Au pairs can sometimes prove a wonderful choice in child care, giving your children an insight into another culture as well as good care. However you will need to put some careful thought into choosing an au pair.
What Is An Au Pair?
In Australia, there is no official definition of what an au pair is as there is no special government program for au pairs. Au pair is a French phrase for “as an equal” – the idea is that an au pair becomes a temporary member of the family.
The non-profit industry group, the Australian Association of Nanny Agencies (AANA), defines an au pair as “a foreign national who receives a nominal salary and accommodation with the host family. They assist with childcare and household tasks for between 15-30 hours a week and may have prior childcare experience.”
As the term au pair and nanny are often used interchangeably, it is worth pointing out that, in fact, au pairs provide very different childcare support from nannies .
Au pairs operate in different ways in different countries. For example, in the US they are young travellers who enter that country under a specific, government-endorsed program which regulates their working conditions and the experience required to take on a job.
For parents, au pairs provide some flexible assistance with childcare and household duties, combined with an informal cultural and language exchange experience for the whole family.
Where Do I Find An Au Pair?
In Australia, parents who employ au pairs can either find one themselves by, for example, posting an advertisement at one of the language schools, or you can use a recruitment agency.
If you are using a recruitment agency, refer to our tips on choosing a Nanny agency (many agencies cater for both au pairs and nannies. It is also a good idea to look for an agency that is affiliated with the International Au Pair Association (IAPA). IAPA members have a code of conduct and guidelines to cover issues such as the screening and briefing of au pairs, and the matching of them with host families.
What Type Of People Take On Au Pair Positions?
In Australia, au pairs are usually young travellers who are here on a student or working holiday visa who take on the job because it gives them the opportunity to spend time in an Australian home environment, improve their English language skills and earn a bit of pocket money.
It is important to understand that these two types of visas place restrictions on the amount of work these travellers can undertake, and also include other terms and conditions.
For example, working holiday visas are usually given to non-residents between 18-25 years of age. They enable them to stay and work here for between three and 12 months and to work for one employer for a maximum of three months. Non-residents on a student visa can work a maximum of 30 hours a week.
Look up the relevant fact sheets on the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs site , for up-to-date information on these visa programs.
This is an important consideration if you are considering an au pair as your choice of childcare – how will your children respond to a change in childcare personalities every three months? Will this be unsettling for them?
How Much Does An Au Pair Cost?
There are no official rates of pay for au pairs. Recruitment agencies generally set the rate of pay at approx $120-150 a week, depending on the number of hours of work, plus full board and lodgings. It is up to you to negotiate what you consider to be fair remuneration for your au pair.
Choosing an Au Pair
When you are choosing an au pair, it is recommended that you adopt a similar approach to the one you would use if you were selecting other types of at-home, informal childcare eg nannies or babysitters .
Au pairs are entrusted with the well-being and safety of your children, so it is up to you as a parent to ensure they are capable of performing the tasks involved. It is also up to you as an employer to ensure that you treat them in a fair and professional manner and that they are abiding by the local immigration laws.
You can decide on the level of childcare experience and training you would like your au pair to have. For example, you can look for people who have experience in looking after younger siblings or babysitting and have first aid and life-saving skills. Or you may decide you want a teaching, nursing or childcare background.
Work Out Any Other Special Requirements You May Have
- Are you willing to accept a male au pair?
- Are you willing to accept an au pair who smokes?
- What about one who has special dietary requirements eg vegetarian (remember, you usually provide meals for them)?
- Do you need an au pair who drives?
- Will your au pair be required to look after pets?
- What about special interests or skills (eg swimming or horse riding)?
- You will need to consider the level of English you would like your au pair to have. Depending on their age and personalities, your children may not be able to communicate with a person who has a limited vocabulary and may find it frustrating.
- Also well worth considering at interview stage is how well you think you and your children will get on with the au pair. What is her personality like? Is she outgoing? Do you have anything in common? Remember that you will be living together for up to three months – make sure you pick someone that won’t drive you mad!
Tips for Working With Your Au Pair
- Au pairs tend to have carefully worked out travel plans as well as visa limitations, so be clear about what the start date is and how long they will stay.
- Familiarise your prospective au pair with information on public transport available from your house to the nearest town or city centre and, if relevant, to the nearest language school.
- It’s a good idea to negotiate at the outset working hours, including weekend work, and what specific tasks you are expecting the au pair to take on in terms of both childcare and household help.
- An easy way to do this is to come up with a typical daily schedule for your au pair.
- Also ask the au pair at the start if she is interested in taking on extra babysitting for extra money.
- Spell out your house rules in no uncertain terms – is it OK with you if your au pair stays out all night? Can she (or he) have friends over? What are the meal time arrangements?
- Don’t forget to speak to your au pair about what the house rules are for your children and in particular, explain your approach to discipline . What is acceptable often differs according to how you yourself were brought up, and your cultural background.