Can parenting be outsourced in the sharing economy?

Father with baby using laptop

Recent media reports have highlighted how parents across Australia and the connected world are looking more and more at ‘sharing economy’ platforms to get their endless to-do lists done—but is it safe?

In every parent’s life there are times when we just need that extra set of hands. Hands that can help mow the lawn, pick up the dry cleaning, clean the house… If we’re lucky, we find helping hands from family and friends who kindly provide their services free of charge (or for the price of a cup of tea). Sometimes, though, we need to look further afield, finding help through the recommendations of friends and colleagues.

Failing that, there’s the flourishing online marketplace known as the sharing economy, where monetisation of personal assets is booming.

In fact, a 2015 survey found 61 per cent of Australians had used a sharing economy service in the previous six months, and 85 per cent intended to use one in the next year1.

These sites mean that anyone can become a retailer. Some of these are well-known: Uber, where you can hire a personal taxi; Airbnb where people rent out their homes or rooms to travellers; and Airtasker, where you can source help for everyday tasks including trades, dog walkers, travel planners, babysitters—even hot chocolate delivery services!

Trustworthy, convenient childcare options can become a scarce commodity, so it’s not surprising that dedicated platforms exist to help stranded parents find a babysitter or au pair online.

I have personal experience with this. In our family we’ve been fortunate to have child minding helpers over time who have offered us additional support where we’ve needed it. They’ve been fabulous—both for our kids, and for us. But, there was a time when we ran out of options: no family, no recommendations, no luck. So, we looked online. And although it seemed strange, as we searched through child minding websites for a suitable match, we found someone who has fitted into our family, meets all our requirements and, most importantly, we trust implicitly with the care of our kids.

It seems easy enough: Search the online marketplace for the services you need, download the app, set up an account and you’re on your way. But what about when the service that you need is the care of your children by a babysitter, nanny or au pair? How does the sharing economy rate for safety—and what do you need to know?

Consider the risks

While it’s tempting for any harried parent to resort to a quick and easy online solution, it’s essential to do your due diligence—it’s a task you really can’t outsource. The Western Australian Working with Children (WWC) Screening Unit explains this well:

‘Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in our community. As parents, every day we assess risk on our children’s behalf to help keep them safe. While some risk is a normal part of development, not all risk is equal.'

‘Unsupervised, one-on-one contact with a child brings with it higher risk. If you decide to employ someone outside of your family network to care for, babysit, coach or tutor your child, then you can minimise this risk of harm through careful selection processes and by monitoring the person’s ongoing role.’

Parents need to understand the risks and put the safety of their children first when making decisions about such services—whether those services are online or offline. Unfortunately, some shared economy services allow everyday people—often unqualified—to look after children, pick them up from school, make lunches and the like for an advertised fee.

What you can do

There’s a lot you can do to ensure you have the right person for the job. Look for shared economy services that promote child safeguards, provide information about their recruitment and screening processes, consider the privacy of users’, particularly children’s, information, and promote the importance of WWC Check screening. This check is a pre-employment screening for those seeking to engage in child-related work.

You can’t be too careful when it comes to ensuring the safety of your children, so it’s really best practice to have a personal interview with a potential sitter or carer to really find out if you’re comfortable with them. It’s also a great opportunity to see how the candidate interacts with your kids—they need to feel comfortable with the sitter too!

You should also:

  • Ask questions—ask the person about their qualifications and experience.
  • Contact referees—they may also like to contact yours.
  • Know your responsibilities—in some cases you may be considered the ‘employer’ of the person, with additional responsibilities.
  • Be cautious—don’t rush your decision, especially if you’re unsure.
  • Check for appropriate screening—if the person engages in child-related work then they are required by law to obtain a WWC Check. If they already hold a WWC Card then be sure to check the validity. If the person does not yet hold one then they must apply. You may also want to consider whether you’d like them to have a National Police Certificate as well.

For more information about sharing online, visit iParent, and learn more about the Working with Children Check in your state:

Australian Capital Territory

New South Wales

Northern Territory

Queensland 

South Australia

Tasmania

Victoria

Western Australia

Thanks to the West Australian WWC Screening Unit for their assistance with this blog. 

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1Ratesetter Sharing Economy Trust Index (RSETI).


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