Parents pay sitters directly.
But drawing sitters to these sites may have been the easy part. The largest roadblock to success has been user confidence.
“Since finding child care is an extremely trust-based decision, some parents had reservations going online because they were accessing a network of ‘strangers,’ ” said Melissa Marchwick, a spokeswoman for Sittercity, created in 2001. But she said through background checks, bios and a recommended screening, “parents often end up with much more information about who they are hiring through Sittercity than if they had found the individual through their personal network.”
Together, the two sites attract about 2.6 million unique visitors each month, according to the website analytics firm Compete.
Still, there have been a few disasters. A California man who advertised on both Sittercity and Care.com was charged in 2011 with molesting two boys he was paid to babysit.
“It’s not foolproof,” said Adam Koopersmith, a partner with New World Ventures, which has invested millions in Sittercity. “We’re playing a matchmaking service. You still have to do your references and your work. We help provide guidelines and questions to ask and how to try and prevent some of this stuff from happening. And I think the vast majority of folks who work with Sittercity have great outcomes.”
It’s the idea of being in the unfortunate minority that can be mortifying.
“It’s a little terrifying at first,” said Silvia Zavala Garcia-Serra, a 35-year-old stay-at-home mom who lives on Key Biscayne with her attorney husband and daughter, 2.
Garcia-Serra said she used a local franchise of Seeking Sitters for the first time a year ago after the sitter she trusted with her baby moved back to Mexico. A friend told her she knew a company representative and said that the service screens and backgrounds its sitters. Longing for a night out, and with her lone South Florida family member living in Doral, she gave it a shot.
“I think I called the owner like five times when I was having dinner,” she said. “Are you sure she’s not going to kidnap my daughter? You know where she lives right? You have a current picture?”
Now she uses the site regularly.
As more parents are willing to consider the Internet to source sitters, and more are won over, local options are increasing. In Miami, that includes TLC for Kids, which came to Miami in January after 20-plus years operating in St. Louis, and MiamiBabysitters.net. Parents can also turn to Just Ask Boo, and Florida Atlantic University, to name a few sources.
Some of these services go by the marketplace model. Others, like TLC for Kids, are more like nanny services that have adapted to the Internet.
Co-president Sharon Graff-Radell argues that a service that sends its own employees is the better model, because companies like hers are liable for damages and therefore are sending employed sitters who have been vetted more thoroughly. She said sites that register millions of sitters may not catch everyone who has a red flag in their background, or who isn’t qualified to watch kids.
“The problem with these online sites is people have a false sense of security,” she said. “They’re Internet companies. They’re not child-care companies. They’re the Amazon.com of child care.”