Baby sitting circle

Having trouble finding a babysitter? This article may save your social life.

What is a baby sitting circle?
A baby sitting circle is a group of parents who know each other and baby sit for each other in exchange for baby sitting points. Each time you baby sit for another member of the circle you receive points. You lose them when someone baby sits for you.

What are the advantages?
You know the person who is looking after your children.
Because he or she is also a parent, they should know how to look after a child and what to do in a crisis.
As no money changes hands, there are no babysitting fees.
As you will be taking your turn to baby sit, you do not need to feel guilty about asking for a baby sitter.
As long as there are enough members, there is usually a sitter available.
Because it works on a points system, it does not matter if you baby sit for a different person to the one who sat for you.

How does it work?
You need 5 – 10 members. Ideally they should all know each other. If not, each member should know at least two others. It helps to get together socially from time to time with the children to make sure everyone knows each other.
Each member starts with 25 points. Every time you baby sit you earn 1 point for each ½ hour before midnight and 2 points for each ½ hour after midnight. Time is rounded up to the nearest half an hour. When you go out, you lose points. You may not go above 50 points or below 0.
Each member has a notebook (a school exercise book with columns drawn in it is fine) in which points are recorded. Remember to take it with you when you go to sit! At the end of the evening, both the sitter and the sittee write the points gained and lost in their books and sign each other’s books.

Example
Sue joins circle on 1st Feb and starts with 25 points. She baby sits for Sam on 5th Feb from 8pm till 11.30pm and so earns 7 points. The next week Andy baby sits for her from 7.30pm till 1.00 am so she loses 13 points. Etc.

Useful tips
Before you start, get together to agree the rules.
It’s helpful if one person is in charge of buying and setting up the books so they are consistent.
Each member should be given a points book, a list of the rules and a list of the other members’ contact details.
Although there is no joining fee, each new member has to pay for the cost of their book.
Write your mobile number/emergency contact details etc. on the front of the book.
Email is the best way to communicate. All you need to do is send out an email asking for a sitter and everyone gets a fair chance to reply. First one to reply gets the points!
New members can only join, if “approved” by two or more existing members.
Members should only stay in the circle if they are contributing by going out and sitting reasonably often. Members who are not going out much should leave to make room for others.
Decide if this system will only operate in the evening when kids are hopefully in bed or if this will be a daytime arrangement too.
Try not to exclude single parents just because they may not be able to baby sit for others in the evening. They might be able to baby sit in the day/ pick up from school etc.
Try to spread the points around by using different members of the circle. BUT ONLY LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN WITH SOMEONE YOU KNOW AND TRUST. You don’t have to accept someone to sit for you just because they are in the circle.
More than a dozen members risk splitting into subgroups. If this happens it is probably better to split into two separate groups.
In the event of a member leaving the circle, he/she should try to have a 25 point balance. If this is not possible the circle will have to agree a means to buy them out or simply write it off.
Encourage both parents to do their fair share of the sitting!

Or do it online. A couple of parents have set up www.mynightoff.com. This uses a similar system to above but does it all via a free-to-use website where parents can set up and administer their babysitting circle on-line.

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