Campus & Community

All in the Harvard family

4 min read

New site connects students, parents for child-care needs

Do you need some last-minute child care or an after-school sitter? Do you want to get your teenager a regular babysitting gig? Now there’s an alternative to asking around the office for recommendations — or worse, turning to the vast, unfiltered offerings of the Web — thanks to a new Harvard-sponsored website designed to bring together parents and sitters from across the University community.

The Web Access to Care at Harvard Portal, or WATCH Portal, developed by the Office of Work/Life and the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity (FD&D), launched Oct. 17.

The site, which is only accessible to Harvard PIN holders, allows affiliated parents and potential babysitters to create profiles in the hopes of tapping into the wide pool of potential child-care providers at Harvard. Faculty and staff can even sign up their high school or college-age children to be babysitters, or offer child-care swaps with other employees.

“It’s by Harvard, for Harvard,” said Judith Singer, senior vice provost for FD&D and Harvard’s James Bryant Conant Professor of Education. “If you have a kid, you want to be on this site.”

Parents can post jobs, from ongoing child-care positions to last-minute requests for babysitters, and browse potential sitters. Students, including Harvard undergraduates and graduate students, can post résumés and receive email alerts for job opportunities that meet their criteria, including emergency emails if they choose to be available on short notice.

In the first week alone, more than 700 users signed up for the service, including faculty, staff, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students. The numbers belie a formidable demand for babysitters at Harvard: 76 percent of Harvard faculty have children, and 17 percent have a child under the age of 5, according to a 2007 survey by FD&D. Work/Life estimates that there are roughly 3,000 children of Harvard employees under age 13.

“We also knew there were hundreds of students who wanted to babysit,” said Sarah Bennett-Astesano, assistant director of the Office of Work/Life. Parents have been using the Harvard Student Employment Office to find sitters for years, she added. “We wanted to find a better way to connect them.”

The idea originated after a 2005 University task force report found that faculty could use more support in finding affordable, reliable child care. FD&D took up the task of expanding Harvard’s offerings, and teamed up with Work/Life to extend the WATCH Portal to the staff.

Both groups acknowledged that it’s hard to find affordable child-care options. (Harvard already subsidizes $15-an-hour emergency child care for employees through a Brookline-based provider service, Parents in a Pinch.)

“We’re in a different financial universe,” Bennett-Astesano said. “This is a good way, at no cost, to provide a service that creates efficiencies and community for employees.”

Charles Davis, a professor of organismic and evolutionary biology and the father of 6-year-old and 11-month-old boys, is one parent who appreciated a Harvard-only option. His children are in school and day care during the day, Davis said, but he and his wife like to have a regular sitter for the occasional dinner out, or when one of the children is sick.

“We do our own vetting and work with people to see if it’s a good fit,” he said. “But having [access to] the local community and parents in a similar boat is more comforting in terms of making that choice.”

The family recently lost their longtime regular babysitter, Davis said, and when he heard about the WATCH Portal he signed up right away. He has already heard from three students willing to babysit.

“I’m totally delighted that there is this resource for parents, especially for new parents and those coming from outside the area” to Harvard jobs, he said. “It automatically brings people together in positive ways.”