Whatever Happened to Community in Childcare?


I came across this article entitled “The Rise of the Professional Babysitter.”  It seemed worth noting here. After all, what says more about our culture than who we entrust our children to?

At some point, our idea of a teenager from down the block who would spend a Saturday night babysitting the kids while the parents went out for dinner has morphed into a licensed professional who comes with references and a background check.

The need for a child-care provider to carry proper credentials and good references may stem from the fact that babysitters and nannies have received a bad rap in the past. According to a July 30, 2009 New Yorker interview with Miriam Forman-Brunell, author of Babysitter: An American History, the media previously depicted babysitters as careless in their duties or as a possible threat to a marriage. The image of the goofy teenage kid somehow evolved into a conniving go-getter with an agenda.
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Today parents even have the option to find caregivers on the web. Services such as Sittercity and Care4hire.com, for example, allow you to search for child-care providers locally and read reviews and credentials online.

My first babysitting jobs were for close friends and neighbors – members of a community who knew me well enough to know exactly how trustworthy I was (and who left their children with me anyway).  No background checks necessary.  And I worked hard, eager for some spending money and excluded from other employment by child labor laws.

Apparently a lot has changed in just a decade and a half, and the impact goes deeper than a higher unemployment rate among twelve-year-olds.  For one thing, it reinforces the age-segregation of our schools and activities and prevents us from learning lessons across  age groups (nothing teaches patience or creativity to a teen like an energetic four-year-old).  It also takes away a valuable opportunity for a teen to learn and earn responsibility.

At first, my responsibilities were pretty limited: any real emergency that came up would be handled by my parents, sitting in their home just five acres away, listening for the ring of the phone (or possibly the scream of a small child).  As it happened, their services were not needed.  After a brief stand-off with a squirt-gun-armed two-year-old who didn’t want to end his bath, I managed to get my charges to bed, clean up from dinner and settle in on the sofa with a novel and a new-found sense of accomplishment.

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