Babysitter looking after child

Choosing a Babysitter

A babysitter is a person who looks after your children in your home or place of temporary residence – for example, a holiday home or family member’s house – typically during a weekend or evening. Usually, this is so you can go out to enjoy some time in a setting where it would be unsuitable to have a child with you, but you can ask a babysitter to look after your child for any reason you like so you can have some free time.

Babysitters are usually recruited via word of mouth recommendations from friends, neighbours, family and the wider community. On other occasions, the babysitter might be recruited through an agency.

Despite the relatively informal nature of using a babysitter, finding someone you trust to look after your child, particularly if it is for the first time, may feel challenging. However, if you do your homework and plan carefully to find the right babysitter, you can at least enjoy your trip out with some confidence.

What should you expect from a babysitter?

On many occasions parents will put their child to bed before the babysitter arrives, leaving the babysitter to simply ‘be there’ in their absence. Other times, the babysitter may have to get the children ready for bed, read them stories, play with them, feed them food that has previously been prepared or even prepare food themselves.

Sometimes the babysitter will care for children during the day, in which case they are typically expected to play with them, entertain them and take care of their needs, including bottle feeds, nappy changes and potty visits when necessary.

All the above should be discussed before hiring a babysitter and instructions should be clear for the babysitter regarding any necessary tasks.

Ways to find a babysitter

Every parent wishes for their child to be safe, secure and in capable hands in their absence. Ideally, the babysitter will be someone you know and trust; however, this is not always possible, particularly if you have to find a sitter at short notice, are new to an area, or you do not have many friends or family members nearby.

The best ways to find a good babysitter:

  • Ask for recommendations from friends, neighbours and other parents in your circle.
  • Ask for recommendations from your health visitor, community nurse or GP surgery.
  • Ask your local nursery if any of their workers babysit outside their usual working hours.
  • Check local notice boards – for example, at schools, libraries or shops – as well as your local online community forums.
  • Find a reliable babysitting agency.
  • Find a babysitting circle in your area.
  • Advertise in the local paper.
  • Contact a local childcare college and see if they can connect you with pupils or graduates who might want some extra work.

How old should a babysitter be?

The law does not require a babysitter to have reached a particular age, but there are legal restrictions on employing children. Your babysitter should be mature and responsible and the NSPCC recommends that babysitters should be 16 or older.

If you do choose a babysitter who is under 16, you will be responsible for them as well as your own child and they are not old enough to be held legally responsible if any harm comes to your child. With this in mind it may not be advisable to hire a babysitter who is under 16.

How old should a baby/child be before being left with a babysitter?

In theory, a babysitter can care for children of all ages, but in reality it is likely that unless the babysitter is a family member or a trusted person who is already familiar with your child, you may want to wait until your child is at least six months old.

Do babysitters need to be registered with OFSTED?

There is no requirement for babysitters to be registered with OFSTED; however, if the babysitter is also a registered childminder, they will already be registered in this capacity. Furthermore, if the babysitter is registered with an agency, you should be able to confirm that the sitter has been through a suitable vetting procedure, including police and reference checks.

Do babysitters need qualifications?

Most babysitters will not have had any formal childcare training. If they do it is likely to mean that they charge a higher hourly rate.

How much does a babysitter cost?

It is up to you to agree a rate with your babysitter – although some may advertise their prices in advance. However, remember that you are likely to pay more for babysitting on bank holidays or if the sitter will be with you late into the night, particularly after midnight. Whatever, the case, it may be useful to use the minimum wage as your guide when setting a suitable hourly rate. Details can be found on the GOV.UK website.

If you are part of a babysitting group, often with other local mums, babysitting may be carried out on a reciprocal basis, so there are little or no charges to worry about.

Important considerations

Always check references and, before the first session, try to have the babysitter join you and your child for an hour or so before you leave home so that your child and the babysitter can develop some familiarity with each other.

You should also ensure that the babysitter is shown how to use all the essential items in your home, knows the location of locks and exits and is familiar with your child’s needs and routines.

Lastly, always provide at least one contact number so that you, or another suitable adult, can be reached in the event of an emergency.

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