Gone are the days when parents only had the grandparents or the teenager next door to call when they wanted a night out on the town. Today there is an entire industry built around helping parents find babysitters and other childcare professionals online, giving parents options and freedom that grandma and grandpa never had when we were kids.
Most of these websites and apps are built around making the search for childcare easier and faster. These companies offer a comprehensive package to parents, who can comb through customer reviews, referrals, and the personal profiles of childcare professionals. Most companies also perform background checks on the babysitters and nannies on their lists, meaning the due diligence isn’t just up to you.
Before you take the search online, talk to friends and family. Find parents you know, say at your kid’s daycare or in the neighborhood, and see if they have recommendations. Ask if they’ve used online services and if they have any recommendations. You can also use social media to ask for pointers.
Once you decide to take the search online, decide what you’re looking for in a childcare professional, and shop around to find the company that can best answer your needs.
The first step is to decide what you’re looking for. Do you just need a sitter who can watch the kids for a few hours after they’re asleep while you head out with your partner for dinner and drinks? Do you need someone who can pick up the kids from school and stay with them through bedtime? Would you like a nanny who speaks a foreign language so you can have a bilingual child? Are you looking for a full time au pair who can also cook and clean? What about a male caretaker, is that an option?
The question of what you need is one that only you can answer, and that will have a big impact on where and how you search. One thing’s for certain, this is a very important decision, and should not be rushed.
When looking for a sitter:
Most services perform background checks and screening of their own, or contract it to a third party for the babysitters who sign up for their service. Make sure to access these services for any babysitter you’re interested in, and also check references and testimonials.
As a busy parent of a young child, keeping things simple is probably your motto.
You want a site that’s easy to navigate and doesn’t require any technical know-how or hours spent on the keyboard.
Perhaps the most important thing when it comes to ease of use is a mobile app. Of the 10 brands on this superlist, 9 have a mobile app, though one of those - Sitter.me - is only available on iOS devices.
A mobile app is not only convenient and easy-to-use, but also ensures that you can line up sitters on a moment’s notice from the office, the grocery store, or wherever you are when the need arises.
Here’s our breakdown of the 10 best babysitting platforms around:
Care.com is simple to use: just enter your location and you’ll be given a selection of available babysitters. Each babysitter on the site has been background checked, and has a personal profile with a photo, description of experience and services, rates, and user reviews. Care.com uses its platform for more than just babysitting, though: you can also find tutors as well as adult and senior care and housekeeping.
Featured in the New York Times and Good Morning America, Sittercity is one of the larger babysitting apps, with millions of members and a wide array of child care services including special needs services. To find a sitter on the site, you can post an ad with your needs and schedule. You can interview your applicants and run background checks once you’ve narrowed down your search. Like Care.com, SitterCity.com also offers senior care and pet care.
Urbansitter has more than 150,000 caregivers on its platform and serves more than 60 cities nationwide. Each babysitter profile has a video that allows you to get to know the sitter as they introduce themselves in a short 30-90 second video. You can post screening questions for prospective babysitters to answer when applying, as well as read reviews from parents in your community. The average booking time on Urbansitter is 3 minutes--a nice perk for those last-minute babysitting needs.
Sitter.com operates similarly to other sites in that it quickly connects you to babysitters in your area. While the platform does not conduct its own background checks, it offers tools and resources for parents to conduct one, with suggestions such as social security number trace and country criminal records check. It also offers confidential or secure ways for you to communicate with prospective babysitters, including by private text. With Sitter.com, the TELESAFE proprietary system allows you to communicate with other users while your identity remains safe.
Nanny Lane is a well-designed and easy-to-use nanny finding service that may not have as large of a network as other sites but makes up for it with security measures and extra features. You can request a background check for any nanny you’re interested in, which will cover an SSN trace, sexual offender database, global watchlist, and both national and statewide criminal databases. Another neat feature is Nanny List’s share a nanny program, which lets you share your nanny with other families in order to save money.
Zum has won multiple awards from Fast Company for its innovative take on school transportation. Pairing up with more than 4,000 schools, Zum offers school district transportation for parents who are too busy to drive their children to school, pick them up from practice, or bring them to and from extracurricular activities. Parents get 360-degree visibility through the app as well as communication with the driver at all times. Zum is growing quickly, in size and popularity, though at the moment it only services areas around San Francisco.
If you’re looking for a more temporary or last minute option, sitter.me was started by parents looking to help other parents who need to book a babysitter on the go, and don’t have time to find a long term option. With sitter.me you make a list of babysitters that you approve of, and then send out a message to all of your list and the booking is accepted on a first come first serve basis.
Established in 1986 and the first of its kind to be designated by the US Department of State, Au Pair in America has decades of experience placing full-time au pairs from overseas with families in the United States. The company takes care of the paperwork necessary to match you with a full-time au pair for childcare and household duties. Au Pair America has high standards for its au pairs, requiring them to have 200 hours of experience, no criminal record, and a valid license with a clean driving record.
Many sites have a community-centered approach to childcare. At SittingAround, you can take part in a “Babysitting Co-op.” This is a community-based system where parents take turns babysitting each other’s children and instead of exchanging cash, they trade childcare for child care. Points are accrued when you perform childcare, which you can then “cash out” when someone is available and you want to go out.
Bubble is a free babysitting app advertised as great for your ad-hoc, short notice and regular childcare needs. It works similar to ride-share apps like Uber - you post the time and date you need a sitter and then look through recommended sitters and their rates and then select one. The app allows you to base your decision on the recommendations of friends.
There are few decisions you can make as a parent that are as important as childcare. With today’s online options, the search for reliable, trustworthy childcare is easier than ever before, but there are still some basic guidelines to follow. Know what you’re looking for, look for references and screening, and find a site or app which has the right features for you. The idea of finding a sitter online may take some getting used to, but you’ll find that it makes parenting easier - and maybe even safer - than ever before.