When you need a baby sitter fast, speed it up

SAN DIEGO — Katie Schaefer and Barrie Davies met several years ago at a speed-dating seminar, chatting for five minutes before furiously scribbling notes about what they liked — and didn't — about each other.

So when they eventually got married and had a daughter they named Victoria 21/2; years ago, it seemed natural to try something new but similar to find a helper: speed baby-sitting.

"I thought, you meet a series of baby sitters for just a couple minutes? Well, there might be a good connection with your family like there was with us. Let's give it a shot," Schaefer said.

So the three of them had come to Little Locks, a combination toy store and children's hair salon in a tony section of San Diego where busy, two-income families live in large homes perched atop rolling hills. They were there to check out Sitter Socials, one of a handful of programs that have sprung up around the country in recent times to match busy parents with available baby sitters.

For $49.99, Sitter Socials' clients attend a neighborhood speed meeting where they spend three minutes apiece interviewing a dozen or so potential baby sitters. They also receive a book providing contact information and profiles for local sitters, who come with references and have undergone some background checks.

Sitter Socials, which offers its speed-meeting sessions throughout California, has plans to expand to several other states in 2009, including Florida, Kansas and Massachusetts. It also plans to add a database to its Web site so subscribers across the country eventually can locate sitters in their area by ZIP code. Or, if they are traveling, they can find a sitter in an unfamiliar location.

In such a busy society, it was only a matter of time until speed baby-sitting would join speed dating as a way of meeting people, says University of Southern California sociologist Karen Sternheimer. "It's just another example of the kind of instant gratification we want: I'm going to interview 10 babysitters and I have 10 minutes to do it," she said. "But it's kind of a strange way to find someone, in the space of three minutes, who will care for your children."

To put people at ease, Muschek has organized Sitter Socials meetings more like parties, providing snacks, door prizes and providing time after the initial speed-meeting interviews where parents can talk further with the sitters they like, negotiate price and maybe strike a deal.

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