Pat and John Clark were all dressed up and ready to head out the door for a New Year's Eve dinner when the baby sitter called to cancel.
"I felt let down and disappointed," said the 46-year-old former nurse and mother of a 7- and 9-year-old. "It's a necessity to have some social time together without kids."
Whether it's for a night out or to watch their children while they're are at work, for parents, baby sitters are a commodity.
The Douglas County Child Development Association, 935 Iowa, a child-care referral service, enters about 100 to 120 referral requests monthly into its database.
Sunflower Sitters Referral Service, an online baby-sitting service in Lawrence, gives parents such as Pat Clark a choice of seven undergraduate students and one graduate student who have had background checks, reference checks, CPR training and at least two years working with children.
"You've done things for the kids. You've prepared for the holidays. And now it's time to remember yourselves and take time to enjoy being an adult in preparing for the new year," said DeAnn Windibiziri, owner of Sunflower Sitters, who has booked 20 jobs for half a dozen clients since opening last month.
Sunflower Sitters charges $9 to $15 an hour depending on the number of children.
Wilma Wake, owner of Professional Sitters Unlimited, said parents often opt for neighborhood teens who will baby-sit for less than the $7.50 to $9.50 an hour she charges.
"We're finding that parents would rather pay more for housecleaning than they would for good-quality care for their children," said Wake, who points to adult care at $15 to $20 an hour as the more profitable part of her business.
Kindercare Learning Center, 2333 Crestline Drive, a child learning center for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years, has spaces open with rates varying from about $7 an hour for the first day to about $47 for subsequent full days.
Parents also can check for baby sitters who are certified by the Douglas County American Red Cross, which will offer baby-sitter certification training two to three times next year for $30.
Certification includes first aid training, safe-play guidelines, diapering, emergency contacts and feeding, said Kristy Wempe, health and safety marketing director for Douglas County American Red Cross.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital also offers a Safe Sitters course that includes baby-sitting basics.