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Have you ever considered an au-pair?

There are many options for childcare available to parents. If you are one of the lucky ones who have grandparents or close relatives who can offer to care for you child, then thank your lucky stars. Most of us however, don’t have that option and have to consider having our children cared for in a crèche, private arrangement or engaging an au-pair. We asked Julie Kelly from the Au-Pair Study Centre for more information.

"The most obvious advantage to employing an au pair is the low cost in comparison to alternatives. Au pairs wages range from €50-€115 (plus 2 nights babysitting) per week, depending on how many hours you require. Despite the associated costs (food, heat, etc) of having an extra person living with you, it still remains the most economical option, particularly if you have more than one child." says Julie, "In addition to childcare responsibilities, you can expect an au pair to help you with light housework. Generally an au pair will help with the children’s laundry and ironing, the upkeep of their bedrooms, bathrooms and play areas, as well as helping to keep the kitchen clean and tidy."

Julie also points out that having an au pair is one of the most flexible forms of childcare available. Many au pairs will take the children to and from school and also after school activities. This can free up some valuable time for parents, particularly where both are working. Taking an hour to go the gym or finding time to catch up on some shopping is considerably easier when you have an au pair working with you. "Coming into winter, children in crèche and Montessori can often be more vulnerable to little coughs and colds. Being able to leave your children in the comfort of their own home can is also an important factor, and most people find that their children are happier with the security of a live-in au pair rather than various differing babysitters."

Of course there are disadvantages. "The fundamental difference between an au pair and other childcare professionals is that they are not qualified. They will generally have lots of experience with children, for example working in summer camps/crèches and babysitting, but usually they will not hold any formal qualifications to look after children." Julie continues "it is essential not to expect too much from an au pair as they may not have the same parenting instincts as you. It can therefore be useful to go through everything with them for the first couple of weeks. Setting out the ground rules and timetables from the very start (even before she arrives) will make a big difference, the more information you give her the easier it will be on the both of you."

"Possibly the most obvious disadvantage is living with a stranger but most au pairs are usually settle into family life quite quickly. In fact many become very close to their host families, and stay in touch with both the parents and children long after their placements have finished" says Julie.

She offers this advice, "If you are considering an au pair remember she is here first and foremost to learn English and to experience a new culture. Although every placement differs, the usual practice would be that the au pair eats with the family and most would join in with normal family outings and trips. Of course families are entitled to private time for themselves but most au pairs are happy to socialise and meet other au pairs, make new friends and be as independent as possible. You can encourage them by signing them up for classes and inviting them to meet other au pairs in the area. Introducing them to the local cultural amenities can also be very helpful."

If you are considering an au pair for the first time, you may find it more helpful to speak to an agency where you will get support throughout your au pair’s stay. If you choose not to go through an agency there will be no framework in place and no support available. Agencies will also vet potential au pairs and ensure that they are suitable, and most will try to match particular au pairs with certain family. Having the support of an agency when things aren’t going so smoothly can be hugely beneficial to both the au pair and the host family. The agency can mediate on differences of opinion, and offer advice when problems arise.

One such agency is the Au-Pair Study Centre and they can be contacted at 01-2844675 or visit www.aupairstudy.com