A babysitter is someone who will look after your child or children in your own home for short periods of time. Babysitters are not formal childcare.
Babysitters are not registered and at present there are no regulations which govern them. Babysitters do not need any qualifications to look after children – anybody can advertise their services as a babysitter. Parents and carers must decide themselves whether someone is suitable and responsible enough to look after their children.
The law does not state an age at which young people can babysit. The NSPCC does not recommend asking anyone under 16 to look after a young child. If you use a babysitter who is under 16 years old, you are still legally responsible to ensure that your child comes to no harm. Some young people, even at 16, may not be mature enough to be left to care for children.
The law does not specify an age when a child can be left at home alone. However, parents commit an offence if leaving the child at home alone puts him or her at risk.
- Friends or relatives with children may be able to recommend a babysitter
- There are some national babysitting agencies and some local agencies for nannies and other childcarers. If you use an agency make sure you are clear what checks they have made. Ask if they have followed up references and request to see Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks (previously known as Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks)
- You could place an advert in your local shop or college, but be aware you will need to be thorough in checking that any respondents are suitable to babysit for your child
- You could use a babysitting circle; this is a group of parents who babysit for each other in exchange for points or tokens.
- No money changes hands
- As long as there are enough members there is usually a sitter available
- It works on a points system so it does not matter if you babysit for a different person to the one who sat for you
- If there is not one in your area you might consider setting up one yourself with other parents from your child’s school or nursery.
The NSPCC advise: “Follow your instincts. If you have any doubts about a childminder, babysitter or other carer, don’t take them on”. They also say: “Listen to your child. If your child seems to be unhappy about a particular babysitter, find someone else” (NSPCC ‘Home Alone’ leaflet).
- Invite them to meet your child before they babysit for you and see how your child reacts to them.
- Always get at least two references and follow them up. This could be a tutor at college or other parents who have used their services. Try to assess their maturity and their ability to cope in emergency situations.
- Ask questions, such as: What experience do they have? Do they have First Aid knowledge? What are their ideas about discipline? Which television programmes do they consider suitable for children to watch? What would they do in an emergency? etc.
- Any concerns about a babysitter’s suitability should be shared with Social Care Services
Discuss your child’s normal routines and their likes and dislikes. Let them know about any allergies or special needs your child has. Discuss what they should do if your child is distressed or behaves badly when you leave. Make sure they know what to do in an emergency and ensure they know how to contact you.
You should also make sure they know your ‘house rules’, e.g. can they smoke in your house? What can they eat? Can they babysit with a friend? Are there rooms you don’t want them to have access to?
Give them a time when they can expect you back and make sure you contact them if you will be late. Agree payment beforehand and discuss how your babysitter will get back home.
Family Information Services including information for families of Children and Young People 0-19 with disabilities can be found online on the Sheffield Directory – Local Offer website.
Information and advice on other childcare options to meet your needs can be found on our Sheffield Directory.