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July 31, 2014

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Finding a baby-sitter in the tech era

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Stephen Beard

Gone are the days of paying the teenage girl next door a few bucks to baby sit. The world of child care has become much more high tech and complicated. There still are plenty of teenagers willing to baby sit, but there also are full-time nannies, professional day care services and corporate caregivers. It's up to you to decide the type of experience you want for your child and the amount of training you desire.

WHERE START

The most trusted method of finding a sitter is asking for recommendations from friends and colleagues with children. They can give you firsthand insight on a caregiver and might be able to judge whether your personality will mesh with the sitter's. They also can provide tips on compensation and skill level. The tried-and-true method of using the phone book to find a baby-sitting agency can work as well, but many parents and sitters now look to connect online. Care.com, sittercity.com, lasvegasnannies.com and care4hire.com are just a few of the websites that offer nanny services . They allow parents to check sitters' references and search availability by date. Most also have review pages, so parents can view comments and ratings from other customers.

SAFETY

Simply put, it can be distressing hiring a stranger to watch your child. But there are steps parents can take to help ease their fears.

• Do a background check on the sitter. Some baby-sitting websites allow sitters to add background checks to their profiles, and websites such as beenverified.com provide background checks for less than $20. But be warned: results sometimes can be muddled with out-of-date or inaccurate information.

• Check references, and do an Internet search to ensure references are who they say they are. Confirm people's names and addresses, and search online to ensure they are people whose opinions you value.

• Conduct pre-interview phone calls with potential sitters to learn more about them, ask what they charge and set up in-person meetings.

• When you meet in person, try to get a feel for the baby-sitter. If things go well, you can introduce your child to the sitter and watch how they interact. If you suspect anything is wrong, trust your instincts.

• Check in on the sitter unexpectedly. Call while he or she is working, ask to speak to your children and ask about what they are doing. You also can come home early or have a neighbor or friend drop by unannounced.

• If you notice that your sitter is frequently late, doesn't care about your instructions, or you observe changes in your child's behavior, including complaining about spending time with the sitter, consider investing in a monitoring device. A high-quality nanny cam can cost upward of $80, but cheaper options are available as well. Even a $20 sound recorder hidden in your child's room might help give you peace of mind.

AGE

How young is too young>

Deciding when to leave your child with a baby sitter for the first time is a personal choice. There is no standard appropriate age.

Jill Irving, a registered nurse, mom and child health expert, says babies typically are ready as young as 2 weeks old to be cared for by someone other than a parent for a brief period of time.

Crying is normal, and it's best to have your baby get used to your not being there before a long period away. Take occasional 15-minute breaks away from your child, gradually developing those into longer spells and short trips away.

Is my child too old for a baby sitter?

Many parents choose to leave pre-teens home alone without sitters, but some experts argue that's too young. While children of that age are mature enough to understand emergency situations, they often aren't developed enough to follow instructions thoroughly. Some experts suggest using a sitter until a child is 12 or 13, while others maintain that 8- to 10-year-olds can watch themselves as long as they are not given too much responsibility for household matters.

The Red Cross offers a baby-sitting training course for children as young as 11 and says trainees can baby sit children under age 10. Even so, most caregiver websites suggest hiring sitters who are at least 16 years old so they can drive in an emergency.

Also, if you're planning to leave a younger child at home with a sibling, it's recommended the older sibling be a teenager.

PAY

The pay scale for baby sitters depends on several factors: the age of the child being cared for, the age and experience of the sitter, the day of the week, your expectations for care, the sitter's asking rate, and his or her plans for spending time with your child. Las Vegas baby sitters advertise rates from $5 to $50 per hour, but $10 to $15 an hour is most common. Pre-teen and teenage sitters tend to be cheaper, while the cost of care for a special-needs child will likely be higher.

CHECKLIST

What to leave for the sitter

• Home address/phone number

• Cellphone number

• Location of where you'll be

• Estimated return time

• Name of an emergency contact

• Child's pediatrician

• Child's insurance card

• List of allergies

• First-aid kit

• Any necessary medications

• Spare house and car keys

• Directions for bedtime

• Discipline procedures

• Any planned meals

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