Decked out in their pajamas, Bodhi, Kai, Drake and Roman colored with markers and listened to a complete stranger read aloud √Pete the Cat while their moms and dads slipped out the front door.
That the young boys didn’t know Melissa Rincon meant little; meeting new sitters is old hat when you’re between the ages of 3 and 6. But tonight, their parents had only met Rincon 15 minutes earlier when she knocked on Jodi Gallant’s door and introduced herself as the babysitter from the Internet.
In a matter of minutes, Gallant versed Rincon, 24, about acceptable snacks, bedtime tricks and procedures for operating the television remote, while Drake and Roman’s mom checked out her vibe. Feeling assured, the parents were then on their way to the SoHo Beach House.
“Good luck,” Gallant said.
This version of date night, facilitated by your friendly online babysitter service, is becoming the norm as parents in South Florida and around the country increasingly turn to the Internet to find sitters and other child-care services. At a time when babysitting horror stories are just a Google search away, moms and dads are hiring strangers to watch their kids based on website profiles and clean record guarantees rather than hiring a friend of a friend or the high school senior from church.
They are finding sitters in virtual marketplaces, or filling out forms online and waiting for the nanny to arrive. And for those who need to book their sitters on the go, there’s an app for that, too.
Gallant’s husband, Stuart Sheldon, calls the service “convenient” and trustworthy.
“These guys are great. I had no hesitancy at all,” he said of TLC for Kids, the Miami company that employs Rincon.
But to others, the concept is unimaginable.
“We would never go online to hire a sitter,” said Teresa Becerra, a writer whose son has autism. “Regardless if our child was special needs or not, that’s just crazy.”
There are without a doubt millions of babysitters seeking work online, and plenty of parents finding them — and good money in being the middle man.
In the United States alone, there were 61 million children 14 years and younger during the spring of 2011, according to a U.S. Census report released this month. Depending on the source, the country’s child-care market has been estimated between $47 billion and $240 billion in combined services and goods.
Venture capitalists put the online market at a couple billion, easy.
Sandy Miller, a general partner of Institutional Venture Partners, which in August helped provide $50 million in financing to a leading Internet care provider, Care.com, has called the market “a global need without demographic or geographic limitations.”
“We’re in an early phase of the trend, really,” he said of Internet-facilitated care. “It’s not going to completely replace the kid next door babysitting, but it’s going to be a big part of the way parents find their child care.”
Through sites like Care.com and Sittercity, parents can become members for a fee — somewhere between roughly $35 and $140, depending on length and services — and gain access to thousands of sitters or nannies in South Florida who post their credentials on the sites. Users can find sitters like Rebeca F., the 37-year-old clinical psychologist who says she was laid off by Jackson Health System, and Candice J., the 21-year-old Broward College freshman studying to become a social worker.