15 questions to ask a new babysitter

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  April 22, 2009 04:50 AM

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I ran into a problem recently, when my youngest kids' school and day care were closed, my husband was away, I had to work, and I had no backup childcare.

Yeah, it made for a tough day.

I scraped by (it's challenging to work from home with little kids running around, but it can be done -- single parents do it, and more, all the time). But I wished I had taken the time to thoroughly vet a few baby sitting candidates months ago, rather than procrastinating because the interview process seemed like too much work.

Yes, the interview process. Whether you're looking for a teenage "mother's helper" to play with the kids for an hour after school or a full-time live-in nanny to hold down the fort while you're at work, you have to rely on more than a notecard pinned to a corkboard at the supermarket. When I was a babysitter, good recommendations and an up-to-date CPR certification were more than enough to get a child caring job. But now? Not anymore.

If you're looking for a full-time nanny, I've got a great checklist of questions to ask here. And if you prefer to go through an agency that's done some of the screening for you, Care.com is offering a fee-free three-day weekend starting in the morning on Friday (April 24), during which you can access their database of pre-screened caregivers for free, search for providers (child care, pet sitters, housekeepers, and tutors) by location, post jobs, contact providers, check references, schedule interviews, and even run a free background check.

But if you're putting off hiring a sitter because you're confused as to what to ask him or her, here are 15 questions to get you started (I've used "her" and "she" throughout, but don't take that the wrong way -- male caregivers are fine in my book). Tailor them to suit your family, of course.

1.) What are her qualifications?
2.) Is there an age-range with which she is most comfortable?
3.) Can she provide references?
4.) Will she give you permission to conduct an extensive background check?
5.) Does she know first aid or have any emergency training or other certifications?
6.) Does she have children of her own? How about younger siblings?
7.) What are her interests? Her pet peeves?
8.) Has she ever had to discipline a child? Why? How did she handle the situation?
9.) What would she do in an emergency? (List different scenarios.)
10.) What is the most difficult situation she's ever been in with a child? What was the outcome?
11.) Does she like pets? (If you have any)
12.) Does she have her own car? (If so, check her driving record.)
13.) Will she pick your child up at school if you need her to?
14.) What sort of a time committment is she looking for, day-to-day? How about in the long term?
15.) Are there any questions she has for you to answer?

What questions do you ask a potential babysitter? Share your experience with the rest of us in the comments!

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.


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11 comments so far...
  1. I think the best option, if possible, is to hire someone you know. The teenaged neighbor, the teenager who sits for your friend, the retired neighbor, a mom from school/church/wherever...

    Failing that, I think THE best thing is to just meet with the person with your kids (at a neutral location like a kid-friendly coffee shop or playground) and see how they interact with your kids. IMO, the specific questions vary widely based on your child(ren)'s age, the individual sitter, and the situation, so no one list is particularly helpful. Go with your gut - if you feel uncomfortable at all, don't hire the person. Also, if your child doesn't seem to like the person (beyond normal shyness), say no.

    Posted by akmom April 22, 09 09:10 AM
  1. Another great site to find caregivers is www.gonannies.com. They offer superior, reliable background checks, online references, and much more.

    Posted by Cynthia April 22, 09 01:41 PM
  1. I'd strongly recommend doing an initial 'trial' day while you're home, it gives you a chance to see how the sitter interacts with your children for an extended period of time and if he/she is a good match for your family.
    For anyone out there looking I'd highly recommend checking out sittercity.com. too. We've had a lot of luck with that site and they provide helpful tips for parents too. Although I'm sure that Care.com is a great website, I'm a strong supporter of local businesses and sittercity was started by a BU grad and has a lot of sitters on from the Boston area.

    Posted by ZurisMom April 22, 09 01:41 PM
  1. I think it is extremely important to conduct a full background check before hiring any type of caretaker to watch your children. You have to be proactive these days about your childs safety and running a background check is an absolute necessity.

    Posted by Sandy April 22, 09 02:16 PM
  1. Please just google the person before hiring them - it might seem invasive but what's common knowledge to the rest of the world should be known to you as well.

    Posted by bblong April 22, 09 02:44 PM
  1. Does the Globe specifically prohibit the use of the singular "they" and "their"?

    It tends to upset the copy editors... -- LMA


    Posted by k April 22, 09 03:49 PM
  1. My two cents
    -Run a CORI, financial and Sex Offender check on all adult caregivers. If they've lived out of state a month or more ago run a check in that state. If care is provided outside your home the checks should include all persons living and having regular access in the home.
    -ask if ever had an addiction (alcohol, gambling, video games, internet, drugs, shopping, sex) or uncontrolled anger problems, in treatment, been hospitalized for it. please don't be afraid to ask and verify - it's uncomfortable but not illegal.
    -Beware of foreign, non-resident providers even through an agency. A former boss hired 2 German nannies thru an agency. While both passed the background check (personal references that were not verified) their spouse did not. One had a husband convicted of non-violent crimes, the other did time for child porn and often took photos of her kids. She only found out when the police showed up at her house because they were tracking him down to investigate a compliant. This example brings me to - - - -
    -Do not allow family and friends of the caregiver in your home or to tag along during the work period. Too many caregivers think they are entitled to socialize, hang out at the mall, with friends and get paid for it and making your kids a non-priority.
    -If not using an agency draw up a contract with your lawyer clearly defining the role, responsbility, pay, vacation/sick time, etc. so everyone is on the same page.
    -if care will be provided outside the home due a Sex Offender check of the area, and all living in the household.
    i know it seems over the top but i take my job as parent seriously. nothing will deter me from protecting my foster kids from potential emotional and physical harm - they've had enough in their short lives.

    Posted by cis April 22, 09 05:19 PM
  1. Check out www.care4hire.com. We hired our current babysitter from their site and love her. We couldn’t have found a better match for our family.

    Posted by Trish April 23, 09 09:42 AM
  1. Another good tip, once you've found someone - if your provider is picking your kids up at school, ask friends who also do pickup what they think of your provider. I know several people who got important information (like the one whose sitter never buckled the kids up) from the parents who were around. It's also good to hear positive feedback, to give you reassurance. Don't be afraid to drop in unannounced, or have friends drop by to return a borrowed item or whatever.

    I actually had a great sitter who I found on Craigslist. Of course, I had a large number of respondents who I never really considered, too, for a variety of reasons, but I was exceedingly happy with this sitter for the time that I needed her. Ultimately, it's about finding someone you can trust, and doing what you can to get the information you need to maintain that trust. Background checks are great, but don't fool yourself into thinking that they guarantee anything.

    Posted by akmom April 23, 09 11:11 AM
  1. What's the quickest/easiest way to verify a college-aged sitter's driving record?

    Hi, Eastonmom, thanks for commenting. If you're in Massachusetts, you can find information about requesting an unattested driving record online at RMV. Here's the link:
    https://secure.rmv.state.ma.us/DrvRecords/intro.aspx

    Posted by Eastonmom April 23, 09 01:33 PM
  1. As the parent of teens who have been babysitters, I would ask the potential employers:
    -will you refrain from drinking alcohol when you know you have to drive the sitter home?
    -will you please have cash to pay the sitter that night, not the next time.
    -will you arrive home when you promised to be home, as teens may have early am commitments the next day.

    Posted by Sarah April 29, 09 05:46 PM
 
11 comments so far...
  1. I think the best option, if possible, is to hire someone you know. The teenaged neighbor, the teenager who sits for your friend, the retired neighbor, a mom from school/church/wherever...

    Failing that, I think THE best thing is to just meet with the person with your kids (at a neutral location like a kid-friendly coffee shop or playground) and see how they interact with your kids. IMO, the specific questions vary widely based on your child(ren)'s age, the individual sitter, and the situation, so no one list is particularly helpful. Go with your gut - if you feel uncomfortable at all, don't hire the person. Also, if your child doesn't seem to like the person (beyond normal shyness), say no.

    Posted by akmom April 22, 09 09:10 AM
  1. Another great site to find caregivers is www.gonannies.com. They offer superior, reliable background checks, online references, and much more.

    Posted by Cynthia April 22, 09 01:41 PM
  1. I'd strongly recommend doing an initial 'trial' day while you're home, it gives you a chance to see how the sitter interacts with your children for an extended period of time and if he/she is a good match for your family.
    For anyone out there looking I'd highly recommend checking out sittercity.com. too. We've had a lot of luck with that site and they provide helpful tips for parents too. Although I'm sure that Care.com is a great website, I'm a strong supporter of local businesses and sittercity was started by a BU grad and has a lot of sitters on from the Boston area.

    Posted by ZurisMom April 22, 09 01:41 PM
  1. I think it is extremely important to conduct a full background check before hiring any type of caretaker to watch your children. You have to be proactive these days about your childs safety and running a background check is an absolute necessity.

    Posted by Sandy April 22, 09 02:16 PM
  1. Please just google the person before hiring them - it might seem invasive but what's common knowledge to the rest of the world should be known to you as well.

    Posted by bblong April 22, 09 02:44 PM
  1. Does the Globe specifically prohibit the use of the singular "they" and "their"?

    It tends to upset the copy editors... -- LMA


    Posted by k April 22, 09 03:49 PM
  1. My two cents
    -Run a CORI, financial and Sex Offender check on all adult caregivers. If they've lived out of state a month or more ago run a check in that state. If care is provided outside your home the checks should include all persons living and having regular access in the home.
    -ask if ever had an addiction (alcohol, gambling, video games, internet, drugs, shopping, sex) or uncontrolled anger problems, in treatment, been hospitalized for it. please don't be afraid to ask and verify - it's uncomfortable but not illegal.
    -Beware of foreign, non-resident providers even through an agency. A former boss hired 2 German nannies thru an agency. While both passed the background check (personal references that were not verified) their spouse did not. One had a husband convicted of non-violent crimes, the other did time for child porn and often took photos of her kids. She only found out when the police showed up at her house because they were tracking him down to investigate a compliant. This example brings me to - - - -
    -Do not allow family and friends of the caregiver in your home or to tag along during the work period. Too many caregivers think they are entitled to socialize, hang out at the mall, with friends and get paid for it and making your kids a non-priority.
    -If not using an agency draw up a contract with your lawyer clearly defining the role, responsbility, pay, vacation/sick time, etc. so everyone is on the same page.
    -if care will be provided outside the home due a Sex Offender check of the area, and all living in the household.
    i know it seems over the top but i take my job as parent seriously. nothing will deter me from protecting my foster kids from potential emotional and physical harm - they've had enough in their short lives.

    Posted by cis April 22, 09 05:19 PM
  1. Check out www.care4hire.com. We hired our current babysitter from their site and love her. We couldn’t have found a better match for our family.

    Posted by Trish April 23, 09 09:42 AM
  1. Another good tip, once you've found someone - if your provider is picking your kids up at school, ask friends who also do pickup what they think of your provider. I know several people who got important information (like the one whose sitter never buckled the kids up) from the parents who were around. It's also good to hear positive feedback, to give you reassurance. Don't be afraid to drop in unannounced, or have friends drop by to return a borrowed item or whatever.

    I actually had a great sitter who I found on Craigslist. Of course, I had a large number of respondents who I never really considered, too, for a variety of reasons, but I was exceedingly happy with this sitter for the time that I needed her. Ultimately, it's about finding someone you can trust, and doing what you can to get the information you need to maintain that trust. Background checks are great, but don't fool yourself into thinking that they guarantee anything.

    Posted by akmom April 23, 09 11:11 AM
  1. What's the quickest/easiest way to verify a college-aged sitter's driving record?

    Hi, Eastonmom, thanks for commenting. If you're in Massachusetts, you can find information about requesting an unattested driving record online at RMV. Here's the link:
    https://secure.rmv.state.ma.us/DrvRecords/intro.aspx

    Posted by Eastonmom April 23, 09 01:33 PM
  1. As the parent of teens who have been babysitters, I would ask the potential employers:
    -will you refrain from drinking alcohol when you know you have to drive the sitter home?
    -will you please have cash to pay the sitter that night, not the next time.
    -will you arrive home when you promised to be home, as teens may have early am commitments the next day.

    Posted by Sarah April 29, 09 05:46 PM
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