The Citizens Handbook
Child-minding Co-ops
If you have small children, you know how difficult it can be to find, and pay for a baby-sitter. Many families have found a solution to their baby-sitting woes in child-minding co-ops.

In these co-ops, families care for each other's children both in their own homes and in the homes of the children, during the day, evening, or overnight. Most co-ops keep track of baby-sitting hours on a list of debits and credits; one local group keeps track by exchanging poker chips. Hours are not only determined by the clock, but by tardiness, the number of children, lateness of returning, and other considerations.

Most co-ops serve a small area, one that allows for participants to walk between each others homes. A co-op works best with fifteen to twenty families - enough to spread the baby-sitting around. Participants are usually found by talking to friends. This is preferable to posting "vacancies" since most people feel happier leaving their children with "friends of friends".

A selection committee usually visits a candidate's home to look at general safety, neatness, the level of child-proofing, and to see whether people smoke inside, and who might be coming and going. On being accepted, candidates pay a small start-up fee, and register their name with the co-op's secretary (a position rotated on a monthly or quarterly basis). The secretary is the person who takes "orders" for baby-sitting, usually with a minimum 24 hours notice. Baby-sitters are sought on the basis of their availability, and the balance on their baby-sitting account.

One co-op meets every two months for a potluck, an occasion to socialize as well as deal with any concerns. Another uses a similar opportunity to introduce new candidates to their group. It holds a social event three times a year for both kids and parents. These events bring a sense of community to a sometimes isolated group of parents.

Some co-ops have been in operation for as long as 20 years. The longevity of the co-op depends largely on its ease of administration, and the ability to find new families as others outgrow its services. For more information contact your local community centre, neighbourhood house, or family place.

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