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Instructor Karen Ventrice talks about diaper-changing hygiene, as Moriah Stuart tries her hand at dressing a baby. Nine children participated in the Red Cross' daylong baby-sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday.
Instructor Karen Ventrice talks about diaper-changing hygiene, as Moriah Stuart tries her hand at dressing a baby. Nine children participated in the Red Cross' daylong baby-sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday. (Mike Abrams/Stars and Stripes)
Instructor Karen Ventrice talks about diaper-changing hygiene, as Moriah Stuart tries her hand at dressing a baby. Nine children participated in the Red Cross' daylong baby-sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday.
Instructor Karen Ventrice talks about diaper-changing hygiene, as Moriah Stuart tries her hand at dressing a baby. Nine children participated in the Red Cross' daylong baby-sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday. (Mike Abrams/Stars and Stripes)
Instructor Karen Ventrice, center, give participants tips on changing a baby's diaper at a Red Cross baby sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday. The children are, clockwise from bottom right: Moriah Stuart, Antonio Oduber, Alec Cardona,Alex Fekkes, Cristina Fekkes,Hadley Sheaffer, Toria Knox, Qiara Burris and Kaitlyn Johnson.
Instructor Karen Ventrice, center, give participants tips on changing a baby's diaper at a Red Cross baby sitting training class at Ramstein on Friday. The children are, clockwise from bottom right: Moriah Stuart, Antonio Oduber, Alec Cardona,Alex Fekkes, Cristina Fekkes,Hadley Sheaffer, Toria Knox, Qiara Burris and Kaitlyn Johnson. (Mike Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

STUTTGART, Germany — When it comes to hiring a baby sitter, military and civilian families overseas are on their own in the hunt for a trustworthy caregiver.

“Occasional child care between friends and neighbors is not regulated by either the Department of the Army or community policy,” according to Installation Management Command-Europe policy.

It’s up to parents to take a hard look at the people they hire to watch over their children, child care experts say.

That point was driven home this week when an Air Force staff sergeant pleaded guilty to multiple counts of raping and molesting three young girls whom he baby-sat.

Joshua Adam Smith advertised his services to the community on an online forum, and even created an alias to provide references for himself. A military judge sentenced Smith to life in prison without parole on Friday.

“You shouldn’t just hire the first warm body off the street,” said Kathleen Butler, the senior station manager at the Kaiserslautern military community’s American Red Cross, which offers training courses for prospective baby sitters.

At Child, Youth and School Services centers, lists are maintained of those who have completed the Red Cross training, which provides the basics in first aid and care-giving techniques. But that is just a starting point in the search. There are no guarantees about that person’s character since no background checks or formal interviews are conducted, according to the Kaiserslautern CYS office.

“When parents come in, they have to sign a waiver. We have to do that because of liability issues,” said Anita Boston, CYS assistant director in Kaiserslautern, adding that the center can’t vouch for any particular sitter. “But if there is a problem, a parent can come to us and we would certainly look into it.” She referred questions on the Smith case to public affairs officials.

Experts say there are several steps parents should take before letting someone into their home to care for their children.

Those include:

  Conduct a formal interview with the prospective sitter and learn as much as possible about his or her baby-sitting experience.

  Insist that a list of references be provided and talk to others about their experiences with that baby sitter.

  Make a play date. Pay a potential sitter to supervise your children while you’re present and observe how the sitter interacts with your child.

“Parents should interview the baby sitter and the baby sitter should interview the parents,” Butler said.

Just as parents worry about who is taking care of their child, sitters should make sure they feel comfortable with the families they intend to work for, Butler said.

In Kaiserslautern, there are 11 teenagers on the list of those who have completed the Red Cross training and are registered with CYS. The numbers aren’t big, which means parents will likely have to look to other places for sitters.

On military bases, access to child care has been a long-standing problem for many families. Limited space in Child Development Centers and a shortage of certified family care providers is an issue that many garrisons wrestle with constantly.

In addition, some communities also have a hard time finding volunteers to conduct the baby-sitting courses at the Red Cross. For example, the Kaiserslautern Red Cross on Friday held its first baby-sitter training class since June.

While baby-sitting is largely a private matter between neighbors, the Defense Department imposes limits on the types of care that can be provided inside homes on military installations.

For example, care is unauthorized when it occurs in government quarters outside of the child’s home for more than 10 hours a week on a regular basis, according to Merenda Haynes, the family child care director in Heidelberg.

Care that exceeds the “10 hours rule” must be approved by the garrison commander, Haynes said.

Consequences for those who violate the policy can include termination of government quarters eligibility, financial liability for injury or death to the child as well as German and U.S. tax liability.

vandiver@estripes.osd.mil

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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