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Au Pairs - maybe something useful for someone thinking of employing their first Au Pair...

(64 Posts)
MrsWood Thu 07-Apr-05 16:26:53

When I came to the UK as an Au Pair with 2 of my best friends, I was "positioned" with a family with 3 kids - 6, 9 and 12 years old. My friends were in families with smaller children. One was looking after a 4 year old and one was looking after a 2 MONTH old. I spoke excellent English as I studied it for years before coming over. My friends spoke good enough Enlgish. Unfortunately, NEITHER of us had ANY experience in looking after children - neither of us even had a sibling! Upon instructions from Au Pair agency, we all lied on our application form and provided false childcare references. Agencies are trying to make money out of Au Pairs and families and will get the girls to say ANYTHING in order to get them as clients - they get around £300+ from each family and around £150+ from each girl they get on their books. We were quite sensible 17 year old girls and were NEVER horrible to any of the kids we looked after, we were actually having a very good time being Au Pairs, however, I must stress that many parents are not aware of the difference between Au Pairs and nannies. Au Pairs are meant to be mother's help (cleaning, cooking, babysitting the kids etc.) and are paid very little - £40-£45 per week - comparing to nannies with PROPER qualifications in childcare who get around £200-£300 per week (depending on your location within the UK) and are complete opposites to Au Pairs - i.e. shouldn't have to do anything around the house apart from looking after the kids' needs 24/7.
I guess the whole point of this thread is to help parents who are new to this and don't know what to ask and how to make a decision on the right person to look after their kids. After all, you have to be able to trust this person and more importantly, trust your little angels in their hands whilst you're at work or whatever.
My husband and I now have a 21 month old daughter ourselves and she is the most important thing to us and we certainly feel wiser for the experience I've had from "the other side".
As a parent and an ex Au Pair this is something I felt I needed to share with you folks

Any questions, please feel free to ask - I will help you in any way I possibly can.

Ameriscot2005 Fri 08-Apr-05 10:19:56

I trusted the references from my agency au pair, but looking back, they were pretty worthless in that the au pair definitely did not seem like the same person that was written about.

Since then, I've had 2 au pairs agency-free and without references, but I've been very happy with them (2nd one only been here a week so jury still out). I think if you screen the au pairs yourself, you can increase your chances of getting a good one. The main criteria for me are age (young) and future plans (university bound).

You also have to be willing to let your au pair go after just a few weeks if she is not a good match for your family.

MrsWood Fri 08-Apr-05 11:04:32

Thanks for your post. The thing is that many Au Pairs don't meet the family (and vice versa) until they get "transferred" and all fees are paid etc. I only spoke to the lady I was working for, on the phone once before coming over - I mean, how much could she actually tell!? That I could speak English basically. Once we met, we hit it off, but I worked around 50hrs per week for £40 and was exhausted. They were very messy and deffinitely made sure I had things to do. Kids used to give me 2 sacks of their washing EVERY day. Madness. However, they were all very kind, took me everywhere, accomodated my parents when they came to stay for my Birthday - paid to take us all out on my Birthday to London... They also let me go out most evenings and weekends, let my English boyfriend come over etc. They were fantastic to me and I felt I had to give it back by working harder for them - I varnished their wooden floors all around the house once! Later, when I left (6 months early as I just couldn't bear to work so much anymore - I was 17 going on 35, mother of 3 kids and house like a bombshell!) they said to one of my friends who was helping them when I left, that they were good to me because they wanted to get more out of me, and didn't want to have to pay extra.

Ameriscot2005 Fri 08-Apr-05 11:17:08

You were a slave, MrsWood!

I think au pairs these days, with internet access, are a lot more knowledgeable about what the job entails before they come.

eldestgirl Fri 08-Apr-05 11:25:03

I was an au pair in Paris for a year and I would NEVER employ one to look after my children solo. Maybe just as a help around the house if I had another baby and was REALLY desperate for help.

I sent a friend of my mother's in Paris a card to stick up on her church noticeboard. I got a letter back giving details of the family from the Mum, I sent a letter back accepting the position and that was that. I had sole charge of a 4 year old and a 6 year old every evening between 4 and 8, plus babysitting afterwards, then all day and evening on Saturday and Sundays off. All for 35 quid a week and a travelcard.

At 18 I had loads of experience with children (eldest of many sibs and countless younger cousins) but looking back, although I worked very hard and was pretty responsible on the whole, there are enough incidents that I can recall, usually involving alcohol and not enough sleep that make me really wince now. One that still has the ability to make me blush involved me accidentally sitting on the dishwasher door when drunk at 1am, having to get up at 6am with a terrible hangover to explain why it was broken and collapsing into the husband's arms in a dead faint. Agh.

I am still in touch with the family however, and we exchange friendly e-mails now and then. But my experience will forever put me off having one myself.

Pamina3 Fri 08-Apr-05 11:33:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsWood Fri 08-Apr-05 11:35:11

eldestgirl - exactly - underpaid, overworked and then some more. Mind you, I'm sure people had bad experiences with Au Pairs as well as Au Pairs having bad experiences in families - when it's not your own, it's difficult to adjust to new rules, new life in a foreign country etc. And must be difficult for them to have a stranger living with them in the house and somehow be responsible for their wellbeing. I think I would think twice before getting an Au Pair but would know how to "interrogate" them beforehand if I did decide on one... LOL

MrsWood Fri 08-Apr-05 11:40:59

Also, most parents think "better get Au Pair, it's cheaper than nanny" not realising that Au Pairs are usually kids/young people themselves and want to do (mostly) what their own parents don't aprove of - drinking till early hours, going out with whoever they want and when they want - live a little basically. And if they don't listen to their own parents - then they will certainly break new "parents'" rules! Some are responsible and I imagine, some just take a p... It's all a little bit of a lottery I guess.

Ameriscot2005 Fri 08-Apr-05 11:50:51

A lot of families who have au pairs are not trying to replace a nanny.

I have an au pair but I'm a SAHM. Her duties are to help out with housework (not to do all of it), to take some of my kids to school and back, and to play with them. She does 25 hours a week and occasional babysitting, and gets paid well above the Home Office recommended amount.

eldestgirl Fri 08-Apr-05 11:53:28

Absolutely Mrs Wood. I wanted to get out of my small village in the UK and live an exciting new life in Paris. Looking after children was just a means to an end. Now, motherhood is my full time job and I am very serious about it!

forevermore Fri 08-Apr-05 11:58:25

I havelistened to all of your comments; however at 5 months pregnant and due to go back to work after 6 months maternity leave, i look at the finances and could only afford an aupair to look after my 6 month old. Nurseries are too expensive...what the alternatives?

if none, how do you go about finding the best aupair...i guess an agency is not the way forward

Pamina3 Fri 08-Apr-05 12:01:42

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Pamina3 Fri 08-Apr-05 12:03:03

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsWood Fri 08-Apr-05 12:47:54

Ameriscot2005 - Wish I worked for you - you sound like a great employer


forevermore - Pamina3 is absolutely right - Au Pair shouldn't look after such a small baby on her own, they hardly have any experience and I'm sure although money is very tight, your baby will come first to you, therefore childminder definitelly springs to mind. Not to put fear in you but for the sake of conversation, lets just remember Louise Woodward! The girl was left with a small baby - parents can sometimes hardly cope with crying and demands let alone someone who's a kid themselves and has no sense of real responsibility. Whether she harmed that baby or not is for a completely another discussion (and don't really want to get into it) but it's not science fiction that it could have happened. Again, Au pairs should be for exactly what Ameriscot2005 described her one does.

uwila Fri 08-Apr-05 13:12:56

Forevermore,
I definitely sympathise. Our first "au pair" was last summer when DD was 14 months old. Her job description and duties were more that of nanny. But, she made less money that a qualified English nanny with a few years of experience would make. I chose her under the pretense that any 20 year old with some babysitting experience could look after a toddler. I'm certain I could have at her age. I am the youngest in my family, but did lots of babysitting as a teenager. Anyway, I was soooooo WRONG. She was genuinely hard working and aimed to please. But she lacked the common sense to keep D safe. She was more interested in the internet than she was dedicated to DD when I was gone. She also (I think) was not aware that being an au pair invloves work, and is not just a free trip to a new exotic land (if you can classify Epsom as exotic).

It was all I could afford, but in retrospect, I'm lucky that nothing tragic happened to my ever so precious DD.

How many hours do you work? Since finances are tight, you might want to consider returning to work at say 4 months? I know that doesn't sound ideal. But, I am speaking from experience. I am now pregnant with DS, and will be returning to work after 3 months of maternity leave out of financial necesity. Not ideal, but hey someone has to pay the bills. (unless of course your company is giving you 6 months paid leave -- in which case I'm insanely jealous)

I have so much more to say, and will gladly type more in a bit (if you want me to).

uwila Fri 08-Apr-05 13:25:21

Incidentally, you can hire any EU citizen you want to be your employee. You take on employer responsibilities. And, you can give her any job title to which you and she agree. There are no laws beyond those which apply to any legal employee for EU citizens. So, if you call her an "Au Pair" but she comes from the EU, then she can work however many hours you agree on. You are not obligated to pay for her english classes, and you do not have to pay for her flights home.

BUT, as an employer and a mother, you also want her to be happy (as she has your very young child all day long). So, it is well worth acknowledging what other parent provide to their nannies / au pairs. She will find out what other people make, and she will be happeir if she doesn't find herself as your slave.

I used a childminder for DD's first year. It was to me at that time the happy medium betwee stimulation and a home like environment. BUT, my DH works away and after a year I was simply burned out with the childcare runs before and after work. I really was about ready to snap. SO, we upgraded to an au pair, and now to a nanny.

It is up to you who you choose to hire (if you choose to hire au pair/nanny). Look at www.nannytax.co.uk for a very comprehensive list of your responsibilities.

Blu Fri 08-Apr-05 13:39:55

Forevermore - have you researched local childminders? they are usually much cheaper than a nursery, especially for babies (nurseries get cheaper the older they get) but childminders places for babies are hard to get hold of because they are limited to having only one child under the age of one. If this might be an answer for you, start looking for one now - it's not too early!
Also, have you factored in any tax breaks you will get? You will get a tax credit for a registered childminder - but not for an au pair. Also, ask your employer about the new Childcare Vouchers - you can get £50 of vouchers free of tax and NI instaed of your pay each week (so you save the cost of tax and NI) - also available if you use a minder or nursery, but not for an au pair.

uwila Fri 08-Apr-05 13:45:24

If you want to research childminders in your area, try www.childcarelink.gov.uk. Not sure if that address is right. If it isn't, try googling "child care link". You can search for childminders by post code.

feelingold Fri 08-Apr-05 14:14:50

That is the correct website address for childminders and gives details of childminders all over the uk.

forevermore Fri 08-Apr-05 14:29:32

THANKS FOR YOUR ADVICE REALLY APPRECIATED.

feeling somewhat guilty for wanting to hire an Au-Pair now. But still think I have no choice.

I intend to go back to work after 6 months maternity leave (full salary....phew). However, I cannot afford not to work full time beyond that time, and its not for luxuries, just day to day bills are tightly controlled and dependant on my full time salary.

However, I am am married and my husband works shifts so many weeks will be home during the day (although asleep, but still reassuring), also I have family in the area for emergency contacts. I also will be asking manager for 1 day 'home working' and hope that this will mean only 4 days a week (9am - 6pm) that the aupair will be left alone with 6 month old (of course with husband asleep in the house sometimes).

I wouldn't expect housework on top, except of tidying up after themselves and child. Also would not object to supporting them with evening classes (I myself have been to university and value education), or even day release for courses on the day i intend to work from home. all in all that would amount to 27 hours work per week and maybe occasional babysitting (max 2 nights/month).

Childminders are around £5/hour in my area i think which would be approximately £580 per months as opposed to £400 for an aupair...(not sure of the prices for au-pair actually but I know its a lot less than £500/month)...

Tax credits would hardly impact on cost (for what our household income is)
what to do...what to do...

Does this still sound terribly unreasonable of me to want an Aupair.

MrsWood Fri 08-Apr-05 14:35:49

Not at all - just make sure you "shop around" before you do get one - there are plenty of responsible girls out there!

Pamina3 Fri 08-Apr-05 14:42:24

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

uwila Fri 08-Apr-05 15:23:54

I would suggest looking at nannies who come from ascension countries. I wouldn't be too fussed about "qualification" but I would require previous experience with babies as well as previous live-in experience.

You will find that hiring someone who is not up to the job will result in an incredible amount of work and frustration FOR YOU.

Where are you? I live in Surrey/Middlesex border, and I can find a childminder for less that £5/hour.

Really, I have been where you are now. And, I am more than happy to help you decide what's best, and what you can afford.

uwila Fri 08-Apr-05 15:30:59

BTW, "nanny" in my posts refers to her job description, not her paperwork.

Tanzie Fri 08-Apr-05 15:46:55

I agree with Uwila, Forevermore. Find yourself a nice, experienced girl from one of the accession countries. Or a childminder.

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