For teens and young adults interested in childcare, babysitting for neighbors and local families is a great opportunity to gain experience and establish yourself in the field. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, navigating risks and restrictions can be daunting. Balancing your personal safety with the opportunity to grow as a caregiver is a challenge, but one that can create a better understanding of childcare with the right preparation. Here are ten tips to help you protect yourself as you start your caregiving journey.
Know Your Local Laws
Mask mandates, shut-downs, and emergency orders vary from state-to-state and over time. Familiarize yourself with restrictions in your area so you can operate within the bounds of the law. Even outside of a pandemic, it’s important to know what regulations and standards govern childcare providers where you live and to learn what certifications you might need if you pursue further opportunities as a caregiver.
Set Clear Boundaries
Determine what precautions you need to feel safe when babysitting. Confirm a family’s vaccination status and their level of outside contact and see how comfortable you would be working for them. Decide if you will wear a mask, if you will require the children to wear masks, and if you wish to observe social distancing. Whatever boundaries you decide on, make sure the parents accept your terms. Do not be afraid to back out of an arrangement if they provide you with false information or break a rule you previously agreed upon. You have a right to protect your health and to expect safe working conditions.
Have Realistic Expectations
Be aware that strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols may not always be possible. Children under five years old cannot currently receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Parents may be hesitant to ask their children to wear masks in their own home, and kids may resist precautions that their parents agree to. Emergencies or unexpected developments might also require you to act against your own precautions. Do not sacrifice your boundaries, but consider their limitations when setting them. If you cannot accept a certain level of risk, you may wish to wait for the pandemic to recede before you start babysitting.
Bring Support When Making Arrangements
Enlist a parent, guardian, friend, or mentor to help you discuss precautions with families. It’s not unusual to feel nervous about setting firm boundaries when you begin a babysitting job, and it can boost your confidence to have someone by your side. They can step in on your behalf if you get flustered or tongue-tied, and they may remember things that you forget. If you are concerned that your boundaries will not be respected, a parent or guardian can present your precautions as their conditions for your participation and help you exit unsafe situations.
Advertise Yourself as COVID-Aware
If you are advertising your services or responding to public job offers, let parents know that you take COVID-19 seriously and explain the precautions you will follow. Parents who are concerned about the coronavirus will appreciate the extra care, and parents who are hesitant to enforce restrictions will know what to expect. You may receive a more positive response to your precautions if you frame them as a special aspect of your services rather than inconvenient measures. Consider carrying sanitizer, wiping down surfaces and toys after use, or incorporating other activities that emphasize your position as a COVID-safe babysitter.
Describe Your Bubble
Let families know your vaccination status, your level of outside contact, and potential paths of transmission within your own family. Just as you set boundaries to protect yourself, your potential employers may wish to set their own. Ask what precautions they wish to follow and find a way to incorporate their expectations without compromising your safety. Make sure everyone is comfortable with the arrangement. If you and the family have incompatible expectations, you may not be the best fit for each other.
Encourage Outdoor Play
Play outside in a backyard or park to reduce transmission risks. Outdoor time can be a good mask break as well as a chance to enjoy nature and be active. Ask parents if they are comfortable with park visits if you are babysitting during the day, and be prepared to take on the extra responsibility that comes with public excursions. Make sure kids wear sunscreen or bug spray if you will be outdoors for a significant period of time, and bring band-aids and disinfectant for scratches and scrapes.
Include Added Services and Benefits
If a family is hesitant to implement COVID-19 precautions, including additional services may encourage their cooperation. If you excel in a particular subject in school, offer tutoring or other academic help. Older teens or college students can advertise a willingness to work odd or late hours. Let families know if you are able to drive others, walk dogs, or prepare snacks and meals. Making yourself a more valuable babysitter gives you more room to negotiate boundaries with resistant parents who need your services.
Wait for Pay or Offer Refunds
If you or anyone in the family you are babysitting for catches COVID-19, you should cancel upcoming jobs until the infection passes. Because of the possibility of cancellation, wait to receive pay until you arrive or after the parents return. If you feel more secure requiring payment when the arrangement is set, be prepared to return it in case of cancellation. Receiving payment digitally can make issuing refunds easier, as can waiting to cash a check until afterwards.
Keep an Eye on the Situation
Risks change as COVID-19 cases spike and recede while new vaccines and further research alter safety recommendations. Stay up-to-date on pandemic news and gauge whether or not to shift your precautions. You may need to be more cautious at certain times, and at others you may be able to relax your safety measures. Discuss all changes with families you are already working for and prepare for shifts in their boundaries as well.
We hope these tips can help you stay safe and find your way in the changing world of childcare. Overall, the best advice we can give you is to be assertive and make your expectations clear while balancing the expectations of families; be aware of laws, regulations, and current developments that impact your field of work; and be prepared to think creatively as unexpected events arise. Good luck and happy caregiving!