Questions to Ask About Caregiving/Baby-sitting

asking a baby sitter

Are there any licensing standards for baby-sitters or casual caregivers in my state? What kind of training should I expect?

Typically, occasional baby-sitting in the home isn’t regulated by the state until it wanders into the area of family day care (check with your state department of Health and Welfare for the regulations). There are many programs to help a baby-sitter learn how to care for a child. The American Red Cross has caregiver and baby-sitter training programs, as does the Canada Safety Council. Check with your local hospital to see if it offers a program – and other local organizations might also offer training. You should expect this kind of training (ask to see the diploma or certificate), and you should expect the caregiver to know first aid and CPR (remember that infant CPR differs from child CPR).

How can I find a good caregiver?

Sometimes local daycare providers will baby-sit in the evenings, and a benefit of this is that they tend to be older, more experienced and better trained. You can check with friends or acquaintances as well, and get references. Or call the local American Red Cross. Ask lots of questions. And, as always, trust your instincts. See Questions to Ask at a Daycare and also Questions to Ask a Potential Caregiver.

Do call all of the references. Don’t simply trust one recommendation. And when calling references, listen carefully to what’s being said. Some people don’t like to give bad references, but they’ll tell you in other ways that they weren’t pleased. For example, they might say, “She was very good with younger children,” meaning she wasn’t as good with older children. So listen with an ear to the negative inflections. A very good question to ask: “Would you hire her again?”.

Is it safe to hire a male caregiver?

That depends on the male baby-sitter. The vast majority of sexual abuse is committed by males. Statistically, your child is at much greater danger from male baby-sitters than from female baby-sitters. Call us chauvinistic, but the facts – sadly – are the facts. Personally, we always felt the risk was not worth the reward. Nevertheless, we accept that there are many males who are great with children and who would be excellent caregivers. Our advice is to take the same steps with a potential caregiver who is male, as you would take with a potential caregiver who is female. Do a background check, interview the candidate, listen carefully to what you’re told and pay close attention to the candidate’s body language, avoid making excuses for any shortcomings, call the references and pay close attention to what they say and how they say it, absolutely trust your instincts, pay attention to your child’s reactions, watch for changes, and follow through on doubts or concerns.

Can I get a background check done on a potential caregiver or baby-sitter?

Check with your local police on how to have this done. A check of teenagers and older caregivers can be enlightening, and police might do them for free.

How young is too young to baby-sit my child?

That depends on the baby-sitter. But here are some things to consider. Is the baby-sitter strong enough to fight off an intruder? Is the baby-sitter mature enough to handle a fire in the kitchen? Is the baby-sitter calm, capable and experienced enough to handle a choking or drowning incident? Is she too afraid of water to dive into a pool to rescue your child? Will she know what to do if she can’t reach you, or if she somehow loses sight of your child? Is she mature enough to handle her own frustration without harming the child?

We’ve heard horror stories of baby-sitters leaving children in the care of boyfriends, taking children to the movies without parental consent, leaving the child alone to go to the store – not to mention the terrible stories of baby-sitters becoming overwhelmed and hurting or killing the child. In December 2000, three young children reportedly died in a house fire after a baby-sitter left them alone. One time (one SHORT time) at our house, a prospective baby-sitter read a magazine while we explained our routine. Maturity goes a long way in child care.

Many parents also assume their 8-or 9-year-olds or pre-teens can baby-sit their younger children and babies — simply because they’ve been around them. But Parent Resource Network Inc. has heard of siblings much too young for baby-sitting who’ve gotten distracted at a crucial moment, who’ve not been able to handle a crisis, or who’ve been frustrated and hurt or killed the younger child. These children aren’t evil — they were simply told to do a job they weren’t mature enough to do, and unfortunately, disaster struck.

The same questions you ask for baby-sitters (listed in the first paragraph of this question) should apply to your own children We never felt that anyone younger than 15 (or even 16) years old was old enough to handle a baby – whether she’s your child or not. You might feel differently. But come up with several worst-case scenarios, imagine your potential baby-sitter (or child) in those situations and gauge her probable reaction. If you have any doubts, we highly recommend you err on the side of caution.

Should I meet the baby-sitter’s parents?

Definitely. We’ve always been surprised that a baby-sitter’s parents might not want to meet you, too. But most of them don’t seem to think of it. At any rate, we feel it’s important to get a feel for the relationship between the baby-sitter and her parents. This relationship, if it’s a poor one, has scared us off of baby-sitters. We feel that if the baby-sitter’s parents yell at her and are hypercritical of her – or if they allow her to get away with poor behavior at home – chances are better than average that the baby-sitter will have not yet learned the skills she needs to be loving and patient with your child. Additionally, her parents might not be able to help her if she needs them.

What information should I leave the baby-sitter?

Leave written information by the telephone that includes: Your full names, full address, full telephone number, emergency numbers, a friend or next-door neighbor’s name and telephone number (ask your friend or neighbor if they’ll be home). Also, where you’re going, when you’ll be back (and stick as close to that time as you can). Leave any medical conditions, allergies, the child’s full name, blood type and weight, insurance information and the number for poison control. You should also leave the pediatrician’s name, but we recommend the baby-sitter simply call 911 if she needs help. It’s faster – there’s always someone there to answer – and it’s easy to remember. No one at 911 will mind her calling over something simple. In addition, leave a flashlight, batteries and first aid supplies. Tell her where the fuse box is in case a firefighter needs to know. You should also write down your child’s favorite books, toys and activities, fears or preferences, bedtime or nap times schedules and routines, food preferences and snacks. Leave her something to munch on, and let her know what she can and can’t do in your house. Don’t assume anything.

What rules should I set for a baby-sitter or caregiver? What should I expect her to do? How much should I pay?

Work out the rules and expectations with her. Some parents want caregivers to clean up dinner (or at least put the food in the refrigerator), others want only that the child is still breathing at the end of the night. Most parents don’t want friends or boyfriends to come over. Most don’t want the child leaving the house or yard (or immediate area). Some don’t want the caregiver to bathe the child. Some don’t want the caregiver falling asleep on the couch; others don’t mind as long as the child is asleep and the caregiver will wake up to any unusual sounds (i.e. no drugs or alcohol, no headphones or loud music). Some parents expect the child to eat something; others have different rules. And you’ll be surprised at how many baby-sitters will try to muddle something through instead of calling you – even if you’ve TOLD them it’s no problem to call you.

The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh has one example of information you should leave for — and discuss with — the baby-sitter.

If you want your caregiver to do something for you beyond child care, you should be willing to pay for it. The best solution might be to discuss all of these questions with the caregiver or baby-sitter, and come to a resolution together. If she isn’t happy with what you suggest, she’ll either tell you or she won’t agree to come back. Pay schedules vary, depending on several factors: where you live, how experienced the person is, how in demand she is, how much she’s willing to accept and how much you’re willing to pay. Ask around and see what the standard is. Once you’ve found someone you like, you might want to pay a little extra in order to keep her.

What should I ask of the caregiver or baby-sitter after I get back home?

Make a list of all the things you’ll want to know and make sure your caregiver knows you’ll want to know those things. You might want to set a few questions aside and surprise her with them – at least until you get to know her. Some things you’ll want to ask: How much did the child eat? What did you do together? How did the child behave? Were there any problems? Did you have anything you weren’t certain about? How did you feel about how the evening went? When did the child go to sleep? Did you have any problems putting the child to sleep? You don’t need to grill her; but you do want to make sure you find out what happened.

Don’t forget to talk to your child the next morning. Ask gentle, open-ended questions designed to get your child talking. Listen with a nonjudgmental attitude and don’t try to talk your child out of any feelings. Take any complaints seriously. You don’t have to convince your child of anything; you’re only trying to get a feel for how things went.

How can I trust that the answers I’m getting are truthful? How do I check up on our baby-sitter or caregiver? Is checking up on her legal? Is it ethical?

We really can’t emphasize it enough: Trust your instincts. If you have doubts (which you probably do if you’re asking yourself how truthful she was), and you are not a perpetual worrywart, then there may be something in your child’s response or the person you chose that has alerted you to a problem. (And even if you are a perpetual worrywart, that doesn’t mean your gut hasn’t stumbled on a real problem.) Remember – there are many caregivers out there. Take your doubts seriously.

We always had a rule of thumb for caregivers. We’d ask ourselves this question: If something bad happened while we were gone, would we be shocked and surprised – or would we be kicking ourselves over the doubts we’d had? If we couldn’t say we’d be surprised, then it was time to find another caregiver.

There are several ways to handle doubts:

  • Ask more questions. Let the caregiver know your concerns. Perhaps she didn’t understand you, or perhaps there is information you haven’t received. But if she continues to not understand, take that as a sign to make a change.
  • Ask questions of your child and listen carefully to the responses. Don’t argue or try and talk your child out of his or her feelings. And remember that your child cannot always articulate the real problem. Ask open-ended questions. (We found surprise picnics to be gentle and pleasant ways to elicit tricky information).
  • You can drop in earlier than planned, or walk in completely unannounced, and see how things are going. Or ask a trustworthy friend or relative to drop in.
  • You can install a camera in your home (check with the police for local laws on this).
  • If you have nagging doubts, Parent Resource Network Inc. recommends that you just find another caregiver, and that you do it immediately. If you don’t feel the caregiver is safe for your child next month, then she isn’t safe for your child today.

Things aren’t being done properly/safely/compassionately/gently/legally by our child’s caregiver. What should I do? If she’s young, should I mention my suspicions to her parents?

Really, if you know there are problems, then you already know what to do: It’s time to find another caregiver – and as soon as physically possible. After all, your child is the one under her care, and your child depends on you to make sure the environment is a good one. Don’t allow your child to grow up in an unsafe or even less-than-optimal environment. Parent Resource Network Inc. recommends that if you absolutely MUST keep her until you find someone else, don’t tell her you’re looking for someone else. We understand and appreciate your desire to be aboveboard, but you absolutely cannot risk her possibly taking her anger and frustration out on your child. You can still be fair by giving her severance pay. That will be more expensive for you, but it might save your child from being mistreated.

As for mentioning your concerns to her parents, Parent Resource Network Inc. feels this depends on the problem. Perhaps your child simply doesn’t get along with the caregiver, but you feel the caregiver works well with other children. Fine. Let her go and don’t offer advice unless you’re asked. But if you feel something isn’t being done safely or legally, then Parent Resource Network Inc. believes you have a clear responsibility to notify her parents, whomever referred her to you and perhaps even the police. Your responsibility is to your child, but it’s also to the other children who depend on adults like you to help keep them safe.

What should I do to reward a good caregiver or baby-sitter?

That’s entirely up to you. Some parents give money; some give gifts. Some choose to do nothing, and that’s their right. Our caregivers often become part of our family, so we enjoy giving them gifts. We don’t go overboard, but we like to give something simple that says, “Thank you for taking good care of our child; we appreciate your dedication.” If it’s a younger baby-sitter, this is a topic you can address with her parents.


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