What began as a simple way for prospective babysitters to connect with parents seeking childcare has blossomed into one of the most visible, reliable forms of those interactions.
The CU Childcare Connection page on Facebook has sprung – in about three years – into a go-to source for both groups. With 1,300 members and growing weekly, the group has “a good balance” of providers and childcare-seekers, said Champaign’s Erin Tarr, owner of Be the Benchmark and originator of the page.
“This is simply a resource to help connect people who otherwise might not be able to find ways to connect,” Tarr said. “And I’ve gotten feedback that (it) has worked out really well for families and providers.”
Here’s how it works:
“All that people need to do is request to join the group, both sitters and families,” Tarr said. “They have to answer three questions. Will you like the pinned post? And that’s just because I want people to read what the rules are of the group. I don’t want people trying to scam other people, I don’t want people trying to sell things. The second question is do you currently live in the Champaign-Urbana area? This is specifically for the Champaign-Urbana community. And the third question is, are you looking for child care or are you available for child care? Just so I have a sense of what their purpose is for being in the group. And then I approve them.”
For those seeking childcare, that’s all they need to do. For providers, “I ask them to set up a file that has their name, availability, references, any specialties. So parents, instead of just posting in the news feed, they also can go to the file section of the group and look at all the babysitters and providers who are listed there, get a feel for somebody who might be a good fit for their need.”
The CU Childcare Connection serves as a more-than-capable replacement for a now-defunct University of Illinois message board that functioned in much the same way.
“(Once) they stopped doing that, it became very difficult for families to connect, especially with providers at the university, like babysitters on the university campus,” Tarr said. “They’ve lost their connection between college students at the city.
“I just saw a need.”
Claire Kelly, a junior at the U of I majoring in English and secondary education, is one of the beneficiaries. Kelly learned of the Facebook page when a former sorority sister informed her, and once Kelly posted her information, “I got a bunch of messages about babysitting for date nights or weeknights or even during the day when I don’t have class,” she said.
“I was able to find a couple families for consistent, weekly jobs and some more families for just the occasional date-night things.”
Kelly had vast babysitting experience while growing up in Evergreen Park.
“I do a ton of babysitting at home so when I came to college, it was really weird for me not to have that interaction with kids, not have that job to do,” she said. “Because it’s something I really enjoy. It’s also great that it’s a job I can do on an as-needed basis. When you’re in college your schedule changes so fast, some nights you’re free, some nights you’re not. So it’s nice to have a place where you can say, ‘I’m available on this night if anybody needs anyone.’”
Tarr – who said she used to be one of those U of I students who babysat in C-U — stressed that she is not responsible for vetting the providers on the site. Those actions are best undertaken by the families who need babysitters.
“I had people respond to my post and send me private messages, and in almost all the cases I would go a few days earlier to meet them and show me around the house and meet their kids, and they could see that I’m a nice, normal person,” Kelly said. “I have a resume with just my babysitting jobs on it and I also have a whole list of references.”
Kelly said she knows “a ton” of her peers who have used the site.
“Once I joined, I was telling my friend about it and she joined and it kind of has gotten passed around my (sorority) house,” she said. “It’s been really, really good. I think it’s grown really fast.”