Would you trust an app to help you hire a Nanny for your child?

Thanks to a new range of online services available in SA, finding a sitter is easy, but parents must stay on guard, writes Leonie Wagner

27 October 2019 - 00:04 By Leonie Wagner
Babysitters can now be found online. But, warns an agency in SA, parents should also do their share of checking on potential babysitters.
Babysitters can now be found online. But, warns an agency in SA, parents should also do their share of checking on potential babysitters.
Image: 123RF

Accused murderer arrested. These are not the words parents want to associate with the person looking after their child.

But in recent weeks that description has been linked to nannies. Last week a nanny in Daveyton, Ekurhuleni, was arrested in connection with the death of the 20-month-old toddler she was taking care of.

The 28-year-old mother hired the nanny through a Tembisa-based agency when her son, Langelihle Mnguni, was two months old. The nanny had been with the family for about a year when, last week, the child’s body was found in a storeroom at the home. The 39-year-old nanny said there had been a break-in and intruders had taken the boy. According to reports, a postmortem showed that the toddler had been strangled.

This has raised questions about the vetting used by nanny agencies. Middle-class mothers are becoming increasingly reliant on such services and you can now hire nannies and babysitters online.

In March, final-year law student Nqobile Msibi and her business partner, Wisani Shilumani, began an online babysitting service, We Sit. It connects parents with babysitters in their area. It is currently a website but Msibi and Shilumani are developing an app that they say will be launched soon.

“It started during my early varsity days when I was a cash-strapped student, and I needed a job,” Msibi said. “So I started babysitting. Then I saw a gap in the traditional model of finding a babysitter and I came up with the idea of We Sit. I don’t know how to code, so I pitched the idea to my co-founder and he helped me.”

In light of current tragic events dominating the news, inviting a stranger into your home to take care of your child for a night seems even more risky than hiring a full-time nanny. But Msibi uses the same vetting procedures used by the most reputable nanny agencies.

Potential sitters are required to submit their ID, a police clearance certificate, a first-aid qualification and a CV with references. Once these documents are verified and the references are contacted, a face-to-face interview is conducted. 

“We are constantly thinking of new ways to ensure the safety of the children and our sitters, as both are at risk,” said Msibi. “We have considered additional safety measures for our sitters as well as the children they’re babysitting. We interview for value alignment, because a sitter might be qualified but if they don’t align with our values then there’s no point in having them as part of the family.

“We do hope that we would be able to set a standard in the industry that all childcare should be preceded by a strict vetting process and that no company would be able to operate without doing background checks and vetting of childcare professionals. Children are the most vulnerable members of society.”

Parents looking for a babysitter log onto the website, fill in when they need a sitter  and the age of their child or children. The babysitters receive a notification alerting them to the request. They can view the request online and those who are available can bid for the job.

People in Gauteng are less suspicious of online companies ... In the Western Cape people will ask about 600 questions before hire one of our babysitters, whereas in Gauteng they’ll log on, request a sitter and it’s done
Nqobile Msibi of We Sit

Parents are then sent a list of all the available sitters, together with their CVs and ratings from other parents. From the list, parents can contact the babysitters and make their choice.

We Sit is running in Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg, with the biggest demand in Gauteng.

“I’d say people in Gauteng are less suspicious of online companies,” said Msibi. “In the Western Cape people will ask about 600 questions before they trust our company and hire one of our babysitters, whereas in Gauteng they’ll log on, request a sitter and it’s done.”

Cape Town single mom and software developer Carla Venter has used We Sit several times since May. She does so when she needs “adult time” with her friends. She found the service via a Google search and said it was convenient to book online.

“Although my daughter is 15, I think she is too young to be left alone at night, even if only for a few hours,” said Venter. “I prefer to have a sitter when I’m not there in the evenings. For peace of mind. They seemed like a safe, professional service. We Sit has vetted all the sitters and checked their credentials. I have also been given the option of having the same sitter — a regular sitter means that a good rapport is established.”

Software engineer Terry Muyambo first used the service in August when he needed a sitter to look after his two-year-old son for three hours. 

“It was the first time that I had a work function during the week,” said Muyambo. “I used We Sit because I saw it as a safety-conscious option. I didn’t have the time to vet someone random. With We Sit the sitters are already vetted.”

There are 1,160 babysitters registered on We Sit and about 300 parents have signed up for the service. Babysitters cost R90-R125 an hour depending on the time of day. The babysitter keeps 80% of the fee.

This may be a new trend in SA but parents in the US and the UK have been booking babysitters online for a while through services such as Bambino, Bubble, Urbansitter, Rockmybaby and SitterCity.

Bambino operates in about  50 cities in the US and has about  20,000 users. Parents are connected with babysitters who have already sat for people they know. In the UK, Bubble gives parents access to a list of recommended sitters in their area, again recommended by word of mouth or online. In Belgium, mothers Geraldine Biebuyck and Dimitri de Boose created airBsit which connects babysitters with parents.

All over the world, grandparents, friends and neighbours have been replaced by an app. It is becoming common for people not to know their neighbours. Many live far away from family and finding a trusted and available friend to babysit can be tricky. The alternative is going online.

We book flights, holidays, food, dates and taxis online, so perhaps this is the logical next step. There are horror stories about children being harmed by trusted friends or family. Maybe it makes more sense to trust a service that has proper checks in place. But parental peace of mind in these matters can never be a given.

In the case of baby Mnguni, the nanny agency faced criticism. The steps that the agencies take in vetting potential nannies is also being questioned.

Another South African online babysitting service is Sitters4U, which has been operating since 2007. Bianca Steyn started the service because, as a single mother, she had misgivings about agencies she had consulted.

“The industry sees tons of fly-by-night agencies, which is a problem,” said Steyn. “When I first started looking for a nanny, as a single mom, I was flabbergasted by what I was seeing.”

Sitters4U has about 2,000 women on its books and operates in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Steyn said her company’s minimum requirements were a matric certificate, a driver’s licence, a police clearance certificate and a first-aid certificate. She interviews every candidate and does  background checks, reference checks and  credit checks. 

She cautioned parents not to leave the responsibility of background checks to the agencies.

“Parents really need to be careful. You’ll be surprised how many people provide fake references. I advise parents to call all the references.

“Check how long an agency has been around, ask them about their interview process, and then parents should also call each reference.”

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