The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

July 22, 2010

Ready to sit? Baby-sitting focus of classes for kids

JOPLIN, Mo. — When it comes to baby-sitting, parents usually have one main question: How can they tell if a child is ready to baby-sit?

Faith Koppes, director of health and safety for the American Red Cross, said that is the question she gets most often. The answer varies from child to child -- being ready to baby-sit has less to do with age and more to do with maturity and preparedness.

“There are some 11-year-olds who are very mature,” she said. “And there are some 15-year-olds who are not mature at all.”

Koppes, who normally works for the Springfield Red Cross, is working with the Joplin office this week to help establish more baby-sitting classes.

Both the Red Cross and Freeman Health System offer classes in safe baby-sitting. Students learn “soft skills” such as how to deal with young children, basic first aid skills, CPR, when and who to call should they need help and how to run the business of being a baby sitter.

“We stress the seriousness of baby-sitting in making the decision to be responsible for the life of that child,” said Fran Cloyd, a registered nurse and the community education coordinator for Freeman’s Screen Team.

Cloyd said parents, before deciding to let their own or someone else’s child baby-sit, need to know the baby sitter’s maturity level.

“Does the child seem capable?” Cloyd said. “Can they stay in control of themselves, do they practice safe habits?”

Both classes also stress that when a sitter is in another family’s home how it’s important to check the home, make sure it’s safe and that the job is right for her.

“So many think they will find a job, and take it,” Koppes said. “But it needs to be a good fit.”

Missouri law is nebulous when it comes to baby sitters.

Kit Wagar, a spokesperson for the Division of Health and Senior Services, said there is no age limit for children to be at home by themselves. Instead, officers look at the conditions and make a judgment call based on what they find.

“It depends on the competence of the child,” Wagar said. “What would they do if something bad happened? Whether they know how to call 911, their parents’ phone numbers and other things.”

Koppes said that because Missouri has no laws specifying at what age a child can be left alone, she and the Red Cross are dedicated to preparing young people not just to watch other children, but to be able to care for themselves in an emergency.

She can recount stories of children who hid in closets during house fires, and one particular incident where two Missouri sisters died huddled in the bathtub while their home burned.

“I always cry when I tell the stories,” she said. “They thought if they could get to the bathtub the water would protect them. They found the older one hunched over the younger one, trying to protect her.”

Koppes also said parents can be overconfident about their child’s comfort level staying by themselves.

“Parents think their kids are very mature and not afraid,” Koppes said. “They are.”

Both the Red Cross baby-sitting course and Freeman’s Safe Sitter class are aimed at kids 11 to early teens, but both have no set maximum age.

“We actually had a grandpa take it,” Koppes said. “He was having his first grandbaby.”

Koppes said she’s been working to find sponsors for free baby-sitting classes but hasn’t had a lot of luck and wondered if people recognize the value of preparing their children to stay by themselves.

“I feel like I’ve tried so hard, and I wonder if I’m not using the right words, I don’t know what it’s going take for people to come through.”

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