When you become a parent, there’s one major roadblock to enjoying a boozy night out: you need a babysitter. Gone are the days when everyone ends up living two streets away from their parents and lifelong BFFs – so what are parents meant to do if they fancy leaving the house without their child in tow?
Like everything else in 2019, there are apps that provide solutions. In the same way we order pizza from our phones, we can now arrange babysitters. Bubble, UrbanSitter, Sitters, Bambino and Rockmybaby are all digital services that allow parents to organise childcare quickly and easily. But some parents have reservations – and not the fun dinner ones.
“I heard about these apps, downloaded one, but it took me a while to take the plunge,” says Laura King, who uses Bubble. “The biggest thing for us was trust – if we weren’t leaving our daughter with family then I wanted to know everything about who we were leaving her with.”
Did the babysitter have newborn experience? Had others used and liked them? Could they perform first aid? Were they trustworthy and kind? King liked that you could see all of this information on the app, as well as reviews from other parents, “that made me feel much better about leaving her with a stranger”.
Developers of these products have thought about the concerns people have – the majority were founded by parents who understand what’s required both for peace of mind and convenience. Some services have options for finding sitters that speak certain languages or have certain skills. Others offer videos of potential babysitters so children can watch them and be part of the decision-making process.
Lynn Perkins, of UrbanSitter, says the typical babysitter on their app falls into one of four categories: students and recent graduates, young professionals looking to supplement their incomes, professional nannies and soon-to-be retirees. Most of the apps do background checks, but it’s worth noting only some require their sitters to have first-aid training or an enhanced DBS check.
As the US-founded Bambino network, which operates as a community of recommended neighbourhood sitters, puts it: “Parents have always relied on their friends’ recommendations to select sitters and with Bambino, it is no different ... nevertheless, we always encourage our families to contact their friends should they have any additional questions about the sitters.”
King’s first sit from an app was nerve-racking and she admits that she texted the babysitter every 20 minutes. But since then, she has relied on the app loads of times and has a few sitters she uses regularly. “I don’t know what we’d do without it now,” she says. “I’ve definitely been converted into a regular user, and I trust that the people they send to us will be good.
“I am still very thorough in checking who I’m booking, their experience and reviews, and I’ve had no issues so far. I’m constantly recommending the app to all of my fellow mum friends.”
“I don’t know what we’d do without it now. I’ve definitely been converted into a regular user."”
Trust doesn’t come easily, though. “Anyone can register as a babysitter on these apps,” says mum Halima Khatun, reflecting a concern a lot of parents have. “I am totally against the concept of an app where at the click of a button you hire someone to look after your precious bundle of joy.
“It’s not like hiring a cleaner,” she adds. “It’s someone looking after your child. I have used nannies in the past, but have gone from recommendations on local Facebook groups and interviewed them myself. I certainly wouldn’t leave my child with someone I hadn’t met before.”
A similar worry came from Laura, who has a two-year-old son. “My main concern with using a babysitting app would be that I’ve tried a few cleaning ones and ended up with crap cleaners. I can cope with an unmopped floor if a cleaner does a bad job, but can’t compromise on my son’s safety.”
Founders of babysitting apps say that safety measures are at high on their agenda. “App or not, trust and safety are parents’ top concerns when it comes to finding a babysitter,” Perkins says. “Many babysitting apps go a long way to allay parents’ concerns by taking steps to ensure the quality of sitters available.”
For UrbanSitter, this includes a screening processes and showing parents information about the sitter’s history – such as their number of “repeat families” who have asked the sitter back, parents and sitters they both know in common, and reviews from other parents. If in doubt, check the app’s FAQ or ‘About Us’ section for their processes on interviews and checks.
Often, parents’ concerns stem from the “Uber-like” association these apps have. Ari Last, CEO of Bubble, says there may be an instinctive reaction that because it’s an app, it works like Uber or Deliveroo, in that a button is pressed and a sitter they know nothing about suddenly appears at their door.
“That can evoke a lot of nervousness about the process, which is a shame because that’s not how it works at all,” says Last. “Parents have more information, background and control over their childcare choices than the other methods they may typically employ when trying to find a babysitter offline.”
Ruth Maurandy, of Rockmybaby, agrees. “Every business in 2019 wants to be the next Uber,” she says. “The Uber of dog-walking, childcare, beauty – and it’s useful shorthand, but while Uber is amazing and super convenient, it’s transactional and impersonal – everything childcare is not.” Users of Rockmybaby can still pick up the phone and talk to someone, says Maurandy, if they don’t feel comfortable with everything taking place in-app.
“It’s about getting away from the idea that just because they come from an app, that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous,” she adds. “A babysitter is new to the child no matter where you find them.”
Convenience is a benefit of babysitting apps, argues Last. They’re not only used for nights out – 40% of bookings on Bubble are used during the day. “Parents book sitters for all kids of reasons,” he says. “Haircuts, house viewings, a gym class. We have parents booking sitters in the mornings on the weekend so that they can lie in. These are all mundane, everyday things that I think we, as parents, often have to give up on after our kids come along.”
But convenience can be an issue if you live in an area where the apps are barely used. Holly Pither, mum blogger at PitterPatterPither, says she lives in the “middle of nowhere” where the apps just aren’t as popular or populated – but she wouldn’t be averse to them. “Loads of people have recommended them to me,” she says. “If only I lived in London, I would definitely try one out.”
For Pither, it’s less a concern about the babysitter or childminder – “I know they would have been very well vetted” – and more about how her child deals with the person and how they get on with the babysitter.
The app founders believe adoption of this method of finding a babysitter will take time – in 10 years, a new generation of parents may not think twice about using an app, just as people who turned their noses up at online dating a decade ago are now using it.
“Like many other disruptive, tech-enabled services that have come before, the concept polarises opinions,” says Last. “What’s most important is that customers who use our product love it. That’s normally a great sign that normalisation and greater adoption are going to come soon enough.”
Perhaps it’ll be a few more years before more parents jump on board – or maybe it’ll take longer for the hidden benefits to come to light: cashless, in-app transactions mean an end to awkward conversations about money, jingly envelopes of coins and soul-destroying waits, where nobody’s quite sure whether the £20 handed over for a £18 job includes a two-quid tip or requires change. The nice lady you met in the supermarket can’t promise you that.