Babysitters For $0 an Hour

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babysitting2.jpgIf you think you can’t afford to have kids in this city, you may not realize Brooklyn offers an amazing cost-cutter for parents: free sitters.

In a handful of neighborhoods — Prospect Heights, Fort Greene/Clinton Hill, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace, and Bay Ridge to name a few — you don’t need to pay qualified adults to care for your child when you need to go to the doctor’s, work at home alone, or want a date night out. You just need to be willing to return the favor, as a member of a babysitting cooperative.

A Child Grows in Brooklyn blogger Karen Connell joined one with 15 other couples two years ago, when everyone’s kids were between 10 and 15 months. They used a website, Babysitter Exchange, to keep track of who sat whose child when, and Connell found it to be a great resource, not only because she saved the $12 an hour she would normally spend on a babysitter, but because it made the neighborhood that much more neighborly for her boy. “Our child now has parents in the neighborhood — not just babysitters,” she says. “So he sees adults as friends.”

But once some parents in her group had Kid No. 2, things got complicated. Babysitter Exchange’s point system meant that you had to sit for twice as long to earn the same number of points when there was just one child — an onerous commitment for the dual-kid families. “I think that’s why it’s not working anymore,” says Connell.

Dina Rabiner in Prospect Heights hasn’t experienced that snafu, perhaps because the Prospect Heights Babysitting Cooperative uses a more realistic system to keep track of childcare, based upon a cooperative in Park Slope.

Each month, you’re supposed to go out or babysit. You earn two points per hour for one child, three points for two, and you can never be too positive or negative in points (otherwise it wouldn’t work). Her husband mails out a monthly spreadsheet to their Yahoo group that details everyone’s status, and since they formed in 2005, it’s hummed along perfectly.

There are socials where interested families can meet the participating parents and kids (ages 5 months to 5 years); “home visits” for prospective members to ensure your child is going to a safe place; and bylaws prohibiting things like drinking on the job. But ultimately, the secret to its success is self-interest.

“Especially now, with so many financial pressures, you still need to go out with your significant other, and it’s nice to go out without calculating how much you’re paying the babysitter,” says Rabiner. “For parents who believe in it and want to use it, it just works.”

If you’re not already a member of your neighborhood’s parents group, visit A Child Grows in Brooklyn to join one and find out if there’s a coop in your hood.

Sent by Nicole. Photos from top via Sexy Swedish Babe and Dorsia on Flickr.

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