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Never had an au pair before - any hints/tips/I wish I'd done thats?

(34 Posts)
MLWfirsttimemum Tue 23-Nov-10 22:09:01

Pretty much as it says in the headline - we are actively looking for an au pair and I'd love to learn from other people's good and bad experiences.

scurryfunge Tue 23-Nov-10 22:16:29

You can keep them happy by giving them the use of a car, paying for gym membership and language courses if necessary.

If you have a boy to look after then a male au pair is great in that they are more willing to play boystuff with them.

I have had four au pairs over a seven year period and they all found an au pair community in our town to support each other. Lap tops and phone deals allow them to keep in contact and feel less homesick and be prepared for them to want a longish break at Christmas.

MimsyRogers Tue 23-Nov-10 22:19:50

Make all your expectations very clear right from the off.
no showering at midnight
if you finish the milk, get some more in
no boyfriends sleeping over
babysitting every other saturday
just a few examples - decide what's important to you. Including what she's responsible for and what she isn't.
If you get it all clear right at the start, then it's much easier and avoids confrontation later on when she's settled down into habits you don't like. Write or type all your instructions down for her.

Oh and plan to start buying long-life juice and hiding the nice freshly squeezed stuff.

BerylStreep Tue 23-Nov-10 22:33:16

Sorry, slight hi-jack. For those who have had au pairs, what sort of accommodation did you have? Was it a bedroom in the house, granny flat, attic conversion?

blueshoes Tue 23-Nov-10 22:34:10

If you live in London, Brighton or a big city, you will be able to attract aupairs much easier than if you live in the sticks.

I personally would not go for someone with very poor English. I know a lot of aupairs are here to learn English, but if you are a WOHM, don't waste time with someone with no language skills. Aupairs from Germany and Scandinavia generally have better English. You can tell from their emails. Definitely speak to them at least once on the phone/skype.

I don't bother with aupairs outside the EU. Visa issues overcomplicate things.

Ask for references and call them up. Best is previous aupair employer, otherwise a family for whom they have babysat. Anyone related to them or family friend is not counted.

blueshoes Tue 23-Nov-10 22:36:46

Beryl, most aupairs just have a room in the house, though I am sure they won't complain about a granny flat or even an ensuite bathroom.

If a prospective aupair asks too many questions about their living arrangements, I find that a bit offputting since it could indicate a fussy personality.

HarrietTheSpook Wed 24-Nov-10 10:26:16

Leave yourself plenty of time to recruit. Be up front about what you are looking for and make sure it matches what the AP wants - you need to be honest about what the job entails and your ability to do things like sightsee etc with her. Accurate about area you live in etc. If one person doesnt' like the sound of what you're offering, someone else likely will. Easiest in my experience to recruit for the school year, i.e. August to July. Agree about the English language expertise, unless the AP has a language you want your DCs to speak. But sometimes they aren't very enthusiastic about this. Our friends had a French AP and their child spoke less French at the end of the year than she did at the start. Have a contract and house rules and let them review this before they commit to coming to you. The other thing we did this year is have a party at the start of the year with other AP families so they could get to know each other. It's handy to know these families as you have a built in network for the next AP, at least for the first few weeks. Find out where the language schools are and how to get there...any other info on the local area is also great.

Remember however bright they are (and the German girls we have had are very bright indeed) they do need lots of guidance and time spent training them up.

DadInsteadofMum Wed 24-Nov-10 10:44:48

It takes time.

Time to recruit (as above).

Time in the first week/fortnight to settle them into the family routine. I take time every evening until they are settled to review the day, what went well, what needs to be improved and also to go throught the next days routine.

Slight hi-jack, trying to recruit at the moment and the quality of available au pairs seems down on previous years. Anybody else having the same problem?

duchesse Wed 24-Nov-10 11:00:58

Make sure you find a girl who will like being in your house. ie- if you are a musical family or like football or needlework or go yomping every weekend, it will be a lot easier if you find a girl who also is, or at least appreciates these things or wants to do them.

Always remember that she is here on an exchange- she is not a domestic slave, but is here primarily to learn and improve her English. Helping you is her pay of paying her way. The pocket money is to make her experience of being abroad more enjoyable and enable her to feel independent. It is not really pay. The "pay" is the experience of living in a foreign family for a year or so and learning a new language.

Find out in advance from her what she likes doing in her free time, and what classes there are around that she may be interested in.

Locate your nearest and most appropriate ESOL classes and insist that she goes. I pay for my au pairs' English classes as I very strongly feel that ensuring that they learn English is very much part of my half of the exchange. You will probably, depending on her level of English and boldness, need to do all the initial step of registering her. Show her how to get there and take her there at least the first time and possibly a few more times.

Set aside at least a week or ten days to settle her in and mentor her when she arrives, and make sure she knows how you like things done. If you don't actively explain things, it will take a lot longer for her to learn them. Don't get cross with her if she does something that annoys you that you haven't explained to her. Make sure she fully understands what you want her to do!

Don't make unreasonable demands on her. She is not a domestic slave, but an enthusiastic and helpful visitor. Always remember that you are as much an ambassador for your country to her as she is for hers to you.

Make sure she is warm and comfortable especially at the beginning when she is possibly very homesick. I bought my latest au pair a warm dressing gown and slippers (just from Primarni, not expensive) and she wears them a lot and was very grateful for them as they don't really have them in Spain.

I have only ever had lovely au pairs, but I must say that the first couple of weeks are always trying. Even if you speak a little of the au pair's language, she will feel disoriented, possibly homesick and will need a lot of kindness at first and will probably be a lot more subdued than her true personality. Once she starts to get her bearings and understand more of what is going on, her true personality will start to appear. Good luck in your search!

MLWfirsttimemum Wed 24-Nov-10 11:16:20

Thanks for input so far - extremely useful! A few of you have mentioned contracts and house rules. What are your key rules (I am not sure I'd have thought of 'no showers at midnight' myself until possibly too late)?

TheConstantGardener Wed 24-Nov-10 11:33:47

In the same boat here, thinking of using an Au pair after xmas and looking for pros and cons. I am in Enfield so if anyone in the area has used an au pair etc or is interested in an au pair network then please let me know. I'm open to all suggestions.


frakkinup Wed 24-Nov-10 13:54:10

Contract covers basic employment legislation (and I'd disagree on the pocket money/pay point - it is pay, if you go over the tax threshold you need to deduct tax and NI and if they do extra hours they get paid).

Things like:
How much they're paid, when and how
5.6 weeks paid holiday, including Bank Hols.
A probationary and notice period
Defined hours and duties
A disciplinary procedure and grounds for instant dismissal e.g. child abuse/drinking on the job
Sick pay

More advice here

House rules cover things which are particular to your house - friends, use of phone, showers at midnight etc. Try to imagine your DCs as teens and what you expect, then imagine what you'd expect from someone doing a job (no drinking heavily when you have to be up and chirpy at 7). The clearer your expectations are of behaviour the better you can articulate them. In general think of what you'd expect of your own teens as a minimum and a live in nanny as a maximum.

I'd also them suggest a handbook with information about the daily jobs, routines, children's likes/dislikes/schedules/needs, info on the local area, useful numbers, 'how-to' guides for household appliances, a couple if easy recipes....anything you're going to tell them, write it down and put it in a binder so they can refer back. Even au pairs with fab English will find it easier to have something written and au pairs who don't can look things up in their dictionary later. Plus there's a lot of info to pass on and you don't want anything getting lost.

Recruitment wise write your job and person spec first. Be ruthless for a while and if you're not getting candidates revisit your specs. Don't fall into the trap of trying to accommodate almost-there candidates if you don't have to as you're just creating work fir yourself.

Good luck! When it works it works really well but the key is matching up expectations... Don't try to be something you're not and don't pretend the job is something it isn't.

kitkat1967 Wed 24-Nov-10 19:19:27

frakkinup (or anyone else) - can you recommend a good contract template.

Have learnt he hard way with nannies how important it is to have a really clear contract.


MLWfirsttimemum Wed 24-Nov-10 22:31:45

Frakkinup - thanks very much for the information, very useful. A really, really stupid question; what is the tax threshold that I need to keep below? I feel stupid just writing that question, so apologies in advance!

DadInsteadofMum Thu 25-Nov-10 10:21:23

Tax threshold is £97 pw, at this point you have to register with HMRC as an employer with an employee and make returns though you don't have to make deductions and pay money over until £110 pw.

And everybody please note that for 2011 contract it will be 29 days paid holiday (5.8 weeks) due to the extra royal wedding bank holiday. Hopefully normal service will be resumed during 2012, unless they throw in Olympic Bank Holidays!

Treeesa Thu 25-Nov-10 11:37:06

DIOM - There are many families who work in public services who sometimes require an au pair to cover public holidays because the family work themselves.

The point you raised about an extra day holiday may not necessarily apply in all situations. It depends what agreements have been agreed and are in place. It would usually be appropriate of course to add an extra day to someone's holiday to take later on in the year but for many people (not talking au pairs here) they simply won't get it and there is not a lot you can do if their contract doesn't stipulate it.

DadInsteadofMum Thu 25-Nov-10 12:10:58

For those on short term contracts my understanding of current legislation is that the minimum is 20 days pro-rated (and rounded up)plus a day for each bank holiday that would fall during the contract period.

Treeesa Thu 25-Nov-10 12:17:11

5.6 weeks meet the working time directive. This isn't going to be changed to show 5.8 weeks and people who have contracts with their employers saying 5.6 weeks inclusive of bank holidays will be hoping for some generosity from their boss but.. In these times, the cost of providing an extra day's holiday is phenomenal - in many cases the same level of staffing is needed and bringing in extra agency staff to cover will cost an arm and a leg.

DadInsteadofMum Thu 25-Nov-10 12:43:07

I apologise, Treeesa is correct on this one - will remain at 28 days despite extra bank holidays in 2011 and 2012 (for Queen's diamond jubilee).

Treeesa Thu 25-Nov-10 13:09:42

No need to apologise DIOM - you are right in that many/most? people whose contracts state 20 days plus bank holidays will get 29 days next year.

frakkinup Thu 25-Nov-10 13:31:11

As far as I know there isn't an au pair contract, kitkat but if you look on here the first contract (ANA/Voice) although designed for nannies give you a good idea. As you already seem to have had nannies I suggest you take roughly the same approach. It's better to over-specify and relax than not write enough and as far as employment tribunals are concerned au pairs and nannies are practically the same, unless you have multiple members of staff where the worker/employee distinction may be important but most people aren't in that happy position!

Make you sure state the contract is £x/week BEFORE deducations. Even if you are under the threshold you still want that to be the case because if they find a second job and you need to start recording things it makes things easier.

In the note it talks about 20 days plus bank holidays, as has been discussed above that's effectively 28 days but next year will be 29 because of the Royal Wedding.

Other than that it seems to cover all the basics and it's fairly clear where you can add your own bits in.

The second contract just ignore!

kitkat1967 Thu 25-Nov-10 13:48:38

thanks frakkinup - that looks comprehensive!!

Treeesa Thu 25-Nov-10 14:12:51

It is important to remember that an au pair is not an employee though. Having a contract such as this nanny example where things like what meals are to be provided give rises to the whole spirit of the thing being done contractually (which is not necessary) and not under the true spirit of providing a cultural exchange for someone. Of course it is good practice to write down all important key points of any arrangement but if you over-specify you are treating it very differently.

frakkinup Thu 25-Nov-10 15:02:41

Well the distinction between worker and employee is very to all intents and purposes the contract should treat them as an employee.

Plus a contractual obligation fir you to provide all meals protects the au pair in the long run and prevents the nasty kind of family who don't feed their AP at weekends.

Of course when someone us living in all their meals should be provided, snacks in accordance with the rules if the family about eating outside mealtimes (otherwise I think it sets a bad example to children) etc but that contract as I said was designed for nannies, who can be live out and where meals are specified. But equally some families have it written down that the au paid eats with the children in the evening as a matter of course where family meals aren't practical, otherwise they wouldn't eat! Or it could be a microwaved dinner in front of the TV at 9pm when AP has cooked something earlier for the DCs that she could have had. It does depends from situation to situation how business or not the arrangement is, and that needs to be made very clear from the start of the recruitment process. Like I said - there's no point pretending to be something you aren't. If your family doesn't habitually eat together on weeknights don't give the au pair expectations of family meals, if you spend your weekends taking your DS to football competitions and your DH works weekends instead of long countryside walks and visits the stately homes then that needs to be made clear too.

DadInsteadofMum Thu 25-Nov-10 15:44:42

For all intents and purposes an au pair is an employee and as such legally entitled to a contract (or principal statement) that contains certain terms.

See hear for the minimum it should contain.

The concept of the "cultural exchange" is rather outdated and has no legal basis.

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