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How to start a babysitting co-op

July 7, 2010

You might have heard about babysitting cooperatives only recently, but they have actually been around since the 1970’s. Back then, groups of parents figured out that babysitting co-ops were beneficial: a parent would babysit for another family’s child and, in return, they could also get a free night of babysitting from any of the families in the co-op. The benefits? Free babysitting, getting to know other families, the kids become friends, and (possibly) a quiet night off at someone else’s house. Today, the benefits remain the same, and in some ways, are even more apparent. As our lives have become increasingly occupied, a babysitting co-op provides an “instant” playgroup and social network besides providing the economic relief so many of us need.

I have been in 3 babysitting cooperatives, each with different personalities, rules, strengths and weaknesses. (For my television interview on WNBC about this- go here).

From this experience, I have found that the most important factor to a group’s longevity is the families themselves. A successful long-standing co-op has members that are interested not only in the economic benefits but also in the social ones.  If the members are engaged with one another socially, the members become friends and want to help each other out for sitting needs. They are also interested in creating long-term playmates for their kids and that means “playdate sits” (essential to stay-at-home or freelancing parents) are met. The social aspect also builds trust and respect among the members (important when you open your home and trust your child to one another’s care).  So, how do you make sure members will be fully invested? This might require interviews, nominations or a request to commit to a certain amount of c0-op social events. It might just be instinct. Regardless of what method you decide upon, it can help ensure that the c0-op is an active one where “sits” and “sit requests” are met.

There’s nothing to say that sits have to be done just at nighttime, so how else can you use it?
1. You can arrange “playdate sits” where you host another child or children at your home or in the playground.
2. My favorite use was when I had our 2nd baby and had one of the other moms come over and hold my baby while I showered and answered emails. Heaven – and she loved it too!
3. Sleepovers. Looking for a night or two away? This is the most economical way to go away for the weekend. It’s also a way to test out how your kid does with sleepovers.
4. Car rides to the airport. Our co-op has just started this and so far, it seems to be effective.
5. House sits. Need someone to pick up your mail while you’re gone?
6. Cat or dog sits.

How do you recruit?
1. If you are fortunate enough to have a couple of families already interested, ask each of them to nominate at least one other family for membership. Your numbers will expand slowly with this option, but it could also give you time to work out any kinks and get to understand the group’s needs on a micro level.
2. Join a networking group for your local area and inquire if people are interested in creating a co-op. Check Yahoo groups, Cafe Mom’s local groups, Moms Club, Moms Meetup, Mothers of Preschoolers and more. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments section of this post.
3. Set up rules for new members. Do they need to pass background checks (yes, really some co-ops require this!) Do they need to be nominated by at least 2 other members? Should they have similarly aged children as other members? (This is something to think long and hard about.  See my comments below on this.)

The rest of my suggestions come via my current amazing babysitting co-op group in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, NY. Thanks to all the parents of my co-op who agreed that I could post these for everyone else to use as guidelines for starting their own group (and especially to Sharon, who spent hours drafting them based on good instinct and knowledge of her mother’s babysitting co-op from the 1970’s which lasted a good 10 years!)

P.S.- my comments are in green

A. Full membership will be 17 families to keep group intimate and manageable. The geographic boundary for this babysitting co-op is __________ and _______________. (The geographic boundary could be set by travel time by car if you lived in a suburban or rural area instead of an urban one).
B. The co-op leader will maintain an active waiting list.  To be put on the waiting list, two current members must sponsor the family. When an opening becomes available, the sponsor members and the leader will meet with the new family to orient them and go over ground rules.

Using the Babysitting Co-Operative
A. Each new member is required to pay a one-time $20 fee, which covers an administration binder and access to BabysitterExchange.com ( I have used this site for 2 of the 3 co-ops. The other co-op used a card system: too confusing and too many email went back and forth about sits to the whole group. I heartily recommend the site)
B. Each member starts with 40 points (10 hours of sitting)
A participant must request a sit and be a sitter at least once every two months to stay members in the co-op. You cannot go below 0 hours or accumulate more than 50 hours (200 points).
The co-op will encourage members to abide by the sit and be sat for every two months rule, but there may be special circumstances that make that difficult.  If you will be inactive for a long period of time (e.g., vacation, new baby) you should let the group know by email. Because usage cannot be monitored on babysitterexchange.com (only point totals are available for now), members will document their usage at each meeting.
Hours are recorded in 15-minute increments. Every member should keep track of his/her hours in addition to using Babysitter Exchange. Members arrange sits via Babysitter Exchange using the information in the binder and on the Yahoo group page. (We have a Yahoo Groups also, this is for contacting each other regarding socials, extraneous info for “sits” or passing down old baby stuff! We also use it to upload files like an Excel spreadsheet of all our information, kids’ birthdays, medical forms, how to transfer leadership, etc)
4 points per hour for 1 child
6 points per hour for 2 children (up to individual sitter to treat it as a one for one exchange if that is his/her choice i.e. 4 points per hour for 2 children). Members will only be charged 4 points per hour for two children during night sits (when children are already in bed), 1 additional point per hour for each child beyond 2 children
C. Leadership
Term for leader is January-April, May- August, September – December.  She/he is responsible for fee collection and obtaining medical authorization forms at the beginning of the year.  She/he moderates each meeting, sends out minutes, orientates new members, coordinates events and acts as an impartial mediator. She/he also maintains the waiting list.
Member Service Coordinator: She/he is responsible for scribing at meetings, monitoring Babysitter Exchange, communicating with members about problems and concerns.  Term is the same as the leader.
D. On the first of every month, the member coordinator will send out an update of how many points each person has, and you can always ask her/him for your personal total if you are having difficulties with Babysitter Exchange.
E. Members are free to negotiate all terms of individual sits amongst themselves. For example, a member may offer to “pay” extra for sitting on a popular night or if the child will have meals with the sitting family or a member may offer to sit for less than the standard rate. Night time sits will be in the child’s home.  The location for the daytime sit is up to the participants to decide.
F. If someone is babysitting for you and you are running late please call and ask the person if they have anywhere they need to be, or if it’s okay for them to watch your kids longer than you first talked about. The babysitter has the right to say no and ask you to send your husband or someone else to pick up your kids.
G. Inform other parents if your children are sick — and give the parents the chance to opt out of sitting for sick children.  Also, if you are scheduled to sit and are sick, please give the parents the chance to opt out of having you sit for their child.
H. Respect each other’s time.  Give the sitter a clear idea of how long you will be gone and ask their permission if you want to stay out later.  Sitters should arrive on time and allow adequate time for travel.
Last minute sits are okay – let parents know when you are available to sit. Just saying “I’m free Saturday” is usually enough to get members thinking about a last-minute dinner date.
I. Please be considerate and give the coop one-month notice upon resignation.


A. No sit will be hosted in a home containing firearms, illegal drugs, dangerous animals or any other serious danger to children.
B. Membership packets include medical release forms and family information forms. Fill out the medical form and keep one copy at home and one copy with the child when dropping off. Please complete all parts of the medical and family information form and provide a copy to the leader.
C. Please let other parents know if you or your child shows signs of illness within 24 hours of a sit. Then you can decide together whether to go ahead or cancel.  The sitter must have written permission and instructions to give a child medication.
D. It is suggested that each participant carry standard homeowner liability insurance with a minimum coverage of $100,000.  This is to protect you as a homeowner.
E. Each member should do his/her part to make safety a priority.  Accident prevention must be a theme of every home.  Parents accept responsibility for safety of their home during a night sit and should be extra vigilant during day sits with toddlers.
F. Smoking while sitting is prohibited. Please note in your profile if you live in a smoking household.
G. After 10PM, sitters will be offered a walk home or provided transportation.
H. The oldest child in the group will not be born before June 2006.  There is no minimum age. (All the co-ops I have been in have only accepted similarly aged children: I think that’s a mistake. I know my kids could benefit from playdates with older kids and I from parenting info from their parents. And, vice versa: the older kids could benefit from learning how to care for and play with younger kids.)

Meetings and Social Events
A. Meetings will be held bi-monthly, on a rotating schedule of the third Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the month, promptly at 8.00 PM
B. Meetings will be hosted by members on a rotating basis. There should be an equal balance of business and fun.
C. Families are encouraged to bring their partners and children to social events.
D. A simple majority decides all votes.  Amendments to our co-op guidelines require a simple majority plus one. Amendments require 2/3 quorum (10) in the group.
(Socials: we have done everything from one big party at one generous parent’s house, to a series of small dinners – 4 families- at rotating parents houses, to concerts, etc. You can also do Friday night movie nights so each family- but one- gets an early Friday night out and the kids get one big movie night plus pizza.)