A babysitter is a good occasional child care option. For example, you might use a babysitter if you want to go out for an evening, or if you have an appointment when your child isn’t in school or child care.
The right babysitter for your family will be someone you trust and someone who:
- gets along well with your child
- is available when you need care
- charges rates you can afford.
Depending on how well you know the babysitter, you might also want the person to have child care experience, qualifications and references.
When you use a babysitter for the first time, it’s a good idea to use a babysitter checklist. This might cover your house rules, your child’s routines, your expectations, home safety and emergency procedures.
How to find a babysitter
There are many options for finding a babysitter:
- Ask a trusted family member or friend.
- Ask friends or other parents for babysitter recommendations. This might include teenagers they know, or even their own teenage children.
- Talk to the parents of your child’s friends about setting up a babysitting club, where you take turns to babysit for each other.
- If your child attends formal child care, ask your child’s educators if they’re interested in babysitting after hours.
- Check noticeboards at child care centres, local schools, community centres, universities, libraries or local shops. You could also look in your local newspaper and online.
- Use a babysitting agency. Agencies can provide experienced babysitters, but you might not know whether the babysitter is the right fit for your family.
Finding the right babysitter: personal fit
A good babysitter is someone you can trust with your child, and someone you and your child get along with. They’re also someone who’ll follow your family rules and routines in relation to bedtimes, food and behaviour, and respect your family’s cultural and social traditions.
To work out whether a babysitter will get along with your child, you could arrange for the babysitter to spend some time with your child while you’re there too. It’s ideal for this time to be when your child is relaxed and happy. It’s also good if the babysitter can see your meal and bedtime routines, your approach to guiding your child’s behaviour and so on.
This is a good chance for you to see how the babysitter communicates with your child at your child’s level, and responds to their needs. For example, the babysitter should know how to play with your two-year-old or comfort your baby.
If this first meeting goes well, it can help everyone feel more relaxed the first time you use the babysitter. Just remember to offer a payment for this introductory session.
To work out whether the babysitter is a good personal fit for your family, you can watch your child’s reaction to the babysitter before and after a babysitting session. You can also ask your child later what they feel about the babysitter, if your child is old enough.
The babysitter’s availability
When you’re deciding on a babysitter, you need to consider their availability.
If Saturday nights are when you often need a babysitter, there’s probably no point asking your friend’s sociable teenage child to do the job. Likewise, if you usually need someone at short notice, a busy aunt or uncle probably isn’t the best option.
You could talk to potential babysitters about:
- when they’re usually available
- how much notice they need
- how they’ll get to and from your home – if you can offer them a lift, it might mean they’re more available.
When you don’t know the babysitter: experience, references and qualifications
If you don’t know the babysitter, check experience and references carefully:
- Has anyone you know employed the babysitter, and were they happy?
- Does the babysitter have experience with children the same age as your child?
- Has the babysitter looked after children without help before, and how many children has the babysitter looked after at the one time?
- How many years of experience does the babysitter have?
- Can the babysitter provide references? If the babysitter doesn’t offer references, make sure you ask for some and check them carefully.
You might prefer to employ someone with qualifications – for example:
- a first aid and/or a CPR certificate, and perhaps anaphylaxis training
- a current driver’s licence
- a working with children (WWC) check
- early childhood qualifications.
Always agree on fees with the babysitter before any care takes place. Check with other parents for an idea of the going rate or ask an agency for standard rates before you start your own selection process.
If the babysitter has the qualifications listed above, they might expect a higher rate of pay. You can use the Miscellaneous Award as a guide for what to pay your babysitter, taking into account the babysitter’s age and experience.
How old should babysitters be?
Babies, young children and older children all need different styles of care. Generally, the younger your child is, the more experienced the babysitter should be. For babysitters employed to look after babies, experience in looking after babies is vital.
In Australia a babysitter under 18 years of age can’t be legally responsible for a child except in special circumstances. So it’s your responsibility to ensure that someone under 18 is sufficiently mature to babysit your children.
Concerns about your babysitter
If you have concerns about the babysitter’s behaviour, you have options.
You can talk about your concerns and let your babysitter know what you expect, or you can tell them that you’ll be using a different babysitter from now on.
If you suspect behaviour that’s harmful to your child – yelling, hitting or other physical abuse – you have every right to ask the babysitter to leave. You should also report your experience to any agency, centre or person who recommended the babysitter. And finally, consider whether you should report what happened to the police.