Make a few basic rules for baby-sitting co-operative How-to: Groups of parents who swap services usually stick with a simple organizational format.

Child Life

June 16, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I'd like advice about baby-sitting co-ops. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to start one, any pitfalls to avoid, how big should they be, etc.? Can you recommend any books covering the subject?

J. L., Chicago, Ill.

All you really need are some coupons or poker chips, at least one other willing family, some basic rules and you're off.

Parents from coast to coast report they follow a fairly basic format for co-ops, which are basically groups of parents who agree to swap baby-sitting services based on an organized system.

The first thing to work out is the group's geographic boundaries, says Donna Partow, who gives details on how to set up a co-op in her book "No More Lone Ranger Moms" (Bethany House, $8.99).

"You can set up a co-op around a civic group or a church or synagogue, and while you may have a lot in common, you have to consider how far you are willing to drive," Partow says.

Partow's co-op started when two women posted fliers in the neighborhood. Fourteen women showed up for the organizational meeting. That group now charges a $5 membership fee to cover the newsletter costs. For that, new members get 20 coupons, each worth 30 minutes of baby-sitting.

While you can do a baby-sitting exchange with just one other family, Partow says about 20 families is ideal.

Reader Sally Ebnet, who served as president of her co-op in Edina, Minn., for five years, says one disadvantage of being too big is that not all members get to know each other.

"If nobody knows you, you can't earn points, because people won't call you to sit," Ebnet says.

That also defeats another main advantage of the co-op: building community.

"Of course a co-op saves you money, but the whole point is that you can leave your child with someone you trust," Partow says. "And the key to that is building relationships between families."

To do that, Partow's co-op sponsors a monthly mothers' night out, a dads' basketball group and periodic family swim parties and barbecues.

"These events give you a chance to get to know each other and see how other people interact with their own children so you know what their parenting styles are," Partow says.

If a group gets too big, consider splitting it in half, suggests Betty Harter, a reader from Phoenix, Ariz.

Baby-sitting time is the main currency for all the co-ops we heard from, but some co-ops offer points for taking a turn at being secretary or performing other administrative chores.

If the co-op uses a point system, the secretary keeps track of how many points everyone has earned. Partow's group uses coupons, and reader Lisa Birklund of Green, Ohio, says her old co-op exchanged poker chips.

Betty Klapman of Santa Monica, Calif., says that in her old co-op, it was the secretary's job to call down the roster and actually find sitters for members.

But most groups leave that job to the individual. In Ebnet's group, each person has a computer printout of members' names, when they are generally available to sit and whether their home is toddler-proof.

Clearly written rules that spell out these mechanics are important to the co-op's success, says reader Judy Manza of Tacoma, Wash.

"That way, you won't end up with one member taking advantage of other members," Manza says.

The co-op may take some time upfront to organize, but the benefits are worthwhile, Ebnet says.

Here are some other tips:

Decide upfront what to do about safety. Some co-ops do in-home safety inspections. Checkpoints include proper storage of medicines, chemicals and firearms.

Decide whether the child goes to the sitter's house or vice versa. In most co-ops we contacted, children go to the sitter's house.

Decide on a fair compensation plan for sitters who take care of more than one child at a time. Most co-ops charge slightly more for siblings.

Decide whether members can enter a point deficit or whether they must earn points before spending them. Ebnet's group charges $3 per point if a member resigns in the negative.

To order "No More Lone Ranger Moms," call (800) 328-6109.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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