Babysitting co-ops are organized by a group of parents that share an interest in getting some guilt-free time without their children and want to encourage social skills for their kids. While it is a cost-effective solution to childcare (it's free!), many parents, despite their economic situation, prefer the social and personalized aspect of cooperative childcare.
Advantages of a co-op include:
- No-cost, quality childcare.
- A support network of other women with similarly aged children who deal with many of the same daily issues as you do.
- The opportunity to spend time on yourself or career.
- A network of friends for you and your children.
The first thing you need for a babysitting co-op is a group of parents with children. Babysitting co-ops have been started with as few as two women; others have membership as high as 50.
So where do you find members? It's likely there are other at-home moms right in your own neighborhood, local place of worship, gym, or even an older child's school. The Internet provides many local boards that you can use to advertise for potential parents free of charge. Another good option is parenting education programs for mothers as well as mommy and me classes. These groups offer you an instant connection to prospective members. Don't be shy! You will be surprised how receptive other stay-at-home moms will be to the concept.
Because a co-op is a give-and-take proposition, it's necessary to have a record keeping system so that all members benefit from the co-op. Here are two examples of record keeping systems from other babysitting co-ops that you may use or modify to meet your needs:
The Bookkeeper System
Each parent member begins with a 50-point base account and is charged one point for one child per hour and an additional point for each additional child per hour. Members who do the babysitting call in their earned points to a secretary who debits and credits the member "accounts." The secretary is a position that rotates among members monthly; she is paid five points per month for keeping the books updated.
There is no need for a secretary to keep track of hours with the funny money system. Each member receives 50 funny dollars (you can use monopoly money or make your own) worth of cards in one hour increments. She pays whoever babysits her children with these "dollars"—at a rate of one "dollar" per hour. Obviously, at some point, if you're not doing the babysitting you will run out of money.
No matter what system is used, members need to pay attention to totals. A rule of thumb for the Bookkeeping or Funny Money system is that once a member has a total of 25, it's time for her to start babysitting. Members with totals of 60 or more are urged to get out and go more.
All co-op members receive membership lists from their co-ops which contain the name, address, and phone number of each member, their children's names and ages, an emergency contact number, and the name and phone number of the children's doctor. This list should also include important medical information such as allergies or any other information that a sitter would find helpful on your child's temperament or personality. Some lists may include the number of the poison control center or columns designating members who may be willing to babysit evenings and weekends. If all members receive email, you can create a list to keep each other up-to-date on all these issues.
Periodic membership meetings should also be held—monthly or quarterly. You can arrange periodic meetings to discuss problems that arise and issues among the co-op. But who will watch the kids? Some co-ops opt to have a party where kids can join in on the fun, or for a more formal discussion, they choose hours that fit with each others' schedules.