In the ideal world, all parents of young children would have access to a large, loving network of family and friends just begging to babysit their kids. The reality for many parents is a shortage of trustworthy sitters, and there will come a time when parents will need to go somewhere without their offspring. Here are some tips for finding and hiring a babysitter.

Where to Find Potential Sitters

Ask your friends who they're using for babysitters โ€” but good babysitters are more precious than gold, so don't be surprised if they seem hesitant to give out contact details for their favorite sitter! They may fear their babysitter will be busy watching your kids if they share him or her with you.

Check the local high school guidance department or hang a notice in the college career center, and let potential sitters come to you. Make sure to get references from anyone you consider hiring from this method.

Ask around at your church, YMCA, or community center. There may be people who know teenagers who babysit on weekends, or who know another family looking to trade babysitting hours with another family with children. If the YMCA or community center offers babysitting classes, ask if you can get in touch with the instructor and request that he or she refer a babysitter or two.

Use an online babysitting-finder service, like SitterCity.com or BabysittersOnline.com. Any potential babysitters you find with these methods should be carefully screened and interviewed.

Interviewing Potential Babysitters

Once you find one or two people interested in babysitting your children, you will need to interview them to make sure they are trustworthy and capable. Always get and follow up with their references. Ideally, you'll be able to contact other families that the babysitter has worked with to verify the babysitter has experience with children.

Prepare a number of questions to ask your prospective babysitters. You want to gather as much information about the individual as possible, and your babysitter should be comfortable answering the questions you ask them. Ask why they are babysitting โ€” you know they're looking for the cash, but do they seem to genuinely enjoy spending time with kids, or is it simply an easy way to bring in a few bucks? Ask about their previous babysitting experiences and what they have learned from their babysitting experiences in the past. Will the babysitter engage the children in activities, or will he or she spend the entire time on the phone or in front of the television?

When talking with a potential babysitter, you will also want to discuss your house rules. Ask the babysitter what he or she will do if the children break the rules or attempt to bend house rules. Discuss emergency situations and really listen to the babysitter's responses to determine if you feel comfortable with their ability to deal with various emergencies that could happen while they're caring for your children.

Take a New Babysitter for a "Test Drive"

Before leaving your kids for the first time with someone new, have the babysitter come over and meet the kids while you are home. Watch how he or she interacts with your kids and whether your children seem comfortable with the sitter. If all goes well, you can schedule a day and time for your first babysitting event โ€” run a quick errand near home and see how it goes.