A community babysitting cooperative is a grassroots type of arrangement in which families share child care without any money changing hands. Instead, the care itself is the currency of exchange. For example, in many babysitting cooperatives, families earn points for providing care and spend points on care for their own kids. Points are typically assigned to each half hour or hour of care.
Babysitting Co-op Group Size and Members
Many babysitting cooperatives are started by a few families who know each other because they are friends, live in the same neighborhood, or have children who play together. A small group has the benefit that parents and children will all grow to know and trust each other. At the same time, with just a few families, you may not be sure that you'll get child care when you need it; a larger group makes it more likely that someone will be available when your child needs care.
A babysitting cooperative can have as few as two or three families, although groups that small will probably need to agree in advance on how often members will generally ask for (and provide) care. The maximum number of families in the group will depend on how much record keeping, scheduling, and other administrative tasks you're willing to take on. Most groups find that 25 families or so is a manageable high end. Keep in mind, however, that larger groups may be subject to state licensing regulations of child care facilities. You can find your state’s rules at the website of the National Resource Center for Health and Safety and Childcare and Early Education.
Because you may need more families to get your group off the ground—and because children grow up, families move away, and the membership of your group will otherwise change—you'll also have to decide how to choose and admit new members. Often, new members will appear organically as children change schools, join new activities, or make new friends. You can also put an advertisement on your neighborhood or school listserv or in a school newsletter. It's a good idea to agree in advance about how new members will be admitted—does everyone in the group have to agree, or will there be a voting system? And what about the uncomfortable situation in which someone is denied membership? You'll need to have a party line for these circumstances—for example, "our group requires unanimity to admit a new member, and we didn't get complete agreement on having you join."
Babysitting Co-op Scheduling and Record Keeping
The group can either have one person take care of record keeping and other duties or share these responsibilities. If you choose to have one person in charge, that person can also be responsible for matching child care needs with available caregivers and keeping track of each family's points. This administrator person schedules who goes where at what time and keeps track of how many points each family has earned and spent.
Often, the administrator is compensated with points, which can be earned on a flat-rate basis—ten points for each month worked, for example—or an hourly basis for time spent on administrative duties. The administrator can serve for as long or as short a period as you want. Some groups rotate administrators every month, some every six months, and others even less frequently.
Another option is to have participants schedule care directly with each other, "paying" for their time by exchanging tickets or scrip with assigned time values. Each family receives a certain amount of time upon joining the co-op, and may then exchange care with other families, using the tickets or scrip to keep track of hours spent and earned.
Without an administrator, it can be more difficult to track which parents need care or are available to provide it. Some solutions include using an online calendaring system, regularly exchanging information (for example, in a weekly or biweekly email) on each family's needs and availability, or creating a listserv where group members can post this information.
Although the point or ticket system works well for larger groups of parents who want occasional help, there are many other ways to organize a babysitting share. If you need regular babysitting, for example, you could come up with a set weekly schedule for child care. For example, you could take care of the kids after school on Mondays and Wednesdays, while your neighbor takes care of them on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Other Issues and Rules to Consider When Forming a Babysitting Co-op
There are several other issues to consider if you're arranging a community child care co-op, including some or all of the following:
- whether parents should request or provide babysitting when their kids are sick
- how members may join and leave the co-op
- how much notice is required when seeking child care
- rules about snacks, television, bedtimes, and discipline
- how you'll resolve disputes
- whether parents can borrow against time they haven't earned yet, and whether earned time is transferable to another family when someone leaves the group
- whether holiday and weekend care earn (and cost) extra points, and
- how often co-op members will meet.
The Sample Babysitting Coop Agreement below shows how one group decided to handle many of these concerns.
How to Prepare a Babysitting Co-op Agreement
Your co-op should have written policies and a standard agreement that each new member must sign before requesting or providing care. A sample agreement, including the co-op's policies, is below. Try to keep your policies and agreement as simple as possible to start with. You can always add more rules later when you see how things are going and what's actually happening in your group.
Sample Babysitting Cooperative Agreement
This agreement is between all members of the Montclair Babysitting Cooperative. By signing this agreement, each member agrees as follows:
- Our purpose is to help each other by providing occasional child care for one another's children.
- We're starting with seven families. The maximum number of families who can participate is ten. The minimum is four, and if we have fewer than that and can't engage new members within a month of dropping to that level, we'll disband.
- Each member family begins with 20 points, which can be exchanged with other member families for child care. Each point is worth 30 minutes of child care and each 30 minutes of child care is worth one point, with two exceptions:
- On legal holidays, the points are doubled—that is, each half-hour of care is worth two points.
- For overnight care—care provided between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.—each half-hour of care is worth half a point.
- No extra points are given for meals prepared for someone else's child in our home. Children with special food needs will bring their own food unless the families agree otherwise. We all agree to be mindful of any special food needs, especially allergies, that we're notified of.
- We'll have an administrator who will keep track of each family's points and arrange for care when a family requests it. Each family will provide the administrator with emergency information, including contact numbers, the name and number of the family's doctor, and important medical information about their child(ren) (such as information about medicine the child is taking or allergies). The administrator will compile this information and distribute a copy to each family. Each time a new member family joins or any family's contact information changes, the administrator will distribute a new information list.
- The first administrator will be Sharon Rule. She'll serve starting on September 1, 20xx, until the next person, Frank Putter, takes over on March 1, 20xx. At our regular meeting in June, 20xx, we'll decide who will take over from Frank in September of 20xx. If either Sharon or Frank isn't able to do the job, we'll meet and choose another person.
- The administrator will earn points for time spent on administrative duties at the same rate as the rate for child care—for each 30 minutes spent, the administrator earns one point. The administrator won't get any other compensation.
- The administrator's duties are to maintain and distribute membership records, including contact information; to take requests for care and match the requesting family with a family able to provide care; to keep records of each family's points earned and spent; and to report to the group each month on each family's point total and any changes to contact information. The administrator agrees to act on all requests for care within 24 hours of receiving them. If that doesn't happen, the participant who needs care can contact another family directly, but should later report their transaction to the administrator.
- We'll meet on the second Tuesday of every January and June to review the records, consider new members, and discuss how things are going. Meetings will be held at the Montclair Community Center in the evening, and the administrator is responsible for reserving the room.
- We all agree that if anyone in our family is sick, we won't ask for or offer child care in our home without fully explaining the circumstances. Each family should feel comfortable declining to provide care for a sick child. We will take every precaution to avoid spreading the sickness.
- If any family has concerns about the care being provided by another family or thinks another family shouldn't be in the co-op, or if any conflicts arise between any of us that we can't work out privately, we agree that we'll all get together to discuss it. If we need to, we'll hire someone from the community mediation center to help us with that discussion. If our dues aren't enough to cover the cost, we'll all chip in.
- Each family will pay dues of $20 per year, in cash, to cover the cost of the room for our meetings, a mediator (if we need one), and any supplies involved in the administrator's work. The administrator will keep track of the money and pass it along to the next administrator, with an accounting of money collected and paid out during the administrator's term.
- To bring in a new member family, we must all agree. To join, the family must live within the city limits of Montclair and must agree to these policies.
- Each family agrees to maintain homeowners' or renters' insurance on their residence that covers accidents and injuries occurring there.
- Anyone can leave the group at any time by notifying the administrator. However, a family that owes time to the group must make themselves available for child care until the time owed is used up.
Each person's signature below indicates consent to all terms of this agreement.