Arranging your parental mind around going out for a night without your child requires a lot of thinking. The first hurdle – of when you feel comfortable in actually doing it – seems to be leapt at very different speeds.
The second hurdle is the bigger one, in my opinion. Who’s going to look after your kids? Who do you trust? Who is experienced? Who actually wants to do it?
We have a fantastic, supportive family. However, they are scattered across the UK and not available for babysitting. We arrived in Bristol last Autumn with only a couple of friends in the city. The friends I have since made have young families of their own. I don’t want to ask favours I might not be able to return.
I found an agency who provides pre-qualified, experienced, trustworthy local evening babysitters. Since then, we have been out about once a month (together) and our babysitter, who is called Amanda, has become a firm favourite and very much appreciated part of our family life.
Our choice has been to pay a professional, in lieu of being able to ask a family member. We factor the cost of Amanda into the budget for the night out, maybe not going for a big meal, or getting a taxi into town both ways. She’s never let us down or cancelled (and if she did, we’d be found a substitute I think), and I trust her in my home and with my baby.
Because it’s made such a difference to my life as a Bristol parent, I’ve had a quick chat with Sue Cannings, the owner of the Bristol Babysitting Agency. Especially for you as Summer nights out become tempting, Sue is offering Bristol Parent readers half price agency membership for either a three-month, six-month or annual period if mention The Bristol Parent on the booking form.
I need a babysitter, how does the agency work?
The Bristol Babysitting Agency was established in 2000. We are a local, friendly and professional organisation linking families to quality evening babysitters.
Parents book a sitter through the agency by giving the date, start and approximate finish time they require a sitter. Once a sitter has been allocated, the parent will get emailed an information card. This has a photo of their sitter (for security reasons – so they know who to expect on the night) the sitters name, age, when they joined the agency and also a bit of background about them. The sitter then contacts the parent prior to the evening, to introduce themselves and confirm the date/times.
I find that parents with children less than 18 months generally ask for a sitter who is also a mum for that added reassurance that their little ones are left in the safest of hands. However, the families with school-age children ask for our young or ‘fun’ sitters – I think this is in case some early-evening entertainment is needed!
55% of my sitters are mums, with ages varying from 23 to 65. Many of them have direct professional childcare qualifications. I do truly believe that I have the best sitters in the Bristol area.
What areas of Bristol do you cover?
We cover most of the BS postcode area. To date the only areas within this we are unable to cover is Weston Super Mare, Blaggdon and Cheddar at the moment.
What are the most common questions you get asked by new clients?
Most questions are about our vetting procedure for babysitters and the quality of our research, which is understandable.
How do you choose your babysitters?
I reference each sitter by post and I require a postal response for authenticity. Two references are essential, and the referee must have known them a minimum of three years. Once returned and subject to them being satisfactory I arrange to meet them. At this stage I check photo id (passport/drivers licence) and also a copy of their recent CRB.
Although much of it is “ticking” the right boxes, I also use my mother’s instinct, and if I would not allow them to come and look after my children, I would not let them sit through the agency. I also request constant feedback from parents for all my sitters to ensure they provide the best service. I have turned prospective applicants down, both on the strength of references, and my own gut feel.
Working with a lot of Bristol parents as you do, have you noticed any defined characteristics of us as a group? Is there such thing as a typical Bristol parent?
No, I don’t think there is, really. We have about 300 families who use our agency. We tend to have lots of parents, like you, who use us because you’ve moved to the area and no family to help out.
A lot of our customers favour us over family and friends because of the reliability and convenience too. When you book with us, it’s a guaranteed, on time, trustworthy service.
Is there such thing as babysitter etiquette? Should we leave snacks, or wine? Should we give tips?
We do ask that tea, or coffee is left out for your sitter, and anything else is up to you. All sitters have their own transport so there’s no need to run them home at the end of your evening out. Some parents choose to tip, some pay exact money, each family is different and depends how often they use us.
** I record things on my Tivo for Amanda, so that she has something she wants to watch whilst she’s here.
What are the three most important things a babysitter needs to know before you leave the house?
- Definitely where the bedroom is (even more important if the child is already asleep when the sitter arrives.)
- Routine for bedtime, around what time, which story book, etc
- Also once child is asleep, what to do if they awake, ie controlled crying, dummies, cuddly toys etc. We ask parents to let the sitters know what their feeding routine is so we can also follow that.
It’s 4pm on a Tuesday, I need a babysitter tonight. Can you help?
Yes, we have a 100% booking success rate.
Do you have any tips for Bristol parents who can’t afford a babysitter at the moment?
I do have a few families where the mums have joined the agency to earn some money sitting, so they in turn can book sitters through us for their evening outs.
As a Bristol Parent yourself, what are the things you love about raising kids here?
I love Bristol and have been living in Thornbury since I was 4 years old. Bristol has something to offer everyone. The harbourside especially has wonderful events and always family-orientated. You have the culture, history, plus wonderful walks which we enjoy taking our 18 month puppy along too as she is now part of our family
Is there anything you’d change about Bristol as a place to have a family?
More dog-friendly places! I would love to see more places you can take dogs into (on leads of course) where if you fancy sitting in a cafe/pub at the end of your walk you can take your dog along too. When we go to Weston, dogs are welcome in lots of inside places and its wonderful to see.
Where’s your top tip for an adventure with kids in Bristol this summer?
Definitely the balloon festival. It’s the highlight of my year. Having said that, if you had asked me last year I would have said the Gromits. A wonderful way to get people out, visiting the sights of Bristol and all in a wonderful cause.
For your half-price membership, mention The Bristol Parent on your booking form online. Offer expires end August 14.
**Disclosure – this is not a sponsored post, although as a thank you for suggesting it, Sue has given me some money off my own agency membership