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St. John Ambulance offers a babysitting course for kids. The program for babysitters aged 11 to 14 includes feeding infants, diapering, how to pick up an infant, bathing, first aid and playing games for different age levels. (Clifford Skarstedt/The Canadian Press)
St. John Ambulance offers a babysitting course for kids. The program for babysitters aged 11 to 14 includes feeding infants, diapering, how to pick up an infant, bathing, first aid and playing games for different age levels. (Clifford Skarstedt/The Canadian Press)

Babysitters: How young is too young? Add to ...

Garrett Janz bugged his mother for nearly a year to allow him to babysit. Finally, a couple months ago, just short of his 13th birthday, she enrolled him in a babysitting course to learn the basics of childcare and first aid.

Ever since, the Red Deer, Alta., teen has found plenty of work, earning about $10 for every two hours of looking after children as young as 3.

"It's really fun and you get to hang out with kids," Garrett says, adding he's confident he knows what to do in the event of an emergency. "Every time I go babysitting, I bring my babysitting handbook, so if I ever need anything, it's usually in there, and I know 911 and I know the poison control number. And if something medical happened, I know a bit of first aid."

Still, his mother Jodi Janz says she's cautious about ensuring he isn't put in a situation he can't handle.

An Alberta girl was served a lawsuit last week after the home of the children she was babysitting burned down. Although her father says the suit has since been withdrawn, the case raises questions about the responsibilities placed on young sitters.

Aaliyah Braybrook, now 14, was 12 years old when the trailer where she was babysitting was destroyed by a fire. According to the statement of claim, the blaze started when one of the two children under her care was playing with a cigarette lighter, her father Ray Braybrook says. She and the children emerged unharmed. But last week, she was informed she was being sued by the children's grandparents, claiming she was too young and inexperienced.

Mr. Braybrook says he received news from his insurance adjuster on Friday that the lawsuit has been dropped.

But Ms. Janz says it worries her to think of the possibility of her son facing a similar situation.

"Just in general … it's so unfair to expect a 12-year old to a) handle an emergency and b) to be held responsible for it like that," she says.

In Vancouver, Amy van Weelderen says she started babysitting decades ago when she was 12, but now would never dream of allowing someone that age to take care of her own seven-year-old son.

"I just don't think they're responsible enough. I mean, there's nothing more valuable than your kid," she says. Young teens "just don't seem that they can handle it. God forbid something happens, they're not going to know what to do."

As the founder of Lullaby League, a service that connects babysitters with parents, Ms. van Weelderen says her business only deals with sitters 18 and older.

When she was a babysitter, it was "a different time," she says, adding she also lived in a small town where families knew each other and looked out for one another.

But in the urban centre where she now lives, "people come and go all the time so you don't have that history with anybody," she says.

Also today, with young people having access to risqué video games, such as Grand Theft Auto, she adds, babysitters under the age of 18 may not know what's inappropriate for younger children.

"For [a]16-year-old, he could be like, 'Well everybody does it,' whereas a college student, I would hope, would know [to say] 'You shouldn't be watching this or doing this.' "

Not everyone agrees about the optimal age to start babysitting.

Lisa Foeste of Port Moody, B.C., says she would have no problem leaving her daughters, aged 3 and 5, alone in the care of a 12-year-old for an hour or two, as long as she knew the sitter and the sitter's family well.

In fact, she says, there may be benefits to hiring a younger sitter.

"When you're younger, you take your job very seriously and you won't be on the phone. Your attention to children is probably better," she says. "Maybe older teenagers are a little more relaxed, they've done this more often, they may watch more TV."

According to Samantha Wilson, a former police officer and founder of Kidproof, which provides babysitting courses, there is no minimum legal age for babysitters in Canada. Most start at the age of about 12.

Some parents prefer hiring younger sitters because they tend to be more available, less expensive and may be seen as relating better to the children they're looking after, she says.

Ms. Wilson says although she doesn't know the details of the lawsuit that had been filed against Aaliyah, "just from reading the story and hearing about it, I think the little girl sounds like she was a bit heroic in helping the children survive the fire."

"It's also the responsibility of the people who are hiring the babysitter to make sure the home is safe and the environment is safe," she adds.

Les Johnson, national director of training at St. John Ambulance, which also offers babysitting courses, says it's important to consider the sitter's maturity level, as it may not necessarily match his or her age.

"We're told there's some 12-year-olds that are as mature as some 14- or 15-year-olds and vice versa, so it's really an individual decision."

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