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Testing out babysitter services in Chicago

We try out Urbansitter, Sittercity, K Grace and Sitters Studio to find out which is best for parents (and kids)

Babysitter services can help you find great childcare (and some much-needed free time).

Whether it's for a much-needed date night at a Chicago restaurant, a never-ending list of errands or some more regular help, finding a babysitter you can trust isn't easy. When word-of-mouth recommendations dry up, many people turn to babysitting services. These services offer a database of sitters that allow you to narrow down your choices by search criteria or by filling out questionnaires.

I tried out four of the city's most popular babysitting services—Urbansitter, K Grace, Sitters Studio and Sittercity—to evaluate the sitters and judge the websites' ease of use. Most important? My two-year-old son's opinion of each sitter.

The serviceUrbansitter
Cost
Pay per booking ($14.95), or buy a membership for unlimited bookings and sitter messaging, and the ability to pay sitters by credit card for $24.95 plus $10/month (sitters charge $12–$16/hour).
The selection process
You can choose a sitter by posting a job with your specific needs or searching the database to find who fits your qualifications and has availability at the time you requested. The site connects with your social media accounts, so it can let you know if Facebook friends have used that particular sitter. You can also see a bio and background check information, reviews, how quickly these sitters generally respond, their average rates and sometimes a video. From there you can message the sitter and then interview her via phone if you choose before booking.
First impressions
We booked a last-minute sitter, and she was very professional on the phone. She came to our house promptly at 8:30am and asked not only a ton of questions about my child but also what else she could do to help around the house. If she didn't later move away for graduate school, I would definitely have booked her again.
Report from my kid "I had fun!" (And Mama was happy her kitchen was cleaned up.)

The serviceK Grace
Cost
There's a $250 initial fee (disclaimer: it was waived for me for this story), placement fees that range from $28 for one placement down to $10 a placement if you get seven or more per month, plus the cost of the sitter (a minimum of $12/hour for one child; $1/hour extra for each additional child).
The selection process
After you fill out an online client form about what you are looking for, you submit payment forms via fax or e-mail—submitting these online would be much more convenient. After you're set up, you're given access to an account manager and an online calendar to book. You do not see your choice of sitters; you're sent a confirmation with a short bio once the agency does a placement. The agency takes care of all of the background checks and screens.
First impressions The very personable sitter showed up ten minutes early, despite traveling via public transportation in the rain. She took to my child right away. I'd definitely use her again.
Report from my kid "Mommy, can you go back to work?" (Translation: "I really liked her and want to keep hanging out with her.")

The serviceSitters Studio
Cost
$20 booking fee, $18 per hour (four-hour minimum)
The selection process
This babysitting service is all about the arts: All of its "artsitters" are trained in the arts, whether it is painting, theater, dancing or singing. You fill out some online forms about what your kid would prefer (as well as the normal behavior/preference-type questions) and they send a bio of your sitter, including what type of art she focuses on. All of the sitters are prescreened and the company does background checks.
First impressions
Our sitter was a professional dancer and was eager to talk about her experiences. She was also very prepared—all Sitters Studio sitters bring a bag of art fun based on your child's preferences. At the end of the day, I got a full written report of how my child did, which was a nice bonus.
Report from my kid
Two weeks later, he hasn't stopped hopping around ribbiting like a frog, one of the nature "dances" she taught him.
Bonus The team followed up with a personalized thank you card as well as a note to see how the sitter was.

The serviceSittercity
Cost
$35 per month membership fee (purchasing a package reduces the price), plus whatever the sitter charges hourly, usually $12–$16.
The selection process
This site is sort of like online dating. You can weed through a bunch of profiles, set up your own profile and get notified about sitters who may be a good match. You can sort by education level, experience, background checks and more. It was a little overwhelming, and many of the sitters I reached out to for an interview didn't get back to me. The service also bombarded me with e-mails with sitter matches that didn't match my preferences.
First impressions
The sitter I booked was great on the phone, but on her way to our house, she she called to cancel because our place was "too far away." (She was already 15 minutes late at that point.) I know people who have found sitters they like on the site, but based on my experience, I wouldn't use the service again.
Report from my kid
"Mommy, where is [insert sitter's name]?"

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