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Structure for babysitting co-ops

August 2001

A friend and I are thinking of starting a babysitting co-op and were wondering about how to structure it. Specifically,
--Does it work better to keep it small (3-5 families)? I've heard of very large ones with 10-12 families, but can't quite imagine how it all comes together.
--How do you deal with some families having one and other families more kids? Do you assign points or something so that babysitting more kids uses up more points? Or is it better to do the trades with families that have the same number of kids?
--Do people formalize the tracking of the trades, or just keep rough track? ("We babysat for the Jones last week, so maybe we'll ask them to babysit for us next month" vs. "Every other Friday the Jones' babysit for us and every third Wednesday we trade with the Smith's"...) or something else?
Thanks for any info you might have on what's worked or not worked for you! Elaine


I'm in a neighborhood babysitting co-op that has been in existance for about 30 years. There have always been aprox. 22 families. They've found that less or more just doesn't work very well. We work with points. There is a monthly book-keeper. When you want a sit you call the book keeper and that person calls various families to see who can sit. They start with the people with the more negative points first. Then the sitter calls the sittee to arrange specifics. There are certain amounts of points just for doing the sit (4), other points if it's a weekend or holiday, points per kid, points if the child is served a meal at your house and points for after 1AM. I'd say on an average night out with 2 kids a sitter will earn between 20-30 points or so. You can't accumulate above or below 120 points. You can call the sitters directly for a last minute sit and then call the bookkeeper. It's all kept track of in a binder book and at the end of the month the points all have to work out to zero (don't ask me how, it just does). The sitter calls the book keeper to report points after the sit, within 2 weeks. We have 2 co-op "chairs" or coordinators (I'm one). When a new family comes into the co-op (always referred by a member) we go to their house and meet them. Though it's pretty loose, we just need to get a feel of who they are, how they diciplin, how safe is their house (though most sits are done in the sittees home) and if they have any firearms in the house (so far, none do). It seems like people with little babies tend to sit for others with little babies (you can sometimes, if appropriate request a sitter, and certainly request NOT to have a certain sitter) but not necessarily. If it's a day sit often the child comes to your house (this is when it's nice to have similar age kids to your own). We've been in the co-op for over 2 years now and it's been fabulous (We were on a waiting list for a year). We never have to worry about where to find a sitter. If we know a week or more in advance we're guaranteed to have a sitter. There are some times that it's harder....everyone wants sitters around holiday times, and people are gone a lot in the summer, but usually it's a great thing.

We've made some good friends, met more of our neighbors and also have brought some of our local friends into the co-op. Twice a year we have a "business meeting" pot-luck get together. I'd be happy to talk to you further about this. I could show you the forms we use for book keeping. Good luck. June


I formed a babysitting co-op with some friends of mine that I met in a mother's group. We have been very casual about it and it worked really well. There were three of us in the group when the babies were really young. As soon as they were over a year or so, we added another person. Basically we just had two people stay with the three babies and one person got to go out. We started at two hours and then went to three. In the beginning, it was the only free time any of us got from the kids during the day. We just switched off every week. If one of the kids was sick, we just skipped that week and that person got their turn the next week - very casual.

We also did an weekend evening swap with another couple. Each weekend we would switch off for three hours. Again, very casual. If one couple had plans, we put it off to the next weekend. It has really worked for us. And, it's really nice to have something that's reciprocal. That way you never feel guilty about having someone watch your child because you'll be watching theirs next week. Good luck! Nancy


I belong to a well established one, with 20 families and would be happy to tell you how it works if you want to give me a call. Briefly: it is run on a point system per child: 4 pts per hour for the 1st kid and 2 pts for each additional kid in that family, per hour. We have formal by-laws, meetings, and a secretary position to keep track of points and other business. It works well! Carrie
Oh, I loved the baby sitting coop we were in (North Cleveland Park Baby Sitting Coop in Washington, DC) when my children were little. It worked really well for us.

There were about 15 or so families, all of us lived in upper NW DC (north of Cleveland Park, actually, but that was where it had started), and most of us (those with school age children) had children at the same pre-k-6th public elementary school.

It operated via "scrip" which you used to pay for baby sitting. (Two scrip per hour per child in the evening, the baby sitter came to your house. One scrip per hour per child in the daytime, the child/ren came to the baby sitter's house.) You got some number of scrip when you joined. Each month, one family was the secretary (you got 50 scrip for being secretary) and the job rotated. If you needed a sitter, you could either arrange it privately, then call the secretary to let him/her know OR (this was the best part) you could call the secretary, tell the secretary when you needed the sitter, and the secretary would find someone for you!

In the three years we were members, we always got a sitter when we needed one. Being secretary (which, I think we did two or three times) was a hassle, but seems would be MUCH easier now with computers and email. Some people liked being secretary better than doing baby-sitting. Also, when you were secretary, you had first choice for the sits if you needed some scrip. The coop had a yearly picnic so you could meet people, but I think that everyone joined through friends so most people were "known." A couple of teachers at the elementary school were also members which added to the community sense of this group.

One of the other really nice things about this (besides having adult sitters, not costing anything, getting to know people in your community) was that it was possible to get sitters for really long times or if you were going to be out very late.

People tended to move on as their kids reached 11, 12 years (unless their other children were much younger). We moved to California, but I think that it would have been great to have some adult child sitting available when my children were in middle school!

If I can answer any other questions about the logistics of this group, just write me. I'd be happy to tell you anything else I remember about how it worked. Emily


I was in a playgroup with 4 other moms that evolved into a very successful babysitting co-op that lasted for many years. We all had at least 2 kids, the oldest were about kindergarten age, and we always had between 5 and 7 families participating. The way it worked: every other Friday night it is someone's turn to "host" the babysitting night. All the kids go to that person's house, have a big party with a movie and snacks. The parents drop the kids off and then go out. Sometimes we would have it on a Saturday afternoon instead so parents could run errands without kids. Since there were 5-7 families, your turn to host only came around every 2-3 months. Not bad. Plus, the hosting parents didn't have to do much because the kids all played together and entertained themselves. We had a rule that babies in diapers weren't included, though you could make a special arrangement with the host parents if they were willing. When the kids got older, we would sometimes have a sleepover. The kids really loved babysitting coop night because they had known each other a long time from playgroup, and were like cousins, and liked to see each other. The parents liked it because unlike the more formal babysitting co-ops, we didn't have to plan ahead to arrange for a babysitter, we always knew we'd have a date every other Friday night (though there were times when people dropped their kids off and then went back home to sleep for a few hours.) Ginger
We were in a very successful babysitting coop in the midwest before we moved here, which worked essentially as follows no matter the size of the family, it was a straight hour-for-hour trade. In other words, if you sat for an hour, you "earned" an hour credit. We rotated keeping the book which recorded plus and minus hours by family. Every quarter or so, we met & everyone got a tally of how far into the "plus" or "minus" range you were. The people in the "minus" range were the most likely to want to sit, so they were often called first. However, people whose kids were friends tended to call each other. When you sat for someone, it was your responsibility to call your hours in to the secretary for the month. We all kept a personal tally and reconciled them at the meetings, which were also social occasions. We also did a campout, a picnic, a Christmas party, a swim party, etc. every year.

When you wanted someone to sit, you negotiated your own terms if you wanted it at someone else's house, fine. If the parent on the other end was only willing to do it at their own house & you wanted it at yours (maybe because you didn't want to rouse your kids to bring them home) you tried the next person on the list.

There were probably 15 families--maybe more--and all had been screened. They had to have a personal invitation from someone who knew them, and the president or someone visited their house. (This because we discovered belatedly that a former member had a spouse with a history of physical abuse towards wife and kids.) The president and bookeeper earned hours for the administrative tasks performed. There were some extremely modest dues, to cover postage.

When our kids were small this was a godsend. We found we were much more secure, knowing adults who were parents were taking care of our wee ones who couldn't talk yet. This allowed us to relax more on the rare occasions we went out. Also, if something sudden came up, you could always count on our sitter. We bankrolled our hours like precious gold. If we went "in the hole" it felt worse than credit card debt or a second mortgage--although whenn we were "in the hole", we would always get called.

As kids grew up, parents dropped out--usually honorably, either with even hours or a positive balance that got distributed between the members. As I recall, the coop had existed since the 60's & was still going strong when we left. Good luck--it is a worthwhile endeavor. Mary Ann


Check with Bananas (on Claremont at Telegraph) -- I've heard that they have a hand-out on how to structure a babysitting co-op. Sarah
I've been meaning to write to add my two cents, for those who want yet more information about forming a babysitting co-op. I was part of a babysitting co-op in the East Bay which was formed by some folks to used a How to Start a Baby Sitting Co-op Book to get them started. Since we've moved to Madison and I have started a co-op out here which has now been going strong for about a year and a half. We even have a waiting list. I think one thing that has made our co-op successful is having detailed, specific by-laws. Also we have monthly socials and while all families don't attend every one, there are enough socials, that families see each other frequently enough to feel part of a community. There are also group sits at least once a month-- kind of like kids' parties where the host family racks up a bunch of hours by taking as many kids as they can handle at once. These have been great for helping the children further develop relationships with other kids in the co-op. I feel good about using the co-op since i trust all the parents and my son loves to go play with the other kids. One day when a sit got cancelled, he cried! I'd highly recommend a babysitting co-op. Our lives are so much richer for having this community which also allows us to do yoga, have dates, clean the house, take classes....If you're interested, in hearing more, I'd be happy to send you a copy of our bylaws which as I mentioned are pretty detailed and specific. We have modified the east bay co-op's by-laws several times. Please email if you'd like a copy. Susan

How to start a babysitting co-op

March 2000

Hi I'm starting a babysitting coop and wanted to see if others here have done this and how they've set it up. How do you keep track of hours? What info do you need from parents to set it up? How do you deal with families with a different number of children, say one family that has a single child and another that has a same-aged child and an infant? Do you record per child or something in between? Are there any pitfalls to look out for? How much maintenance does this kind of scheme take? Sophie


I loved the babysitting coop we belong to in Washington, DC. It created a great community. We were in it about five years. People tended to leave as their children reached middle school age. (We moved and GREATLY missed having it until our children were old enough to stay home alone.) There were about 15 families and there was a yearly picnic so you could meet everyone. (Many of the families when we belonged had children at two DC pre-K to 6th grade public school and nearby pre-schools.) Here's how it worked: points ( "scrip,"I think I still have some in a drawer) which you exchanged with each other. You got points for each sit that you did (per hour, per child). You got more points (per hour, per child) in the evening or on weekends. The person babysitting came to your house in the evening. During the day, however, the child or children came to the babysitter's house. Weekend days were up to the people involved. When you joined the coop you got enough scrip for quite a few sits (even with three children).

Each month there was a record keeper (the "secretary"). You got LOTS of extra points for doing this job (which rotated). If you needed a sitter, you called the record keeper who then called the members until finding you a sitter. You could also make arrangements on your own. Then you were supposed to call the record keeper so he or she could update the master record. (The idea was to call people for sits who were low on scrip so they could earn more.) I would guess that this would be much easier and faster with email. (We left about seven years ago before many people had email at home. I remember that the first use of the computer was to develop an easy-to-read graphic format for record keeping.) I'd be happy to fill you in on more of the details. We almost always got a sitter. Occasionally when we were doing the record keeping, it would be hard to fill a request. But almost always, it worked very smoothly. It was great for people with very cash, with small babies (since the sitters were all parents), for late nights, on weeknights, for long weekend days. Later on, my kids enjoyed teenage babysitters, but generally that was a much less reliable route, and I missed the coop. Emily


I was in a babysitting co-op with 5 other families. We started out as a playgroup for pre-preschool children but as they got older, we wanted to try babysitting for each other at night. We each had 2-3 children where the youngest were toddlers and the oldest were 1-2 grade. One person had an infant, but infants weren't included because of the overhead. Every other week there would be a co-op "party" at somebody's house, usually on Saturday night but sometimes Sat. afternoon. Each family took a turn hosting one of these parties, and your turn would be about once every two months. All the kids would go to the party, where there would be a movie and popcorn or some other snack (the kids would have had dinner already). The kids had a great time socializing with each other, and parents had time to go to a movie or out to dinner or just relax at home without the kids for 3 hours. Usually everyone came, because the kids really looked forward to it, even when the parents were too tired to go out! It really was not much work to host a party because the kids all played so well togther that it was actually easier than being at home with just yours. It worked really well I think because it was a regular time, and everyone knew whose turn it was, and the kids really liked coming. Ginger
Nov 2002

I'm one of the people who asked this question before. I finally did start a babysitting coop. What got it going is that we use http://www.babysitterexchange.com/ which was advertised on this list a while ago. I believe the service is still free though that may change. The one major drawback is that it only works on Explorer. Otherwise, the website keeps track of babysitting requests and transfers credit-hours. ---Sophie


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