Baby sitter woes often hit parents especially hard this time of year when summer school vacation looms.
Local child-care providers say planning early and knowing where to turn for referrals and references are key.
Parents seeking informal arrangements whether for summer day care or for casual sitting, such as on a Saturday night might rely on friends or through notices on their church bulletin boards, suggested Betty Peterson of KU's Dependent Care Referral Service, 111 Carruth-O'Leary Hall.
She said the KU service also maintained a special listing of people who provided in-home care in the county that included tips on where to look for other such sitters as well.
THE DOUGLAS County Child Development Assn., 2619 W. Sixth, also has a variety of informational materials designed to help parents find and manage appropriate child care.
One local business, Sitter Solutions Inc., offers a range of baby-sitting services, and many local teen-agers still baby-sit for neighbors and friends.
Melanie Owens, a licensed family home child-care provider and mother of a 2-year-old, said finding sitters for evenings and weekends was tough for parents.
In her own case, she said, she shared names of sitters with neighbors and friends and checked the newspaper want ads. Some sitters listed there, she noted, may not be licensed or registered but have husbands who do shift work and so have evening hours open for sitting.
Right now, she added, she uses three sitters from time to time, depending on their availability.
AYNSLEY ANDERSON, mother of 4- and 6-year-olds and a community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said she found what she called "casual baby sitters" mostly by word of mouth.
A registered nurse, she added she paid top dollar and liked sitters to be 15 or 16, although she had hired "very mature" 12- and 13-year-olds.
The going pay rate for baby sitters, she noted, ranges from $1 to $5 or more an hour.
One of Anderson's current sitters is Katie Boncella, a 16-year-old Lawrence High School sophomore. Her mother works with Anderson at the hospital.
Katie said she started baby-sitting for her next-door neighbor when she was 11 or 12 and had expanded to other customers from there. Currently, she sits for the Anderson girls and for one other child.
"I love little kids," she said.
ANDERSON NOTED one factor she especially liked about Katie was that she didn't turn on the television to entertain the children but instead engaged them in such activities as baking cookies or playing games.
Katie said she usually just asked children what they wanted to do. This time of year, she added, they usually want to be outside.
Another of Anderson's co-workers, Heidi Oberrieder, also a community education coordinator, now is preparing for a May 29 class at LMH called "Sitter Safety" aimed at helping young people get started as baby sitters.
Most of the class participants are between 9 and 14 years old, said Kathryn Nelick, LMH's clinical coordinator in pediatrics, who has helped teach the course for several years. With a capacity enrollment of 25, she said, it's always full.
Nelick said she tried to explain to the children about different developmental stages infants and young children go through and how those stages could affect them in terms of injury.
POLICE OFFICERS, firefighters and paramedics teach other aspects of the course.
Nelick said parents should be sure a potential baby sitter could tell when a child was sick or hurt. They also should ask if the sitter had previous experience caring for children the age of their child.
She suggested parents who had to leave their children with an inexperienced sitter try inviting that sitter to spend some time in their home before being left in charge.
That way, she said, the sitter can learn household routines and get to know the children.
Parents also should review with all sitters emergency information such as where they or another responsible adult can be reached, Nelick said, noting "safe sitter" kits now are being marketed that include a small bulletin board for posting such information.
Oberrieder has information on where such kits are sold, and said participants in the LMH class, for which a modest fee is charged, would receive an "emergency information sheet" that could be used in a similar fashion.
For more information on LMH's "Safe Sitters" class, the kits or information sheets, call 749-6127.