Child Care Cooperative: How to Start a Successful Child Care Cooperative

What is a child care cooperative?

A child care cooperative, sometimes called a child care club or cooperative, is simply a group of families in a community who decide to share the task of caring for children by exchanging time with each other instead of charging money. That way, cooperative members can access occasional childcare services without having to worry about the high cost or risk of using a paid babysitter.


There are many benefits to this approach to child care. For starters, it’s easier and less expensive than regular child care. Also, instead of relying on one or two caregivers who may or may not be available, you have access to maybe as many as 10 or 20 families, which can make it much easier to find someone in a hurry.

For those without close relatives, a co-op can be an invaluable way to get away for a few hours without the kids to spend with your significant other or on a “date night” without the added cost of childcare.

Lastly, with the cost of day care skyrocketing, some people are using child care cooperatives to provide regular day care for one or two days a week. Taking a child to daycare just one day a week or for the occasional day can be very difficult, but sharing the task between several families can make it much easier.


There are very few downsides to child care cooperatives and perhaps the only one is the task of managing the process. For example, the role of secretary can be quite demanding. However, there are some new ways to fix this problem; see below for more information.


There are two basic approaches to running a cooperative. The first uses paper-based “babysitting money.” Each unit is equivalent to a fixed unit of time. Families then contact each other directly to arrange and pay for the seat.

The second type exchanges points, say 4 points for every hour of sitting. A secretary reserves seats and keeps track of point transactions. Both systems can work well, but most groups opt for the points approach.

Cooperatives often elect a rotating secretary. If a member requires childcare, the secretary is called requesting a babysitter for a specified date and time. The secretary calls members and locates a caregiver as close to the member’s home as possible, trying to find a caregiver who owes points. The secretary then calls the member and sets up the seating arrangement.

Once the care is done, both the member and the caregiver agree on the number of points and these are communicated to the secretary who registers them. Points are earned for being a caregiver and providing care. Points are spent using a babysitter to care for her children.

Starting your cooperative

There are two main success factors when starting a new cooperative

  1. When starting your co-op, you want to make sure you have a clear set of rules so everyone knows how the process will work. Rules to consider include:
    • How small/big the coop can get: A minimum of five and a maximum of 25 are generally considered best.
    • How will the new members introduce themselves?
    • Starting points for each family.
    • How many hours is each point worth?
    • Minimum points below which a family cannot request a seat.
    • How will the reservation process work?

    You will also probably want to have medical release forms available so that families can formally release the sitting family to receive emergency medical treatment if necessary.

  2. Make sure you have regular meetings (perhaps quarterly or semi-annually) so everyone can introduce themselves and get to know each other. They are usually held at a member’s house or in a park so that the children can come.

find members

When looking for members for your cooperative, it’s best to find other families who have similar parenting practices and life values ​​to yours. There are many places to look, including your local playgroup, school/preschool, child care center, parent-citizen clubs, church, neighbors, and child’s sports or activity clubs.

final thoughts

One last thing to consider when setting up your coop is the idea of ​​using it for trading more than just babysitting. Maybe you can also use it to carpool for kids’ activities or take care of your pets when you’re gone. Once you’ve got the people and process together, there are many other uses to save time and money for your co-op.

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