Before You Hire a Babysitter: Questions to Ask References

Parents interviewing babysitter

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Interviewing, choosing and hiring a caregiver for your child(ren) can be a confusing experience. Once you have gotten past the steps of interviewing a nanny or babysitter and feel satisfied with the responses, it is important that you do not overlook the important last step: checking references. Here are ever-important things to consider when conducting reference checks on anyone who may be caring for your child.

Communicate Importance of Reference Checks

When interviewing a potential child care provider, whether it is a teenage babysitter, day care teacher, or nanny, be sure to communicate that you intend to conduct a reference check and highly value findings. Ask for contact information of former employers or for other families whose children a babysitter has worked with previously. This also helps to "bring out" any concerns up front.

Chats With Families, Friends, and Neighbors

Another approach that families sometimes use to inquire about a potential child care provider service or babysitter is to casually inquire about who a particular family is using, how it is going, and whether the kids enjoy their provider. Ask about any particular likes and dislikes, and gauge whether responses cause you any hesitation or pause.

Confirm the Facts

Use references to confirm facts that your potential babysitter has told you. Verify details of employment, job title, year in school or when graduated, and other fact-based questions. This helps to validate the truthfulness of the reference and will help you feel better about your sitter if you choose to use them.

Ask for Specific Examples of Child Care

Ask for any information a reference can provide about how the babysitter handled a crisis or an unplanned situation. If the reference doesn't have any information to recall, you can try asking about a hypothetical situation: "How do you think Emily would handle the situation if my child gets hurt playing outside or develops diarrhea?"

Watch for Warning Signs

If the reference only provides very short answers, seems eager to end the conversation, or is vague in responses, be warned. Quite possibly, there is more to the story than what is being provided. Ask about any strengths, weaknesses, potential problems or concerns, and overall "rating." If you have specific requirements about discipline, routines, food choices, etc., don't hesitate to ask references about these areas as well to see if you receive additional input.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask About Pay

It's okay to ask how much someone paid the potential sitter, but don't be surprised if the reference is reluctant to say. While sometimes the information is well-known or is a non-issue, some individuals consider pay to be a private matter between parties. If the person does tell you, however, it helps you to set a rate with your own kids.

Reliability and Judgment

Being reliable in terms of being on time and always remembering when selected for a job are traits every family wants and needs in a sitter. Ask references whether the individual shows these traits or if there were any concerns in this area. Ask also about judgment; do they exhibit sound judgment and is there any specific example that can be cited?

What Do the Kids Say?

If the situation is appropriate, ask the kids what they think about a particular babysitter or early childhood educator. Then, listen very carefully to their comments and their non-verbal reactions. Do they squeal with excitement over their name? While kids shouldn't be the sole reason for hiring a sitter, their approval or disapproval of someone can be an indicator of whether there is an overall good fit with your family.

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.