Tips for creating a childcare co-op?
November 3, 2022 12:44 PM   Subscribe

We are 1 of 6 families in my community of stay-at-home moms who want to support each other with childcare (we need days off!). We have occasionally helped each other out but we want to set up something more regular. Help me think through how to set this up for success.

What models / pitfalls / guidelines should we be thinking about?

We are:

-Nothern California, going into winter
-Kids are between the ages of 2-4 years old
-We all live within 15 minutes of each other
-We don't want to go through licensing if possible
-Some kids are actively being potty trained
-Some parents know each other really well and some don't
-Some are CPR certified and some are not
-Some have single kids and some have multiple kids
-Some have men at home working from a home office
-Some homes have dogs
posted by gillianr to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd definitely read Who Decides Who Decides? when setting up a new group. YMMV.
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 1:31 PM on November 3, 2022

Best answer: I think you need to allow control at the personal level over what people are willing to take on and who people trust with their children. I could imagine using something similar to scheduling conference rooms where each home ("room") is available at certain hours up to a certain capacity. (Six children all at once, especially if some are young and/or still being potty trained, would be too much for many people) People can also choose their limitations (won't take children in diapers). People can also remove unfilled offerings if they feel like they are taking on too much.

Parent then can sign up for slots that suit their needs, not only in terms of time but also concerns about CPR, familiarity with other parents, dogs etc.

The balancing part is that each parent who uses the service "pays" one point for each hour of child care used. People doing the babysitting receive an offsetting credit for each hour of child care provided. At the end of the month, the secretary adds it up. If someone owes the system (used more than they gave) they should repay it in some other helpful way. For example, providing a family with a cooked dinner equals, say 1/4 or 1/2 hour per person being fed that is a credit to the cook and a debit to the person receiving. Or carpooling to lessons. This allow the system to stay in balance without requiring every one to do the same amount of child care that they use.

The secretary doing the accounting should get an appropriate credit and everyone else kick enough points to cover it so the system still balances and the unpaid work of making it go is recognized.

Finally, there may need to be community conversation about risk - do you want to require all caregiving parents to have first aid/CPR? Note that dogs + unfamiliar small children is definitely a higher risk, especially if there is only one adult in the room. Do you want to require that dogs be kept separate from the children at all time or leave that up to the host with informed consent by the other parents signing up for that house?

My guess is that this is going to be hard to stay balanced for all six families and it will end up falling into smaller pairs or triads that are able to find a natural exchange. But even if it only lasts for a while it could still be very useful.
posted by metahawk at 1:32 PM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

You need to make sure there is appropriate insurance in place for each childcare location through homeowners insurance/public liability insurance etc - what happens if a child gets seriously injured - will the person who was doing the caring pay some/all of the medical bills?

What if a dog injures a child, will the person whose dog it was pay some/all of the medical bills?
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 3:23 PM on November 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

You also need ground rules around

- will any of the care locations allow smoking indoors? because some/most parents are not going to want their children exposed to second hand smoke

- what COVID precautions are people going to take? Will all the children who are old enough to be vaccinated against COVID be required to be vaccinated against COVID?
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 3:25 PM on November 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's also a good idea to talk about whether any of the families have guns in the home, and if so, how they are secured to prevent children being able to access them.
posted by chariot pulled by cassowaries at 3:29 PM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

I did co-op childcare when my kids were little, and it went like this- 4 families, each took a day, and we paid a babysitter/nanny to help out on all 4 days. Day was 9-12, so kids were home in time for nap. When first kids got older/more kids were born, sometimes the older kids went to preschool, sometimes the older kid went to co-op on the days when it was their parents day. These set ups were all 20+ years ago now, and we didn't have anything more formal like insurance etc. It worked very well for us, and kids and parents are all still friends.
posted by momochan at 4:35 PM on November 3, 2022 [1 favorite]

When I was little my parents (mostly my mom, it's true) joined a neighborhood babysitting co-op. Points were assigned that were adjusted depending on the ages of the kids, the number of kids, whether it was a day or evening sit, with extra points assigned if it was a late babysitting job or a spur-of-the-moment event. Someone was in charge of keeping track of who sat for whom and the other details, and hounded people who were "in the red" and were cut off until they did some babysitting. That person earned points for keeping the records and being a kind of babysitting cop. There were maybe 15 families at the core, but families cycled in and out of the mix, and the co-op endured for maybe 20 or 25 years. This was framed around a local a neighborhood association, but it seems like something you could arrange more informally. Just get everyone on the same page about responsibilities and ground rules.

You will have to address the issue of the people involved, and their suitability to care for children, so a consult with an attorney might be a strategic move, and you might seriously consider having people who will care for children have background checks. I went through the process recently for an agency nursing job, and while it required fingerprinting it was not difficult or expensive, maybe $30 to the fingerprinting agency. Basically, you want the kind of third-party official vetting a child care worker would go through. Anyone who feels it's too much trouble or too intrusive is better not included in your group.
posted by citygirl at 5:08 PM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

This may or may not be the sort of thing you're looking for, but five friends and I set up a weekly playdate, and took turns leaving each week. So there were still multiple parents watching all the kids, reducing the burden.
posted by metasarah at 6:06 PM on November 3, 2022 [3 favorites]

Could you start by having some hangouts where everyone is together, like at a local park, before making any big plans? I'd definitely want to see how the kids got along and parents, too. The homeschooling community Wild+Free would be a great place to get feedback, too, because there are oodles of moms who could tell you what worked for them and what didn't.
posted by smorgasbord at 7:04 PM on November 3, 2022

The balancing part is that each parent who uses the service "pays" one point for each hour of child care used.

Might want to read the famous Monetary Theory and the Great Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Co-op Crisis before heading down that road.
posted by flimflam at 7:39 PM on November 3, 2022 [2 favorites]

We did this more informally with just four kids - each family got one saturday afternoon a month to watch all the kids. Sometimes the other parents stuck around for dinner or drinks, sometimes all the other parents left.

I think it would be a lot with the number of kids you're talking about but maybe you could pair two or three families together each month - rotating them through the year - and let them work out trades for that month?
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:30 AM on November 4, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My friend created a very successful home childcare ring, roughly like this:
5 homes
Each day, all 5 kids went to one home, and one parent from that home would supervise and provide lunch & snacks.
The group also employed one full-time childcare worker, who was present each day, but the hosting parent stayed with the kids as well, so the nanny was never on her own.
Kids were never left alone with anyone else - the parent or nanny always had to be present (so for example, a visiting grandma was not permitted to step in to supervise the kids)
The families paid the childcare worker something like $6 each per hour, so she was making $30/hour - at that time minimum wage in our area was about $14 so she was getting substantially more money than a public nursery school would have paid her, to supervise fewer children in a more comfortable environment.
All the families bought secondhand double strollers and wagons and chest carriers, so that from any house, the kids could always be safely taken to the park by the 2 adults.
All the supervising parents got their CPR certification.
It worked really well- they ended up keeping it going for about 2 years and the kids stayed super close.

If I were doing the same:
I would write a best-practices handbook in terms of how to handle accidents, hygiene, allergies, nutrition, all that stuff, so there's some consistency
I'd want all adults and kids to be vaxxed and boosted
Background checks for all adults & their spouses
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:11 PM on November 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think sending all the kids to one person's home will make it very difficult for them to be looked after properly. Having the kids be split between different hosts would make it a bit more balanced.

Example day: Family 1's kids stay with family 3, and family 2's kids stay with family 4. This means parents 1 and parents 2 have days off, parents 3 and 4 are acting as hosts, and parents 5 just have their own kids.

Which families are acting as "host" on a given day can be rotated. Maybe later in the week, family 5's kids stay with family 1, family 4's kids stay with family 2, and family 3 only has their own. etc.

I'd also take into account how well the kids get along with each other and the host families when figuring out who stays with who. Helps to make the system a lot smoother and fun for everyone :)
posted by wandering zinnia at 6:11 AM on November 5, 2022

Folks have already mentioned lots of important questions to consider when establishing ground rules. I'll add a few more: Who's allowed to discipline which kids? What kinds of discipline are allowed? How much screen time are the kids allowed? What kinds of media are the kids allowed to experience - can they watch/read/play things that are violent, outdated, problematic, or religious? Do all the parents generally agree politically and if not, is that going to be a problem when it comes to interacting with each others' kids? Do any of the kids have dietary restrictions or allergies? Are any of the kids disabled, and do they need accommodations? Will the kids be driven anywhere and will the driver obey all laws when doing so? What happens when there's a disagreement in the group? What happens when someone breaks the rules?
posted by spiderbeforesunset at 3:17 PM on November 9, 2022

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