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The Baby-Sitters' Handbook

Kelly Zargo


Establish a Budget

It may take a year of monitoring, but base your child-care budget on history. By knowing how many children will come to an event or how many have come in the past, you'll be able to know how many caregivers you'll need for each event and what that'll cost you.

At the beginning of the year, I review the church calendar with the pastors or directors who head ministries that need child care. This is a lesson in compromise and tact. Educating other ministries in the challenges of ratio, staff availability, and budgets doesn't happen without time and work. Planning the calendar year with other ministries allows you to discover their expectations for child care and gives you a chance to share your standards and limits with them.

Know your limitations: Do you have caregivers to cover all the times requested? While church staff may request child care for Bible studies three nights a week, streamline and offer it only one night a week and suggest the various groups meet on the same night. The fact that it isn't good for young children to be at church several nights a week isn't always apparent to busy parents who are involved in various church activities.

The group of children may be larger this way, but it's more efficient to pay a few more caregivers one night than have them come out on yet another night.

 

Pay a Decent Wage

To discover what a reasonable wage is, call churches of comparable size in your area. What are they paying? How often do they use paid child care? What's the age of their average caregiver?

Consider all the factors as you talk to other churches. If the church is much smaller or larger than yours, their budget considerations will be different. If they're employing all high school students, they may pay less than you need to pay adults. If they only have child care every other week, they won't be paying as much as your weekly program, which means they may be able to pay more than you're able. While pay rates must be coordinated with other part-time positions in your church, remember there's no greater responsibility than the lives of children. Don't cheapen this job by underpaying.


Find Good Help

I've found that the best caregivers come from within our congregation. These are the advantages to hiring inside your church.

Safety-Knowing the families the caregivers come from is a safety precaution. While nothing replaces a background check, knowing a person's family is a good place to start. To learn more about how to conduct background checks, go to www.churchvolunteercentral.com.

Known References-Hiring good people is difficult. If they attend your church, they can get recommendations from pastors and other church leaders you know.

Community-On a personal note, I prefer to pay someone in our church who can use the money. However, child care isn't an outreach ministry. While I try to get to know each caregiver on a personal level, I don't use this as an outreach ministry to my staff. We're ministering to families in the church who need quality care for their young children, not helping out needy workers.

If it isn't possible to fill all your child-care needs with church attendees, your current staff and church members can most likely recommend good caregivers who may come from outside your congregation.

Keep Good Help

Finding good help is one thing; keeping good help is another thing entirely. I've found these three areas to be keys for keeping good help:

1. Value your caregivers. When they make suggestions, listen. When possible, implement their changes. Give your staff a chance to take ownership of the program by letting them implement their ideas.

2. Train caregivers. Staff who are given the tools to do a good job will stay longer and do a better job. Quarterly training meetings where we review safety and emergency procedures equip our workers to do their jobs well. These meetings are also a chance to brainstorm on improving everything from facilities to activities. These meetings build morale, which vitalizes a stressful working environment. Invest in your caregivers. Invite the Red Cross to teach CPR. Share articles that are relevant to child care. These are just a few ways you can invest in them and their training.

3. Give feedback. Once a year I evaluate each caregiver's job objectives. A month before I do evaluations, I give each person a blank form and ask for a self-evaluation. It's quite revealing to see a care­giver's self-perceptions on the job. Often we're in agreement on the weaker points. When the caregiver brings up the areas that need improvement before I can, it makes the evaluation easier.

One final note on a paid child-care program: It doesn't have to be more than baby-sitting to be a worthwhile service to your church and to children. If you train your staff and keep them accountable through evaluations, everyone is sure to view your program with respect and appreciation.

 

Too Young?

A best-case scenario for your church may be to only employ adults for child care, but it's a rare church that can find enough adults to fill its child-care needs. While girls as young as 11 may be willing to work in the child-care program, I decided 14 would be the youngest person I'd employ. At this age teenagers are usually responsible enough to baby-sit, but too young for a job elsewhere. Kids this age enjoy small children and aren't yet interested in things that'll distract them when they're older.

Ideal caregivers are mature enough to balance great responsibility and playful interaction with children. Girls already working for the church who are younger than 14 can either be apprenticed or informed of a new policy, and they should call your office when they turn 14. I found it was only the really motivated workers who did call back when they turned 14.

 

Caregiver to Children Ratio

The key to having a safe but efficient child-care program is based on a few guidelines and a caretaker-to-child ratio. The ratio our program follows for birth to 12 months is three babies to one worker. Because one caregiver shouldn't be left alone with any number of children, the reality of that ratio is 6:2 with no more than six children for two caregivers.

Birth to 12 months 3:1

1-year-olds 6:1

2- to 4-year-olds 8:1

5 and up 10:1

 

Recruiting Pools

Understanding that child care is rarely a long-term commitment makes it easier to handle staff turnover. Once I came to terms with that, I got in the habit of constantly keeping my eyes open for prospective workers. Here are places to look for new staff.

Homeschooling Families-Homeschooling families are quite often more flexible for school nights and are sometimes even available during the day.

College Students-College students aren't always in town year-round and are by nature temporary workers. The upside is that they're motivated by the money and are often mature enough to provide leadership to your program when they're around.

High School Ministry-When available, older high school students can do a good job.

Unemployed Adults-Unemployed adults in your church may not be a long-term solution, but recruit them for a particularly large event when extra staff is needed.

Kelly Zargo is a children's minister in Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

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