Trigger Warning: This post discusses child-related abuse
One of the most convenient uses of the internet for busy parents and caregivers is the ability to quickly connect with local businesses in their area. Community Facebook groups often feature posts such as “searching for a reliable tiler/baker/landscaper etc”, but this should NOT translate into posting an ad online for a potential babysitter.
There is no doubt that social media does an excellent job of connecting individuals in different geographic areas to share reviews of local goods and services, however when this crosses over into advertising for a babysitter, this becomes incredibly fraught with risks and potential danger.
Take this example below from a community Facebook group with 18,000 members:
This example would be one of thousands of similar posts on Facebook every day. Not only is this post advertising the (almost) exact age of her daughter, the approximate location of her home and her daughter’s interests, it is also allowing people to know that her daughter would be in bed by 8pm and that the babysitter would need to “prepare for bedtime” i.e. changing clothes, putting into bed and so on. Whilst this parent likely assumes that there would be minimal harm in posting this, as it is a private Facebook group, there are many key risk factors here to consider. To enter private Facebook groups, you often need to answer a few security questions (e.g. What suburb do you live in?), which are by no means robust and there is no way to fact check them. Similarly, community Facebook pages are often run by a group of individuals who are doing the role on a volunteer basis - there is absolutely no way that they can monitor every person entering the group and verify that they are who they say they are, nor can they easily monitor all the comments within the posts.
Unfortunately, these types of posts are not limited to private Facebook groups. Oftentimes, individuals with public followings will make a Facebook or Instagram post to their community of (sometimes tens of thousands) to ask if anyone can recommend a babysitter for a specific area. Similarly, “babysitters” often advertise their services on Facebook pages allowing parents to comment and ask for more details. Time and time again uneducated parents are posting and responding to these advertisements and inadvertently opening up the door for predators.
One chilling example of how this online advertising of babysitting has ruined many lives is in the case of Jareth Harries-Markham. Harries-Markham, 24, faced the Supreme Court on 27th Sep 2022, where he pleaded guilty to more than 140 charges, including 35 counts of indecent dealing with a child under 13 and 94 counts of indecently recording a child. The victims, some of them sisters, were aged between 8 months and 9 years, and were being babysat by Harries-Markham, after their families had responded to an advertisement he had posted online. Some of the families hired Harries-Markham on a live-in basis and the court heard some of the offences happened as the children were sleeping. Other victims were friends of the children who were abused while they were on play dates at their home. Harries-Markham will have to serve 16 years before he can be released on parole.
If you are the administrator of a community Facebook group, you should remove any posts requesting/advertising babysitting services for the safety of your community and to also remove any liability to you as the Administrator.
Unfortunately, tragedies like this happen not only to those who are seeking babysitting services online, but to those who are young, uneducated, and are advertising their services.
Below is an example from the same Facebook group, posted by a young person seeking babysitting work:
Whilst this 16-year-old is trying to do a noble thing and make some honest money babysitting, I am sure I do not need to go into details as to why an advertisement like this is riddled with risk.
With just one click, it was easy to see a large collection of photos of the young babysitter. Without proper protections in place, it would be all too easy for a predator to pose as a parent and lure this teen to a location to meet up under the guise of them providing babysitting services. In addition, a predator could hire this young person for regular babysitting jobs and use the opportunity to groom them for future abuse.
So how can you find a babysitter safely? Whilst there is no failsafe way to find a suitable babysitter, advertising in a public space that you would pay a stranger to be alone with your children is certainly not the safest. Below are some alternatives to posting online:
Ask a trusted family member or friend
Ask friends or other parents for babysitter recommendations. This might include teenagers they know, or even their own teenage children
Talk to the parents of your child’s friends about setting up a babysitting club, where you take turns to babysit for each other
If your child attends formal childcare, ask your child’s educators if they’re interested in babysitting after hours
Use a babysitting agency. Agencies can provide experienced babysitters, who have been background checked by the agency and come with references from previous families.
If advertising your babysitting services (particularly young teens), you could consider:
Giving flyers directly to parents that you or your parents know
Use notice boards at local community centers they are familiar with (e.g. their local Scouts or dancing group)
Use a babysitting agency.
Teens who are offering their babysitting services should only do so with the support of a trusted adult to ensure that there are safety measures in place to protect the teen (e.g. an adult attending an initial meeting to check that the family and the teen babysitter would be a good fit).
Please share this information with those around you who may use Facebook to advertise or search for babysitting services. Whilst many parents have successfully advertised online to find a babysitter, once you begin to look at all the ways in which it can go tragically wrong, it is just too risky.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, ANNA HAYES:
With 10+ years experience in education and a range of leadership positions, Anna has seen first-hand the rapid rise of technologies embedded into learning programs - often with little regard for teaching students, parents, and teachers.