they try to juggle work and family life throughout the long school break.

But while recent research from Mummypages has shown that 43% of parents rely on friends and family to help out, 55% find it very difficult to find someone suitable for the job.

We all know plenty of young people who could use the income but the problem has always been matching sitters to families, which is why Sinead Asple and Paula Reilly recently established SureSitter — an online service where minders can register and parents can source someone in their area who is available and, more importantly, up to the job.

“Our mission is to build a community which supports and connects families with local child carers all over Ireland,” says Asple, who has three young children.

We want to make the best matches possible and are bringing word of mouth online; so that the best babysitters in an area become available to book, rather than being well-kept secrets.

Parents find it “really hard to find reliable, local babysitters as they are a precious commodity,” she says, and those who do are often reluctant to share details for fear of losing them to another family.

“Even when you do find a good babysitter they are not always going to be available when you need them, so by using local social circles and reviews, we can tell parents which babysitters are the most used and trusted in their area.

"And from the babysitter’s perspective, they have instant access (free of charge) to a large number of families and job opportunities, allowing them to find work which fits around their schedules.”

The price of an evening’s babysitting ranges from €6-€15 per hour, depending on location, (in urban areas, the average rate is €10 per hour). Age is also taken into consideration because those who are older and have more experience can command higher rates.

“Leaving your child with someone new for the first time can be difficult,” says Asple.

Child watch: New service protects babysitters and parents

“However, with proper planning and interviewing, this needn’t be the case. Safety is paramount and we would recommend putting together a checklist for your babysitter.”

Laura Erskine, head of content for MummyPages, says many parents are not briefing their babysitters on what to do in case of emergency — with 86% not having outlined any contingency plans before leaving their children in the hands of someone else (often a minor) for the evening.

“Our research highlighted a lack of clarity on the procedures a babysitter should take in an emergency,” she says.

Shockingly, eight out of ten mums have not discussed the procedures they should follow in the event of an emergency. With many babysitters aged 15 to 16 years old, it’s important to highlight a simple plan of action as they cetainly wouldn’t have the life experience necessary to deal with emergencies on their own.

The age at which someone can babysit is not specified in legislation and there is no recommended minimum age but, according to research, more than half of babysitters in Ireland (56%) are aged 16 or older, 24% are over 18 years, 17 % are 15 years of age and 3% are 14 years old.

Asple says most parents hire babysitters on a short-term basis — usually for a night out — and, as a result, they are not considered employees and parents don’t need to register as an employer if paying out less than €40 per week, nor does any contract need to be signed. “Rates for under 18s are agreed between the parent and sitter taking the [above] considerations into account,” she says.

“As a guide, an employee aged under 18 is entitled to €6.86 per hour or 70% of the minimum wage.

“The decision on whether or not parents leave their child with a babysitter is a matter for parents or guardians as it will entail consideration of the maturity and capacity of their children and knowledge of the babysitter,” says a spokesperson for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA).

“All children are different so the amount of supervision required may vary by the child’s age, development or situation.”

The definition of a childminder, as defined by ‘Pathway to a quality support and assurance system for childminding’, a government-commissioned report, excludes au pairs, nannies and relative carers. But many parents feel reassured if their children are in the hands of someone with experience.

“Our mums tend to rely on recommendations when sourcing their babysitters for nights out,” says Erskine.

“And those with young children attending a crèche often ask carers from within the facility to do some extra work babysitting as they find it very reassuring that they are trained in childcare, have first aid and are very familiar with their children.

Child watch: New service protects babysitters and parents

"Other alternatives include dedicated childcare websites, but only after they have double-checked their references.”

Asple says while traditionally many parents would look towards a female sitter, boys are just as capable and should not be overlooked.

“Boys make fantastic babysitters but unfortunately there is a lot of stigma around male babysitters and in childcare in general,” she says.

“This is changing slowly and we should encourage more boys to babysit.

We, as parents need to change this by encouraging them and hiring male babysitters — who can be just as safe, caring and responsible as a female one.

“Ultimately parents should screen the babysitter, not the gender.”

And while it’s vital that parents can trust the person who is minding their child, it’s also important that the babysitter feels comfortable with their employers.

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