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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Daily Mail published an article claiming that a typical working mother spends as little as 19 minutes per day with her children – and a working father spends of course much less. Are children really neglected so badly? Only 8 months ago, the Telegraph deplored the fact that working mothers in the UK spent on average only 81 minutes per day looking after their children, according to another (non-cited) report.
So where do the 19 minutes come from? Apparently the Office of National Statistics, but with no details whatsoever. Is this the lowest value recorded in a working day? How were such numbers obtained?
Surely enough, Straight Statistics is contradicting the Daily Mail in a rather convincing article of their own. Childcare – the 19-minute myth is well worth a read.
The au pair programme is an international cultural exchange programme which gives young people the opportunity to experience a foreign country’s culture and learn its language by living with a host family. In return the au pair is expected to work a certain amount of hours as a domestic assistant.
Au pair or nanny?
A nanny is a qualified or experienced childcare provider who can take the sole charge of young children. Unlike au pairs, they are professionals and will therefore be employed under normal working conditions, with an annual salary, paid holidays and overtime etc.
Nannies are not required to live in their employer’s home – though there are also live-in nannies – and are suited as longtime carers. They will only do housework related to the children they have in charge, as their job is much more specific than the au pair’s activity.
By contrast, an au pair has no qualification and often no experience. Au pairs can help with babysitting and childcare, also with light housework, when the tasks are simple or done under the host parents’ supervision. These young girls and boys are extra pairs of hands for busy mothers or fathers rather than independent workers. It’s important to note that au pairs are not employees, are not paid as such and therefore must not be expected to do hard work or to act as a professional nanny.
Au pair versus mother’s help
A mother’s help is a care provider working under supervision in the household. It can be a former au pair who gained experience while working for other families but does not have the qualifications of a nanny.
The mother’s help might run errands and do housework a nanny wouldn’t do (like dusting) in addition to childcare. She can take more responsibility (due to her experience) and work longer hours than an aupair. Thus the mother’s help is actually a cross between a nanny and an au pair.
For many people hosting an aupair is a way of getting the domestic help they need. It is certainly the most affordable solution for childcare when a relative is not available as a care provider. But is the system right for everyone? Here are the au pair programmes’s pros and cons for would-be host parents.
Au pair pros
Saves money when compared to typical childcare
You can decide to do things at night on the spur of the moment, just like it was before the kids came along
If you’re worried about security or pets being left alone, hosting an au pair means there will usually be someone in the house when you’re gone
The children have a friend they can play with
You can take a break from children when you need to
The house will be tidier
Au pair cons
You can only host an aupair if you have an extra bedroom in the house
Having a live-in aupair means accommodating a stranger in the home and the family
You’ll have a lot less privacy
You might become a subject of gossip among au pairs
If you only have one bathroom it might get crowded
You must pay for the aupair’s food, which could cost a lot in some cases
A common complaint concerns privacy and the need to adjust one’s lifestyle, which is inevitable when bringing someone new into the home. However many host parents seem to consider the au pair system as the best solution available to them, due to its flexibility and the low cost.
An au pair is a single girl (or boy) who travels to another country and lives with a host family, providing childcare and housework help in exchange for room, board and pocket money.
Au pairs are normally between 17 and 27 years old. Most are girls, but some boys also enter the programme.
Au pairs typically stay with a family for a year. In some places there is also a summer au pair programme lasting 2 or 3 months.
The au pair system is conceived as a cultural exchange programme. It developed as a way for young women to learn a foreign language, improve their skills and, most importantly, live in a different place with a different culture. To this day being an au pair is perhaps the most affordable solution for living in a foreign country (particularly an expensive one like the UK).
In exchange for living with the host family, the au pair helps with childcare and related activities such as babysitting and light housework. The assigned role is that of an older sibling to the host’s children, with chores and obligations, but also with the rights of a family member. She will be a part of the parents’ and children’s everyday life and should be included in the family activities.
In addition to childcare, au pair responsibilities may include:
- dropping off and picking up children from school
- cleaning the children’s rooms
- helping with homework
- preparing light meals for the children
Au pairs must have their own room and be provided food, as well as a small allowance. They must not work more than 45 hours a week and cannot be expected to act as professional nannies.