With the recent economic crunch and increasing childcare costs, most parents are looking at finding the most cost effective option they can when it comes to looking after their little ones whilst they are at work.
One option many parents have started to consider is using an au pair. In fact, many au pair agencies are reporting increased levels of both au pairs looking for work and families looking to host them.
What is an au pair?
An au pair works for, and lives as part of, a host family. They will help with the family’s childcare as well as some of the light housework. In return they receive a small monetary allowance for personal use and their own room. In general au pairs are only supposed to work part-time and they are usually in the host country to study and improve their language skills. They are intended to be a temporary member of the family, not a traditional domestic worker and would usually eat with the family and join them on outings and trips. The usual age for an au pair is between 17 and 27, however BAPAA (British Au Pair Agencies Association) recommends that au pairs placed in the UK are aged 18 years and over and an au pair without visa requirements can be older. They usually stay with a family for between six months and two years.
The most important thing in the au pair programme is that the host family agrees to host an au pair with the understanding that this is a cultural exchange programme based around childcare.
What will your au pair do?
Your au pair will usually work 25 hours per week and do two evenings of babysitting. How the hours are spread out is up to you as the host family but the norm would be five hours a day plus two full days off. Standard tasks would include doing the school and extra-curricular activity runs, cooking, light cleaning, ironing and babysitting.
Please be aware that an au pair is not allowed to have sole charge of a child under the age of two.
What will your au pair cost?
If your au pair works 25 hours per week, government guidelines stipulate that you should pay them a minimum of £70 per week. Ideally you should pay them weekly. If you mutually agree to them working more hours you should increase their pay accordingly. Please note that au pairs from outside the EU are restricted to 25 hours per week. You should also factor in the costs of providing food and accommodation. Although it is not required some families also offer assistance with study fees. Like any hiring process the more attractive you make the offer the better the pool of candidates you will get so if you live in a rural area or your family circumstances mean the work will be a little harder than others it is worth considering how you can mitigate that to find someone suitable.
How do you find an au pair?
The au pair option works really well for many families but we have all heard horror stories of when it goes wrong. To try and avoid these situations I cannot recommend strongly enough that you use a decent agency who are registered with The British Au Pairs Agency Association (www.bapaa.org.uk).
When looking for an agency you should question them regarding opening hours, after placement support and regional experience. You should also consider how easy they are to talk to and if they have fully understood your family circumstances and requirements. You should make sure you fully understand their pricing structure and their policy on what to do if a placement doesn’t work out.
As with any form of childcare you need to ensure that your au pair is safe to be around your children. As well as the usual checks, which your agency can advise you on, you also need to be comfortable that your au pair will get on with your children but still be able to maintain discipline.
If you make the effort to get the right person the relationship can be very rewarding for all concerned. Your au pair will have a positive experience and improve their language skills, your children will be exposed to and learn from someone from a different culture and your life will be a little bit easier than if you were doing it alone.