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Childcare De-mystified – Nannies vs Au Pairs

Childcare De-mystified – Nannies vs Au Pairs

We all know choosing childcare can be tricky. There are so many things to consider. It’s like choosing an ice cream with your children. You have to weigh up the cost versus what you’d like them to have. What will make them happy and most importantly – what’s going to be the least stressful option for everyone (but mostly you). In other words, there’s probably no solution that meets all of those criteria perfectly. We’re all just trying to find the option with the least crying and screaming involved.


Annnnnd that’s where we come in!


In all seriousness, we really do appreciate the tough decisions parents face when trying to find the right childcare option for their family. And we want to help. Now (disclaimer alert!) we are a nanny agency, we love nannies and we’re not going to apologise for giving them a plug. But we will try to give an honest overview of some of the other options available too. And if you’ve been following our recent posts, you’ll know that we kicked-off our mission to explain the complex world of childcare with our ‘Childcare De-mystified: Nannies vs Childminders’ blog. So if you’re currently trying to decide between a nanny and a childminder perhaps check that out. And if you’re considering live-in childcare, read on.


What is an Au Pair?

Put simply – an au pair is a young person from another country who lives with you and looks after your children in exchange for meals, a bedroom and language lessons.


What qualifications or experience do they need?

Unlike nannies, au pairs don’t tend to have childcare qualifications or have much childcare experience. They are usually between 17-27 years old and perhaps taking a break between jobs or studies to improve their language skills, travel and get some work experience. They’re not classed as an employee or professional childcare provider, but are more like an older sibling who helps with family chores, including taking care of children, preparing meals and doing some light housework.


Nannies, on the other hand – are experienced childcare professionals and would be classed as your employee. Although they’re not required to, most come from a nursery or childcare background and have a relevant childcare qualification such as an NVQ, diploma or university degree in childcare. All nannies should also have an enhanced DBS check. If they are Ofsted registered they also need a paediatric first aid certificate. Happy Nest nannies need all those things and the equivalent of a level 3 childcare qualification.


What hours do they work?

Au pairs normally work around 30 hours per week and their responsibilities usually include childcare and chores but not heavy household duties. Nannies work on average around 10-12 hours per day and whilst an au pair may expect to have weekends off, a live-in nanny’s working week often includes working a day at the weekend with a day off in return during the week. Their main focus will be providing quality childcare with some household duties related to the children thrown-in, like tidying bedrooms and playrooms, doing the children’s laundry and preparing their meals.


The beauty of having a nanny or au pair is that – unlike having to work around hours set by a nursery or childminder – you decide the hours you need based on your schedule. So if you work shifts, weekends or long hours they could be what you’re looking for. Nannies tend to be the most flexible, able to start early, work late, do full days or just before and after school care. You set their hours based on the days and hours you need and it’s all agreed and written into a contract so everyone knows where they are.


What accommodation do I need to provide?

As a minimum you should provide your live-in nanny or au pair with their own private bedroom and a bathroom with shower or bath. The bathroom could be shared with the children. The bedroom should be comfortably furnished with storage for their own stuff so they can make themselves feel at home.


What are the benefits?

As part of the culture exchange your family obviously benefits from learning about another culture. You might even get some free language lessons or interesting dishes to try at mealtimes. But probably the most attractive benefits are cost and convenience. Unlike a childminder or nursery, with a nanny or au pair there are no drop-offs or pick-ups required and you have the added bonus of a potential baby-sitter on hand too. Usually this is a couple of nights per week, but you’ll have to negotiate the specifics. Still ‘built-in babysitter’ has a lovely ring to it, right? Both nannies and au pairs will also take care of the dreaded school run and pick-up. And they’re usually happy to take children to activities and classes during the day.


What are the costs?

Right, here comes ‘the biggie’. Cost. An au pair isn’t classed as a professional childcare provider or employee, so although you’ll probably be expected to provide some pocket money of around £70-£85 per week, essentially they look after your children in exchange for food, lodgings and money towards language lessons at a local school or college.


A live-in nanny’s wages will vary depending where you are in the UK, their experience and qualifications, the hours you need and the number of children involved. If you’re in London you could pay an increase on around 15% per week. In other areas of the UK a full time live in nanny’s salary is around £400 – £600 per week (gross).


That may sound expensive in comparison, but remember most importantly an au pair is not an employee. You cannot set duties in the same way you can with a contractual arrangement that is made with a skilled professional nanny, there’s also a huge difference in experience. With a nanny you’re paying a childcare professional with years of experience and qualifications under their belt. Someone you should feel confident leaving in sole charge of your brood – from toddlers to young babies and multiple children – right from the outset. Some nannies also have extra qualifications in looking after children with additional needs or experience in more demanding scenarios like looking after young twins. It obviously depends on the individual au pair and your own comfort levels, but because they’re usually young and inexperienced, au pairs tend to work best alongside a parent or family member, commonly known as a ‘mothers help’.


Finding the one

Sharing your home with someone is a big commitment, so finding the right nanny or au pair is essential. Make sure they are the right match for your family and that if you’re hiring an au pair they are clear on your expectations.


If you’re hiring a nanny use a reputable agency (hello!?) who will search on your behalf, vet documents, interview nannies personally and get references from previous families. If they are as diligent as us (!) your agency will as standard include a new DBS criminal background check, psychometric assessments, and also offer extra support with setting up a contract and taking care of all the payroll, emailing you a monthly payslip.


The final word

If you have a demanding job that needs a more flexible approach to childcare and you have a bedroom going spare then an au pair or live in nanny could be a really good choice for you. But they provide very different levels of experience, so be sure you (and they) are comfortable with the level of responsibility you are placing on them. And make sure that you find someone who can really fit in with your family. Nannies may seem a more expensive option, but remember that you’re paying for confidence and peace of mind.


It’s always a tough choice, but whatever you decide we hope this has made things a little easier. If you want more detail on how to find an au pairs and what’s expected of you as a host family, try the British Au Pair Agencies Association for more into. And if you have any other questions about the nanny side of things then please don’t hesitate to give us a call.


Good luck!


The Happy Nest Team

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