NIBRS, which compiled the data that are the basis of this analysis, was created to eventually supplant the existing Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program as the national statistical database of crimes reported to the police. NIBRS can collect considerably more detailed information about crime incidents than UCR, including the range of offenses committed, victim characteristics (including age), offender characteristics, and incident circumstances. While NIBRS is not yet national in scope and only encompasses jurisdictions in 17 States (see sidebar for further discussion of NIBRS), the combined reports for 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998 yielded 1,427 babysitter victimizations for analysis. Given the general absence of data on this group of offenders, this large number of cases merits investigationeven though the cases are not nationally representative and the findings drawn from them are preliminary.
"Babysitter" is a term with some ambiguity. Children are cared for by a variety of people, including close and extended family, friends, family daycare operators, professional daycare centers, and schools; some of these providers may be paid while others are not. The term "babysitter" may be loosely applied to any of these providers, with the exception of schools and, possibly, daycare centers. Fortunately, the NIBRS system uses the more common meaning of the term, following the usage typical of many State child protective agencies (Margolin, 1990; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). NIBRS considers babysitters to be those persons who temporarily care for children for pay, usually in the child's or babysitter's home. This usage excludes preschool and commercial daycare center staff members but includes both licensed and unlicenced home-based daycare providers. NIBRS protocols, like those of many State child protective services, also exclude family offenders from the babysitter category. Offenders who commit crimes against family members are identified in NIBRS by their family relationship to the victim, and not as babysitters, because NIBRS only categorizes offenders in a single relationship category. As a result, babysitters identified by NIBRS reporting agencies are not members of the victim's family. Thus, the majority of babysitter offenders identified in NIBRS are paid nonfamily juveniles or adults caring for children in a home setting. However, NIBRS relies on local law enforcement agencies to collect data, and specification practices may vary somewhat from agency to agency.
An accurate number of children in the United States cared for by babysitters (as defined in NIBRS) is difficult to estimate. The National Child Care Survey (NCCS) estimated that, in 1990, 14 percent of the 18.5 million children under age 5 had a nonrelative inhome provider or family daycare as their primary childcare arrangement (Hofferth et al., 1991). However, NCCS and other childcare surveys tally only children's "primary arrangements." Large numbers of children whose primary arrangements involve care by their own mother, another relative, or a daycare center are also occasionally cared for by babysitters. Therefore, it seems likely that a majority of all young children are exposed to paid babysitters at some time.