How-to Guide: Adding a care circle to your childcare plan (Part 1)

Care circles come in many shapes and sizes, but what they all have in common is bringing families together for mutual support with childcare through a bartering system that allows families to save money while having a trusted connection care for their kids. In part 1, we will go over the different types of care circles that we typically see people using. In part 2, we will go into the details of how to successfully organize a care circle in your community.

All about Care Circles

As part of our collaboration with Mirza, we are publishing a two part series on Care Circles.

There are so many choices in determining which type of childcare to use once you have kids. It is easy to be overwhelmed with all the options along with the additional burden of the high costs associated with childcare. From nannies to au pairs to in-home daycares and child care centers as well as bartering with friends and neighbors. With so many available options combined with varying needs and budgets for each family, it can be hard to make a decision. What’s right for you?

Carefully is working to make the world better through mutualism, community, and care. Our top priority is supporting families who are looking to organize Care Circles (also referred to as Babysitting Coops, Swaps, or Friends, Family, Neighbor Network  FFN) as a way to barter or exchange services with people in your circle. This care is typically provided in the person’s home or at a nearby location in your local community like a park. Some families are able to budget for formal childcare, such as a daycare or nanny during the work day, but it’s difficult  to budget additional money to hire a sitter for additional hours. Having time for self-care and grown up activities is also essential for our emotional well being and helps us to be better parents. Additionally, many families simply have a hard time finding someone or somewhere they trust during the hours they need at a cost they can afford. Whatever your situation, a care circle can be a great way to expand your childcare options.


By setting up a neighborhood care circle or FFN network, parents can save money while also creating a stronger sense of community. By swapping care for date nights or short errands or even just time alone, parents can watch each other’s kids at different times without spending additional money from their childcare budget. Parents can also create stronger friendships with neighbors while kids get to know each other better. Since you already know these individuals, you have more trust in leaving your kids in their care. This type of care is also great for odd hours or occasional babysitting. 

Types of Care Circles

  • Friends, Families, and Neighbor (FFN) networks provide a critical type of care for families that many prefer to formal daycare services. Care is provided in the child or caregiver’s home by a person who is a relative, friend or neighbor, or a babysitter or nanny. These programs typically are legally exempt from regulations and may not be required to meet health, safety, and training standards unless they care for children who receive government child care subsidies or vouchers. FFN based care relies strongly on existing relationships & shared values of people who know each other, and the caregivers who are accepting children into their homes on a regular basis are providing an invaluable service to their network. Source
  • Playgroups or Playdates are possibly one of the most popular options because of the flexibility in cost. If you work mornings and your friend works afternoons, offer to watch her child/children in the afternoon if she watches your child in the morning. You can also talk to other parents at your child’s school and take turns watching the children after school. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to watch others’ children, perhaps you can offer a different service, such as music lessons or meal preparation in exchange for child care.” Source
  • Care Circles work great for flexible needs (including Date Night swaps) - A more informal version of a babysitting co-op that might just be between 2 or 3 people, so keeping track of hours or points isn’t necessary. Just a pick a regular activity or day for the swap and get started. Source
  • Cooperative Care (Babysitting Co-op) - Babysitting cooperatives allow parents to equitably exchange baby-sitting services so they can enjoy a night out or travel on business trips. These cooperatives are less formal and involve relatively short-term arrangements. When parents take care of a child(ren) from a member family they earn points or hours that can be “spent” when they need baby-sitting services. Carefully supports babysitting co-ops by helping to keep track of karma care hours for each member. Source
  • Employer-Assisted Cooperative Childcare - This cooperative model can be a useful model for on or near worksite childcare. In the employee model, parents at the worksite are the members and elect the board of directors. The center operates almost identical to the parent childcare cooperative described earlier. The employer may assist the cooperative by helping with start-up expenses, contributing financially or by providing in-kind assistance like utilities, use of buildings and outdoor space, duplicating, secretarial, and/or other goods or services. Source

How it works

The size of a care circle can vary from 2 to 3 families to even more depending on the number of kids and parents in the local area. We have seen a lot of benefits when 5 families come together to organize an after school playgroup, so each family has one day where they are watching the kids and the rest of the week is covered by other families. This set-up allows coverage of the after school care gap when parents still need to work, but the kids are out of school and want to play.

Be sure to check out part 2 of our series.