Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Care.com: Saving You From the Inept Babysitter

UPDATE: We have a winner! Dawn, you are the proud owner of a three-month membership to Care.com. Contact me with your email address so I can send you the link. And don't forget to come back and share your results!

It's no secret to my longtime readers that I haven't had the best luck with babysitters. Heck, even my favorite babysitter turned around and left me after a while. Then there's the times I'm so burnt out I feel like I need to save my kids from myself.

It's just a fact of life: When you have kids, you will always be vulnerable in the area of childcare.

When the folks at Mom Central asked if I'd blog about Care.com, an online service for connecting child (and pet, and elderly) care providers with those in need, I said yes. But I figured it would be one of those elite, high-priced services that I could never afford. Then I figured there wouldn't be any babysitters listed in my area. Then I figured they'd all have inflexible hours or want full time.

Such a positive thinker, aren't I?

When I halted my predictions of doom long enough to visit the site, my inner pessimist couldn't have been more surprised. Let's start with the price: A premium membership costs $25 for 1-month, $45 for 3-months, or $120 for 12-months, plus a one-time $15 registration fee. This lets you post jobs and contact any listed provider, and request their background checks and references. All of this is unlimited with no additional charges. They also have a directory of preschools.

During my babysitter debacles, I spent about $100 for three different ads in the newspaper, which netted me lots of people whom I knew nothing about and easily could have been wanted by the FBI. Given that experience, I consider Care.com's rates cheap money.

There were several pages of available babysitters listed in my town and in neighboring towns. Their price range was $5 to $20, which reflects the going rates in my area. ($5 an hour? Can you start, um, in five minutes?)

The profile pages include a photo, their age and a brief bio. The background check lets you know if their address, social security and criminal record have been verified by Care.com. There's also a spot for references, although not all candidates have references immediately available online. Some, however, have recorded interviews with their references available at your request. Awesome!

The word that best describes this site, to me, is "empowering." Really. I'm pretty excited about this service, because it's the best tool I've seen for finding babysitters. Brian and I do not have a babysitter right now for those times when my mom's not around. For those times, I've had to rely on the kindness of my neighbor or my niece, and they are generally available for the one-hour teacher meeting, not the four-hour dinner out that Brian and I suddenly need for our mental stability.

There are enough candidates listed in my area that I believe I'll find someone reliable and in my budget to care for my kiddos once in a while. Maybe I'll even set up some regular daytime freelance hours for myself. Huzzah!

Does this service sound interesting to you? OK, here's the deal: I've got at least one complimentary 3-month membership available for giveaway. You might want to go to Care.com and see if there are listings in your area before entering. I've still got to work out the details with Mom Central, but if you're interested in winning this, please leave a comment on this post between now and Saturday at midnight, EST. Sharing a babysitter nightmare story is optional but strongly encouraged. C'mon, tell me I'm not the only one who's hired more than her share of duds.

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