Who’s afraid of au pairs?

In light of the problems some families have with au pairs, all au pairs will be banished from the United Kingdom. Those who wish to stay will have to pass a test in order to ensure they are fully qualified to care for small children. Thus, host parents who don’t manage to properly screen their au pairs or who confuse them with nannies will no longer experience disappointment when immature girls act like immature girls.

Read more…


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Parents’ expectations and the nanny factor – must-reads 18 March 2012

This week brought us a thought provoking article from the Washington Post’s parenting blog: Are we asking enough of our kids?

The author refers to research suggesting American parents have lower expectations from their children than parents in non-Western societies, where children routinely take on domestic tasks. This difference stems from a strong focus on the child in less traditional American families.

And then we have some more questions about the role of nannies from the Macau Daily Times, followed by a look at the local Filipino helper community, Filipina women being the preferred “household service workers” in Macau.

It’s an interesting view of a society where having a live-in worker for child care and other domestic tasks is the norm and the article does a good job presenting the workers’ perspective.


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Mothering Sunday

Happy Mothering Sunday! I read about this day’s history and how it originated, with domestic servants returning to their homes and mother churches. I hope some of the au pairs nowadays are able to spend this day with their mothers too, but it’s much more difficult because of the distance.
I’m curious: what do au pairs do on Mothering Sunday?


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Philippines government lifts the ban on au pairs bound for Europe

After 14 years of banning travel to European countries using the au pair programme, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced the end of the ban after issuing the new Guidelines on the Departure of Au Pairs to Europe.

The ban on the deployment of au pairs to Europe had been imposed in 1998 after reports of abuse on Filipino young girls, with exceptions made in 2010 for Switzerland, Denmark and Norway. Now authorities have decided to implement a strict monitoring system in embassies and consulates throughout Europe, in order to ensure the au pairs’ protection.

The DFA will act as the lead agency in formulating policies on the programme. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario advised prospective au pairs not to use middlemen, as the procedures have been simplified at the least cost for the Filipino au pairs.

Since au pairs are not considered overseas workers, they don’t need to go through the Department of Labor and Employment or Philippine Overseas Employment Administration procedures anymore. The only documents they have to submit to the Bureau of Immigration at the port of departure are: a contract of engagement duly authenticated by the Philippine Embassy or Consulate General in the area of destination, valid passport with au pair visa, and a CFO certificate/sticker.


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Corporate childcare, EYFS & family statistics – new reports January 2012

Lots of numbers this week. A new batch of studies came from the Office for National Statistics and the National Children Bureau, plus a survey by a private company.

1. A survey by the office design company Maris Interiors reveals that only 10% of UK staff receive help with childcare from their employers, either as a workplace nursery or as childcare vouchers or contributions to nursery costs (other than statutory benefits).

72% of the 208 surveyed workers feel that childcare provision at work had worsened over the course of their working life and 84% would like their company to be more family-friendly.

2. Children & Young People Now informs us that one in five childminders don’t know or don’t want EYFS. The National Children Bureau released the results of a 18-month study including a survey of 581 childminders. The study shows 20% of the childminders are unaware that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) exists, know little about it or are opposed to it.

EYFS has been a mandatory framework for early years providers of childcare (for young children from birth to 5 years of age) since 2008, however some childminders still struggle to implement it and feel that it needs to be simplified  and that the  paperwork for recording children’s development and learning progress should be standardised.

3. The Office for National Statistics released the statistical bulletin Families and households, 2001 to 2011, announces Family Law Week.

ONS reports that in 2011 there were 17.9 million families in the United Kingdom – family meaning either a married or a cohabiting couple (with or without children) or a lone parent with at least one child. Of these 12.1 million consisted of couples who are married or in civil partnerships (after their appearance in December 2005), with or without children.

The number of lone parents increased steadily from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.0 million in 2011. Read the entire bulletin here.


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5 best au pair moments

1. Best friendship
The best au pair moment was watching my daughter walk down the aisle as my old aupair’s flower girl in Poland. For her to choose my daughter to be such a special part of her day meant so much and it was so fascinating to be in her country and see her home after she had lived in ours for so long. We got to meet her whole family, see her life before England and participate in such an amazing day. We will be in touch with her and her now husband forever !

2. Best aupair story
This just has to be the love story of the decade, my Polish au pair had only been in the UK for around a month when she met her Italian stallion whilst out for a quiet dinner, he sat at the next table with a friend. After months of being together, then living together, they got married just under a year ago and it was amazing to see them from the beginning until now when they have both settled in the UK.

3. Best holiday with an Aupair
We went on an adventure holiday for the first time and took our South African au pair with us for the entire journey, from stopping off in Bath to eventually arriving in Wales. It was so fantastic having her there as she became a part of our holiday and our memories and it was so lovely to show her some of Britain outside of London. My kids adored her and it wouldn’t have been a holiday without her.

4. Best foreign meal
Has to be our Spanish aupair’s Spanish omelette, full of yummy potatoes, it took her minutes to make. She loved cooking it and we loved eating it. I reckon we all put on more than a few pounds when she lived with us and can still remember the taste…yummy !

5. Best English food
The best also has to be the worst au pair food, which is Marmite. They either love it and take bags of the stuff home with or hate it. Most won’t even try it, they just look at us like we are totally nuts and almost puke at just the smell of it, let alone eat it. We are definitely a Marmite family though!


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The au pair’s diet

There seem to be so many disparities regarding au pairs and food I am really at a loss as to what is the right thing or not. Recently, I interviewed two aupairs that were already here and staying with other host families but wanting a change, both came from complete extremes when it came to food.

The first, a lovely au pair from Romania, told me how she was paid £60 a week and told to buy her own food. The other, an Australian girl, told me she was paid £120 per week and was provided with only organic food!

In these hard financial times, still keeping an aupair feels like a luxury, so can they really expect to give us demands on what they would like to eat and can we REALLY ask them to buy their own food out of what is supposed to be pocket money? After all, isn’t the whole au pair exchange supposed to be a helping hand in return for food and lodgings and pocket money?

What is the middle ground? I certainly don’t believe that an aupair should be expected to buy their own food, but nor will I spend what little spare money I have on organic produce for her either.

I like to think we eat healthily as a family, there is always fresh fruit and veg in the house and my fridge is bursting with yoghurts and juices, which the au pairs can eat when and as they like, within reason. But one of my aupairs once asked me to get her smoked salmon… at £7 a pack I couldn’t really afford to keep her in her pack a day habit, but at the same time felt really embarrassed and mean saying no.

Do I not have a backbone?? Is it normal to be asked such demands for a particular food or diet by an aupair and what do you do about it, sulk and feel embarrassed and buy it anyway like me? Or tell them that you are not the local deli and that you are happy to provide food but within reason?


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Mothers versus nannies – must-reads 30 December 2011

In addition to au pair news, I’ll be publishing regularly links to British and international news, columns and blog posts on subjects related to childcare, parenting and family. Informative, controversial or inspiring, they’re all thought-provoking and make for an interesting read.

The first selection is about working mothers and the relationship with nannies replacing their presence.

1.  Dr. Maja Miljanic Brinkworth, lecturer on demography at the University of Malta, argues that mothers cannot afford not to work and that the negative effects of mothers returning to work within six months after birth are small. Can mothers afford not to work? sparked some great comments.

2. On the other end of the spectrum, Newsmax.com’s Dr. Laura publishes a scathing review on a CNN column about working mothers’ relationship with nannies. She criticises using nannies as surrogate parents, as Mother’s Love Cannot Be Replaced by Hired Help.

3. Finally, a very nice blog post from a mother setting herself the goal of being a nanny for a portion of each day. Find out why on Everyday-Mom.com.


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Au pairs and gossip

Au pair gossip can at times be the thing that brings you closer to your au pair, or the very thing that ends up pulling you apart!

Gossip is a dangerous thing and when someone is living with you there is always going to be that niggle of doubt about whether they they are telling their friends and in some cases your neighbours about your personal lives.

When an au pair arrives at my house I have my little talk about the do’s and dont’s. I always tell them that there are different kinds of families and different kinds of au pairs. Whilst staying with us they will hopefully meet lots of new friends from other families and that these girls will all gossip about one thing and another, but in my experience they are “the unhappy ones” so I tell my girls … not to get involved.

The first thing that au pairs always talk about is money: how much are you getting paid per week, how many hours do you work, how many children are in your family, what are your duties ? And so on. I guess this is a given and an excepted part of having an au pair. However at times this gossip can change in tone from the usual to details about the family and what goes on behind closed doors. In my opinion this a complete breach of trust.

Don’t get me wrong, I know none of us are innocent and we all have a little gossip now and then, but would you gossip about a friend knowing it would go straight back to them, no.

Au pairs, if you want to say something about the family, tell your friends at home, not the au pair next door. They will tell their host mother who will tell their friends. Everything gets back in the end. :-)

Before I sound like I am putting the blame all on au pairs, I also know that host families are just as much at fault of gossiping and in some instances even worse!

I know host mothers who go through their au pairs draws, when they are out, and in one instance I know a host mother who found the au pair’s diary and spent the afternoon, with a dictionary and a cup of tea, translating it. The damage only started there, this host mother told her friend (who is very close to her au pair) she told her au pair and then she told the poor innocent au pair, whose diary had been read.

Personally I can’t imagine what that breach of trust must feel like and I really don’t think I could look my au pair in the eye after prying on her like that. Suffice to say the au pair left and the host family lost a fantastic au pair… was it really worth it?

Over the years I have been told about affairs, violence in the home, drug taking, open marriages and the list goes on… do I really want to know what goes on in other people’s houses? Whilst it may seem interesting at the time we have to live with the knowledge long after the au pairs have gone.

What do you do? Do you do you tell the host family that their au pair is spreading the word on their private affairs? Do you tell your au pair about the prying host mothers? In my experience gossip, however harmless, is always dangerous and will never be a good start or end to au pair experience.


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Norwegian government wants stricter Au Pair legislation

Norway’s government recently launched a legal initiative to ban mothers from becoming au pairs. Concerned with foreign women being exploited as cheap labour, politicians maintain that it’s unlikely those with small children would travel abroad for a cultural exchange, therefore this measure would be effective in preventing abuse from Norwegian hosts seeking cheap servants.

This is of course in accordance with the old definition of the au pair system, valid at least in the official documents if not in practice. According to the Directorate of Immigration (UDI),

The purpose of the au pair scheme is cultural exchange. As au pairs, young people can improve their language skills and knowledge of Norway and Norwegian society by living with a Norwegian family. In return, the au pair performs services such as light housework and child care for the host family.

The new rules, which some have criticised as being discriminatory, will probably affect mostly Filipino women, who constitute the vast majority of au pairs in Norway. Though Philippines outlawed au pairing in Europe in 1997 after several of its citizens were mistreated by host families, the number of Filipino au pairs coming to Norway grew and in 2010 Norway was one of the three European countries where the 1997 ban was lifted, after guaranteeing to follow the Philippines authorities’ requirements and protect the au pairs.


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