Babysitting co-ops gain popularity

January 26, 2009 8:41:50 AM PST
An old idea is making a comeback these days - co-operative babysitting is enjoying a renaissance - driven in part by the economy, and partly by the need for quality babysitting services. These co-ops provide parents with peace of mind - at no cost.Until children can learn to take care of themselves, there will be a need for babysitters. But finding the right one can leave your head spinning and your wallet thinning - which is why Katherine Csizmadia, mother of Zoe, started a babysitting co-op in San Anselmo several years ago. It provides a structured, yet flexible alternative to just asking around to see who's available to care for your children.

"I can always babysit for one child, but if they're not available at the times I need, there's another family I can use as my babysitter," said Csizmadia.

The co-op is structured somewhat like a bank and records are kept by the co-op secretary. You receive points for babysitting, and are charged points for having someone babysit your children.

"We started the co-op with 11 families," said Csizmadia.

Over the years, the number of families involved in this co-op has been as low as eight and as high as 21 although you can start a co-op with just three families. Jane Purnell joined a few years ago, and daughter Gwendolyn is glad she did. Jane offers this advice for those just starting a babysitting co-op:

"Decide what is important to you. Is it just the sits? Or do you do want to do more community giving, ongoing parental education - which we do now. There also some resources online," said Purnell.

And this co-op is a money saver. Each member is saving an average of $1,000 per year.

At the same time, they're enjoying peace of mind.

"You just feel confident having another parent who you're in community with - sit for your child. You never worry," said Csizmadia.

Because the co-ops are not open to the public, there are far fewer legal issues. And because there's almost always a sitter available, co-op moms report far more social issues - like dating and dining out.