What's the best way to find a reliable babysitter online? "Meet beforehand" was the answer given by many parents using such online services and babysitters during interviews conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
If the parents and babysitters cannot meet first, one mother said, "I'll ask a babysitter to send me photos of his or her face and some form of identification, such as a driver's license, by e-mail."
In many cases, if parents take a liking to someone they initially find online, they will contact them directly and end up making them their regular sitter. Some babysitters exercise great caution, walking parents through their own procedures before they provide their services.
A 40-year-old female babysitter in Yokohama, for example, interviews her potential clients first. Being a mother of two herself, she said, "It's reasonable for both the parents and babysitters to be anxious if they don't meet beforehand." She even signs a contract with parents before commencing work, which includes a clause that stipulates damage compensation for any accidents or mishaps.
Meanwhile, an online service that matches parents with babysitters known as iSitter introduced a new system following the latest tragedy involving a suspicious babysitter.
Individuals wishing to be registered on the website as a babysitter must now name at least 10 "friends" on their Facebook account, though such social networking sites are unable to stop dangerous individuals from using fake names.
"If they have that many friends, we can expect the babysitter is highly likely to be the person they claim to be," said Teppei Yuri, 30, president of iSitter.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is currently conducting an investigation into such online babysitting intermediaries.
Welfare minister Norihisa Tamura said his ministry will study various countermeasures, including the introduction of a system to require babysitters to register with municipal governments.
Meanwhile, Hiroki Komazaki, president of Florence, a nonprofit organisation that provides care services for sick children, warned: "If websites that help parents find babysitters are regulated, people will end up conducting one-to-one negotiations on venues like Twitter and Facebook, making it even more difficult to determine the actual situation."