What is an Au pair?

The official purpose of the Au pair  arrangement is to provide single women and men aged 18-29 yrs old with the chance to study a foreign language and culture while living as part of a family. Technically that means it is not possible to be an au pair in your own country or in one whose language you share, though there are exceptions, as in the case of the Au pair in Australia scheme and Au pair in Canada which is open to English speakers. Au pairs are meant to work for no more than 45 hrs a week over five days, plus two evenings of babysitting, and get pocket money of not less than 70 euros in most countries. Unlike nannies and mother’s help, au pairs do not sign a contract since the arrangement is an informal one. Au pairs sign however an agreement between Au pair and family with their rights and responsibilities. Au pairs should be treated more like family welfare of the children than does a nanny, and is not normally expected to take sole charge of a young baby.

The Au pair is not a nanny, the difference between the two is vast. A nanny is highly paid and highly qualified, doing a full-time job, taking full responsibility for children. An au pair is none of these things. She is a foreign student wanting to improve her English – she is not necessarily intending to make a career of childcare and housework.

The idea behind the au pair system is that these students live in a safe and friendly environment with a host family. They are not qualified in any way to look after children, but feel that they are capable of taking on a reasonable amount of responsibility. Some of them may have taken care of children in summer holiday camps, which is a bonus, but usually their experience has been just casual babysitting. It is a less expensive way for them to take language courses than living in a hostel or digs, and it makes their parents feel that their son or daughter is living safely in a home from home.

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