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Would you join a parents’ group to mind each other’s children for free?

A group of parents with young children have come together to set up Care Shared, an informal childcare exchange network

Fans of the UK sitcom Motherland will quickly identify with the lead character Julia’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) endless efforts to foist her children on unsuspecting parents at the school gate so that she can get some work done. And while many parents willingly take home their children’s school pals for a few hours play-date, it’s much more difficult to organise informal swaps between parents of toddlers and preschool children.

Now, a small group of mothers have come together to launch a network in which like-minded parents living in the same area can hook up to mind each other’s children for a specified time for free to give the other parent time to catch up on work or hobbies or simply to have a break or some childfree time with their partner.

The idea for Care Shared – who will have their first meeting on Saturday, October 21st from 10.30am-12.30pm in Cork City Library – sprang from Emma Dwyer and Andy Forrestal’s experience of living in Cork with two young children without extended family support.

“My parents are in Dublin and my partner’s family is in Tipperary. I naively thought we would manage as two parents, but I was very lonely – yet I had no time to myself,” explains Dwyer. So, she set up a Facebook group called Childcare Swop Cork and about 200 people joined very quickly. Now, there are about 500 people in it. Through the group, Dwyer made some connections with families locally and once they became friends, they started swapping times minding each other’s children.


“It’s about finding the same type of people with the same values as you. You start with one or two play-dates and then if you like each other, trust each other and your children get on, you can swap times that suit you,” she explains. Saving money on babysitters is another key attraction of the scheme.

While Dwyer says she attended mother-and-baby and mother-and-toddler groups, these gatherings didn’t feel like the right spaces to start asking other parents to set up child-minding swaps. “It would be a big ask and you’d need to have a confidence to say do you want to take care of my children and I’ll take care of yours. A lot of these initial connections with parents are happening online now,” she says.

Meanwhile in Lahinch, Co Clare, Sue Redmond started connecting with like-minded families in her area. “We have five-year-old twins and I work part-time as a consultant. I have Care Shared with two other families. It’s great to have extra time each week to focus on work or, if the surf is up, to jump in the ocean without any mum guilt,” explains Redmond, who is from Wexford and her husband is from Galway.

Recalling her own childhood as one of seven children, she says that neighbours were often in their house. “We live much more in nuclear families now and those natural connections are moving online so we wanted to offer families a point of contact so they can reach out to other families. This has the potential to foster better social and emotional connections for everyone,” says Redmond.

She also believes it’s easier to manage her own children when there are other children with them. “They create energy, have craic and entertain each other when there are a few more of them. It takes the burden and loneliness out of parenting and this kind of social support allows you nourish your own wellbeing,” says Redmond. Ideally, families exchange childcare with families whose children are close in age.

Both Redmond and Dwyer say there is a childcare crisis with low availability of creches and childminders for parents to turn to. And they see this new platform as a way to access much-needed support to help them raise their children without extra cost of getting babysitters at different times of the day or evening.

The Care Shared group has set up a website ( without any funding and plan to run it on a voluntary basis. The idea is that parents share information about what they are looking for and match up with other families nearby. “It’s a bit like Tinder for parents who want to exchange childcare,” says Dwyer.

The website includes a family charter. It states that “families must conduct their own background checks and satisfy themselves that they are happy with the match”. The founders of Care Shared want members to sign their family charter to commit to good practices in caring for each other’s children, including providing a safe space, adequate supervision, no shouting, hitting, etc. “If parents have any reservations, they should trust their instincts and back out of a swap,” says Dwyer.