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Assistant Chief Mike Johnson
Babysitting is the transfer of childcare responsibilities from the parent or guardian to another responsible person. For babysitting to be successful everyone must be involved in planning and safety.
Parents must ensure that their home is safe for their children and the babysitter. It is the parents' responsibility to let the children know that the rules are to be obeyed when the parents are out of the house. The children must respect the babysitter by listening to and following their instructions.
Babysitters must understand how the home functions and be able to deal effectively with emergencies. As a babysitter, you are entrusted with a child's life. Your primary responsibility is to care for the children's needs, keep them happy and most of all: keep them safe.
This guide is not a definitive resource, but is intended to highlight the areas where possible problems may exist. You will find tips for the babysitter, for the parents, and some tips for commercial daycare centres. We have mixed all of the tips into what we think would be a natural progression of events. Much of the information in this guide makes good sense on a daily basis and will help to make your home safer at all times. We hope that both parents and babysitters will read this guide to be sure that everyone understands what is involved in caring for children.
Finding the right family/babysitter match
Finding an employer
Babysitters should not advertise their availability for babysitting jobs in supermarkets, community bulletin boards, drug stores, or laundromats. The best sources of childcare employment are the recommendations of family, friends, and neighbors. The concern with open advertising besides making your phone number public, is that it is more difficult to determine the suitability of the employer. If you wish to respond to an advertisement for a babysitter, consider having your parents make the contact for you.
Finding a babysitter
Parents can advertise their need for a babysitter in the newspaper or through a local high school, church, or civic organization. If parents are new to the area, check the Yellow Pages of the telephone book for a list of professional child care services. In some areas, you may be able to obtain a listing of childcare services through Municipal offices. In the Toronto area, you can look for services in the Yellow Pages under babysitters.
Certain babysitting services advertise that their babysitters are bonded. This means that the babysitting service has purchased an insurance bond that will cover certain damages or loss of your property. The bond however, most likely will not protect your children in any way.
Determine whether the commercial babysitting service has made a criminal history check on or has otherwise screened its employees. To help you determine the suitability, we have listed some questions you may wish to use in determining the suitability of a location.
Get to know your employer
Babysitters should get to know their employer before taking a job. Check references if it will be the first time working for a family. Ask to speak with previous babysitters. If contacted by a person unfamiliar to you, ask who recommended you and check it out before accepting the job. To protect yourself, make sure you or your parents know and trust the family for whom you will be babysitting. Let your parents know the address and phone number of where you will be in case of emergency.
Know how many children you will be babysitting. Get specific information about the bed times, foods, medicines and any other special instructions. Be sure that you are able to meet all of the requests before accepting the job. Ask if there are any pets that you may be allergic to.
Know who you will be babysitting. Babysitting a 6-month-old baby is very different from babysitting an 8-year-old child. That is why you will need to know the ages of the children ahead of time. If you don't feel comfortable babysitting a very small baby, or if listening to a 2-year-old ask 9,000 questions makes you want to scream, then do not take the job. You must feel that you are in control while you are on the job, and if you're unsure, it's better to wait for the next job.
Get to know your babysitter
Ask for a resume or a list of references. Parents, know how many children your babysitter is capable of caring for. Asking a babysitter to be responsible for more children then they are comfortable with compromises the children's safety - your babysitter can't be in those many places at once. Parents may wish to use two or more babysitters if the situation warrants it.
Personally interview several prospective babysitters and observe their interaction with your children. This meeting will let you see how the sitter works with the children and will help the children to become familiar with the sitter. After the interview, ask your children what they thought of the perspective sitter. Parents should outline the babysitter's duties and responsibilities and discuss an imagined emergency situation and how he or she might react. Ask the sitter how they would handle misbehavior. When you decide on a babysitter who meets your high standards, discuss the hours and fees for service. Ask to speak with the babysitters parents. Also write down his or her name, home address, and telephone number and, if an adult, the driver's license number.
As a parent you want the best possible care for your children while you are away from them. Check all references, contact the sitter's past employers, teachers, counselors, relatives, friends, or neighbors and ask about the sitter's qualifications for childcare. Before you hire anyone to watch over your children, however, make sure that he or she is a mature, experienced, and capable individual who truly cares about the welfare of children.
Babysitters preparation for a job
Take the babysitting responsibility seriously. Responsible babysitters can prepare even before their first babysitting job. Many schools have babysitter-training programs. Prospective babysitters learn how children behave at their various ages, how to play with them, meal preparation and discipline.
It's a good idea to learn basic first aid and infant and child CPR before embarking on a babysitting career. This is something you should talk over with your parents, because learning these things requires a real commitment. You will have to attend courses to learn the proper way of performing these skills. But it's worth the trouble to feel confident that you're trained to help in an emergency, and it gives parents real peace of mind
Get directions to the job location and make arrangements to get to the location and return home from the babysitting job. Don't wait until the last minute, check with your mom or dad or older sibling before you leave your house to make sure that they can pick you up at the right time. If the parents you will be babysitting for will take you home, that's great, but don't assume that they can or will. Just be sure to ask them before they leave the house. If you live within walking distance and you know that the parents won't be home until after dark, ask a parent, sibling, or the parent you will be babysitting for to walk you home.
The babysitter should arrive at the home early, up to 30 minutes if
it will be the first time the babysitter has been to the house. This
time is critical for parents to provide the babysitter with instructions
and a tour of the house.
An information sheet must be filled out and left behind with the sitter. We have compiled a sample information sheet that you may download and print. Fill out as many areas as possible, more information is preferable.
It is preferable to have the babysitter meet and interact with the children during the initial interview prior to babysitting being required. If this was not possible, introduce the babysitter to the children. It is a good idea to discuss the family rules with both the babysitter and the children present.
Parents should take the babysitter on a tour of the home and check for any special locks or security systems, windows that cannot be climbed out of, where the telephones are located and anything else that might be a problem in case of an emergency. Check for doggie doors and lock any unlocked doors or windows.
Parents should point out which areas of the home that the children are not allowed in (garage, basement, office etc).
Note the location of the first aid kit, flashlights, and the fire extinguisher.
During the walk through, check for hazards and things that the children can get into, such as matches, lighter fluid, electric cords, plastic bags, medications, or anything else that may be dangerous. Parents should ensure that all guns, knives, power tools, razor blades, scissors, and other objects that can cause injury are stored in locked cabinets or storage areas.
Check that swimming pools and hot tubs are completely enclosed with a barrier, such as a locked fence or cover. Wading pools should be emptied when not in use. Windows and balcony doors should have childproof latches. Balconies should have protective barriers to prevent children from slipping through bars.
Safety gates should be installed at all open stairways if required. If a gate is not provided, place a barrier of some kind in front of the stairway that a child cannot climb over. Accordion-style gates with large V-shaped or diamond-shaped openings should not be used since they can entrap a child's head, causing strangulation. A gate with a straight top or small V's and diamond-shaped openings is safer. Make sure pressure gates are firmly in place and can't be dislodged by the child.
Be sure the home is free of clutter on the floors and especially on and near stairways.
Be sure the babysitter meets the pets. The parents should introduce the babysitter to the family dog, cat, or other pets. Animals may react to having a different person in the house and the introduction will reduce the pet's stress. Let the babysitter know if the pets need feeding and where the food is located.
The parents should explain to the babysitter how they wish misbehavior to be handled.
The babysitter should ask the parents if they are expecting any phone calls, and how to handle them. If there is an answering machine in the home, tell the parents that you would like to use it to screen callers.
Having visitors while babysitting is a bad policy. Babysitters should always get approval if they would like to have a visitor of the same sex. Babysitters should never have visitors of the opposite sex.
Check with parents whether children are to have a hallway light of other light on after retiring. Check how parents want room left, if the bedroom doors are to be open or closed. Even then, the doors should be left open slightly so the children will have the security of knowing the babysitter is still there, and make any call of distress more noticeable.
Parents should let the babysitter know if they are allowed to do homework, watch TV, use the radio, computer, or phone after the children have gone to bed.
All special instructions should be written down on the babysitter's information sheet.
Parents must specify the amount, time and method of delivery. Parents may even wish to set a small alarm clock for the babysitter if the time of medication delivery is critical. For most medications try to leave just the amount necessary for the time that you are away. This will reduce that chance of accidental over medication. We suggest using a 'day by day' style container that is clearly marked with the child's name if there is more than one child in the home. Medicine should be kept in a locked storage place that children can't reach.
Bathing an infant is not recommended. Unless specifically instructed by the parents, do not bathe a baby. A clean face cloth in lukewarm water will suffice in most cases for cleaning the skin. Bathing a baby calls for utmost care and supervision; aside from the risk of hot water scalds, there is always the danger of drowning.
If the babysitter is to bathe a child, they must never leave the child unattended in the tub, even for a minute. Small children can drown in very little water. If the phone rings, let the answering machine pick it up, or let the caller call back. If the child is bashful and is embarrassed to be naked, the babysitter can take a book or magazine into the bathroom. The babysitter can sit on the floor or on the closed toilet lid and "read" while the child bathes, and their face will be hidden. Having the child wear their bathing suit in the tub is always another good option. Parents should inform the babysitter of specific bath times.
Parents should layout some clean clothing for the children to change into. Loose, baggy clothing can be dangerous if it gets caught on furniture, cribs, playpens, etc., while children climb, play or scamper about the room. Clothing can also be a problem if it becomes tightly wound around a baby. Babysitters need to be on the alert for hazards such as these, and adjust the clothing so that it cannot become tangled.
Parents should discuss whether the babysitter will handle brushing and flossing teeth.
The babysitter should know if they are to give the children anything to eat or drink before bed. Find out what is an acceptable snack for the children and only have that snack in view. While preparing any simple meals, always turn pot handles inward on the stove so children can't pull them down, and try to use the rear stove elements whenever possible.
Babysitter's must remember to remove infant bibs after the meal is finished.
Parents should explain if the children have any food allergies and if the children are trained and prepared to use an EpiPen.
While the parents are away
The babysitter should protect themselves and the children by locking all the windows and doors after the parents leave. Keep drapes and shades closed. Do not open the door to anyone unless the parents have told you who to expect and how to identify them. If the babysitter is in doubt, call the parents or 911.
If the telephone rings, do not tell the caller that the children are alone with a babysitter. Tell the caller that the parents can't come to the phone at that moment and ask the caller to leave a message. If you receive unusual or obscene telephone calls, hang up and call the police.
The babysitter's job is to care for the children in their charge - and nothing else. The babysitter should be with the kids every minute they are awake. It can be pretty tempting to leave the children in one room while watching TV in another room, but kids can get into trouble very quickly. As the babysitter you should never leave the children at any time. When the children go to sleep, they should be checked regularly, every 30 minutes. The babysitter should stay awake during his or her stay in the house.
If the children are taken outside to the yard, they must be watched carefully. It is the parents' responsibility to let the babysitter know whom the children may play with or visit. If the children are with the babysitter in a public place, they must be watched carefully and not permitted to wander. Avoid sending the children to public restrooms alone. When you return to the home, if something seems suspicious (broken window or door), call the police immediately from another house.
The babysitter should never use the phone for more than 5 minutes. Parents must be able to call the home to see how things are going.
If it is evening, turn on the porch/outside lights and keep them on. If you hear any suspicious noises, do not go outside. If you suspect someone is outside, call the police at 911 immediately.
If for any reason you must leave the house, TAKE THE CHILDREN WITH YOU!
Never let children lock a bathroom door. Go in the bathroom with young children to assure this doesn't happen. If the door does become locked it should be possible to unlock it by inserting a pin into the hole on the outside of the doorknob. Ask the parents to demonstrate this procedure for you and know where the unlocking pin is. When not in use, keep the bathroom door closed and the toilet seat and lid down.
If the babysitter will be changing the baby's diapers, they must plan on having everything within immediate reach so they won't have to step away from the infant even for a second. If they are not constantly watching, babies can roll over and fall from changing tables or other high places. Have diapers, pins, etc., nearby so the baby is under constant supervision.
The babysitter should be sure that the crib is as safe as they can make it. Check the room between the mattress and the side of the crib, if there is more than two fingers' width, an infant's head could get caught in between and the infant could suffocate. Roll up a couple of large bath towels and place them in the space. If the slats are more than 2- 3/8 inches apart, the baby's body can slide between the slats and suffocate. If the child is old enough to stand up, the parents should set the mattress at its lowest position, with the side rail at its highest position. Check the mattress support frequently to make sure it hasn't become unhooked from the end panels. Any toys left in the crib should never be ones that could be used to help the child climb out. Cribs with decorative knobs on the corner posts can be a strangulation hazard. Children's clothing and strings or necklaces can catch on the protrusions, especially if the child is trying to climb out. Crib gyms should be removed from the crib when the baby is five months old or can push upon hands and knees, otherwise the baby can get his/her chin across the crib gym or catch clothing on it and strangle.
Children should never be left in a play pen unsupervised.The babysitter should be aware of hazards to a child left alone in a playpen. A string of toys across the top or even to one side of the playpen could be a strangulation risk. Drop side mesh playpens and portable mesh cribs used with a side left down, can pose a serious hazard to newborns and infants. When the side is down, the mesh forms a loose pocket into which an infant can fall or roll and suffocate. Drop sides should always be up and locked securely in position when a child is in the playpen or crib. Don't put any toys in the playpen that a child can climb on to get out. And little fingers can get caught in hinges.
Babies in carriages, walkers or strollers should never be left unattended, especially in an area around stairs or ramps. A malfunction of the carriage's safety brake or a sudden movement by the child could tip it over. Walkers offer limited balance to a child not yet completely able to stand or walk. If unstable, walkers can easily tip over. Stay with the child when he or she is in the walker, and assist it over thresholds or carpeting.
A child in a high chair requires almost constant attention. Babies can quickly slip out of a high chair if not properly strapped in. Make sure that any safety belts or straps on the high chair are securely fastened and that the tray is properly attached. Don't let the child stand up while in the chair, and keep other children from climbing on it. Keep the far enough away from tables and walls so that the child can't push the chair over.
As a babysitter, don't snoop about the house. Stay out of drawers, bedroom closets, the basement, etc. If the children see you doing this, you may be unjustifiably blamed for missing items later.
Once the kids are put to bed, then the babysitter is free to do what
they want - as long as the parents said it was OK before they left.
Once the children are asleep, the babysitter will still need to keep
an ear out for any noises. Nightmares, a drink of water or anything
that wakes a child and gets them out of bed is something they need
to be there for.
A good babysitter is good at playing with children.
The infant likes objects to throw, hold, drop, tear, grab, and roll. The danger here is that they like to put things in their mouth. If the object is small enough the child could choke and stop breathing. A good rule of thumb is not to let the infant have anything smaller than their own fist.
Toddlers get into everything. The toddler likes to bang, push, pull, put in, take out, jump, draw, and colour. Some of the dangers to watch for, swallowing things, falling, and poisons. A toddler may pull a hot pot off the stove when the babysitter isn't watching. A child may take the opportunity to play with matches when no one is watching.
Three-year-olds and up like an active physical game, arts and crafts, blocks, pretend, games of skill, and reading. Be careful of tables and objects the child could fall into, around stoves and heaters, matches and lighters.
As the babysitter, bring some things to play with like a notebook, magazines, colored paper, color markers, tape, and flashlight. Surprises for the children will make the job easy for you and fun for them. Make a game of putting things back in their place. Just a reminder that whether you're actually playing with the children or supervising them, keep them within safe play areas, preferably within your sight. Keep them away from potential danger areas in the home such as the kitchen, bathroom, workshop and storage areas. They move fast, so you will have to be able to move even faster!
Before bedtime, calm children down. Don't play active games. Rather, play a quiet game, or read them a book (not a scary one!).
After the parents return
When parents return home, ask the babysitter if the children are safe and if anything unusual happened, telephone calls, visits, and so on. As the babysitter you should report bad behavior but always report the good behavior of the children as well. You may also consider keeping a journal of activities. By recording events and activities you can better describe for the parents all that has taken place.
Most important, when the babysitter has left, talk to your children about what happened while you were gone. Ask them what games they played and about any other activities. Ask your children whether they like and trust the babysitter and if anything happened that made them uncomfortable or afraid.
Getting the babysitter home
Parents should make sure that the babysitter is escorted home, and wait until he or she is safely inside their home before you leave.
The babysitter should make certain that an adult escorts them. As a babysitter, if your employer appears intoxicated, insist that someone else take you home, or call someone else to come to pick you up.
Parents are responsible for providing a safe environment for both their children and the babysitter. By properly preparing your home for your absence, you minimize the risks of being away.
Babysitters must be constantly aware of where the children are and what it is that they are doing. A well-prepared babysitter will be highly respected and greatly appreciated by parents.
We hope that we have given both parents and babysitters a lot to think