Babysitting: a step beyond on-the-job training

MEMO: To parents. RE: The baby sitter who is caring for your children tonight.

Is the adolescent you've left in charge of your home qualified for the job?

Have you oriented your sitter on what to do in case of an emergency and the precautions that should be taken to safeguard your children and your home?

These are among the questions being raised by safety experts now that baby-sitting has become a major teen-age ''industry.''

The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that one million teen-agers are being handed the responsibility of child care while parents are away from home. What sort of preparation have they had for that responsiblity?

Health and safety research conducted by the Combined Insurance Company of America indicates that baby-sitting has become an on-the-job training program in child care. It enables young people to earn pocket money and parents to pay them ''bargain '' rates, usually well below the minimum hourly wage of $3.35 an hour set by the federal government for most regularly employed workers.

In an effort to help maximize the efficiency and safety with which adolescents look after their young charges, the insurance company has come up with the following suggestions for baby sitters and the families they serve:

* Once a family has chosen a sitter, the youngster and at least one of his or her parents should be invited for a visit to become acquainted with the home, including emergency exits, and the children -- and to arrive at a mutual understanding with the parents of what the job requires. Financial arrangements should be settled at this time.

On arriving for the first sitting engagement, the teen-ager should be given a list of emergency telephone numbers, special instructions for the care and feeding of the children, and a number where the parents can be reached if necessary.

* The sitter should keep a permanent file on clients -- recording bedtimes, meal or snack schedules, names of children, sleeping arrangements, television rules, special requirements or problems, areas that are off-limits, and favorite stories, games, and pastimes of the children.

* Some sitters have found it useful to carry their own ''bag of tricks'' containing games, crayons, paper, books, handicraft items, pen, pencil, and notebook.

* The sitter should never leave small children alone. Care should be taken to keep them from playing on stairways or in windows, and the kitchen and bathroom should be off limits.

* The sitter should never open a door to a stranger and should deal with telephone calls carefully, indicating that the parents are not available at the moment.

* Teen-agers should not invite friends into a home where they are sitting unless arrangements have been made in advance with the employers. If the telephone must be used, the conversation should be brief.

* The refrigerator should not be raided. Before the parents leave, they should specify what refreshments have been provided, and they should expect the sitter to tidy up any mess he or she has made in the kitchen.

* Unless other arrangements are made, the employer should see the sitter home safely. In some cases the employer may also pick up the sitter at the start of the evening.

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