By Jay Murphy
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Quebec government announced school closures for all levels of education. This was, and continues to be, crucial to the reduction of transmission of the virus, but quickly became problematic for many. Parents could no longer rely on daycares or schools to take care of their kids while they are at work. Tristan Hamer, a first-year Pure and Applied student, anticipated the issue before it came into effect and acted immediately.
Hamer responded by constructing a babysitting service for parents in need. First, he contacted some of his closest friends and told them about his idea, and they were on board. Each member took on a role and the project quickly began materializing. One member created a Facebook page to advertise while another made a Gmail account so potential clients could contact them. They also discussed logistics and agreed that their service would prioritize the needs of essential workers such as health care professionals, grocers, and so on. After many hours of deliberation and organization, Hamer and the newly founded group, consisting of eight people, had brought to existence MTL Babysitting.
As daycares in Quebec were no longer able to comply with the government’s new safety and health measures, hundreds of thousands of children were sent home for an indefinite amount of time. MTL Babysitting’s goal was to provide childcare services in complete compliance with the government’s recommendations. Although their Facebook page received lots of supportive comments, it also received its fair share of skepticism and disapproval. Sarah Kroitor, a student in Explorations Science, acted as one of the group’s administrators. In response to those messages she said, “[W]e took all those comments to heart, and [would] talk about it, and ask ourselves, ‘Are we still being responsible? Are we still doing the right thing? Are we being safe?’” In the weeks that followed, these comments served as prompts to ensure their service was still legal and in everyone’s best interest. The government of Quebec’s website served as a reliable reference point to check for daily updates.
One of the biggest misconceptions about MTL Babysitting was that it was a daycare providing a communal playroom for children. It is stated in their mandate that they carefully dispatched babysitters to the various houses.
One of the biggest misconceptions about MTL Babysitting was that it was a daycare providing a communal playroom for children. It is stated in their mandate that they carefully dispatched babysitters to the various houses. Volunteer babysitters were deliberately matched based on their location and that of their client. Emma Dowson, Social Studies student and volunteer, explains that this was not only convenient, but a precautionary measure to reduce risk. All volunteers were encouraged to walk to their destination and to avoid the use of public transit.
Commenters on Facebook also voiced their concern and shear disapproval by saying that schools were closed for a reason, and that this type of gathering was unnecessary. Elysia Katcho, Special Care Counselling student and volunteer, accepted that risk is always present with interactions but reassured people that they were responsibly minimizing potential risk as much as possible. Babysitters were asked to wash their hands regularly, practice social distancing, and to stop volunteering upon any suspicion of illness.
After a month and a half, Hamer decidedly brought pairing babysitters with families to a halt. He explains that their service was in its highest demand in the first two weeks following school closures, as the problem emerged overnight. Since then, there have been a number of government services established. MTL Babysitting was primarily helpful in bridging that gap, Hamer says, “we’re at the point where our job is done.”
Throughout the six weeks that MTL Babysitting was operating, they had a base of 24 friends and gained 26 volunteers, resulting in a total of 50 babysitters. They provided their services to dozens of families and children absolutely free of charge. Despite all the challenges, Hamer was content with the work he and his group accomplished. He was especially moved by the number of people MTL Babysitting brought together for a single cause and said, “in times like this people really show their true colours, and they were good colours.”