The more its supporters talk and spread the word about the importance of the Au Pair Programme as a provider of essential childcare in the home the better. If you agree please leave your comments on this blog and help start the campaign to raise government awareness of this valuable cultural and language exchange programme, so that we can avoid it being threatened by changes in the law which too often fail to acknowledge its very existence.
Too often Governments forget all about au pairs when planning the overhaul of national legislation or making changes to immigration rules. Time and time again civil servants and politicians need to be reminded of what the au pair programme is and why its special status should be written into any new laws on immigration, employment or child protection. Hopefully one or two of them will come across this blog and take the time to read it . . .
So what is an au pair ? An au pair provides vital live in child care to millions of children and families, not just in the UK and Ireland, but all over the world. An au pair is a young person who comes to a foreign country on a cultural & language exchange programme. It is more akin to a student programme than to employment and enables the young person to study and learn the host country’s language while enjoying free accommodation and food in the safety of the host family’s home. Au pairs also get paid a modest amount of weekly pocket money. In exchange they provide invaluable and affordable livein childcare to millions of families with modest incomes. The au pair programme signifies quality care in their homes of millions of pre school and school age children. It is necessary to the family life of many families, particularly but not only those with working parents. Abolishing it would cause immense damage to the quality of life and finances of those families. At best it would deprive those parents who currently have au pairs from the freedom of choice to have a livein foreign au pair provide one to one care for their child in their own home rather than having to send them to after school clubs or more expensive external childminders. It would leave some stay at home mothers unable to cope with their babies and toddlers without an affordable and friendly extra pair of hands. Other parents whose young children attend a nursery or daytime childminder would have nobody to collect them on time and take them home when they are held up at work, stuck in traffic or delayed on public transport. The parents would be more stressed and the children would suffer and lose the right to be cared for and nurtured at home. Primary school children, particularly those with two working parents, are so much better off being cared for at home by an au pair during out of school hours. The au pair ensures that the children eat, do homework, play and relax in their own home and get ready for bed on time while their parents struggle home on public transport after a long and stressful day at work. For some of these families not having an au pair would leave them without any affordable childcare at all.
The au pair programme in the USA has been tightly regulated in that au pairs can only come to the USA and be placed with families by applying for visas through recognised and licenced au pair agencies. Despite this there is concern that au pairs are in some cases being deliberately exploited and that more legislation is needed in the US to protect them. However agencies know that they would lose their licences if they were found to be placing au pairs in unsuitable host families and take great care to vet their host families. The vast majority of au pairs report having a wonderful life experience and growing and developing as a person from learning a different culture, language and lifestyle. Most will look back on their time as an au pair with fondness for years to come.
The British Government has also often overlooked the special status of Au Pairs, seeking at various times to treat them as employees and apply employment legislation to them such as the minimum wage, or as self employed. Treating them as employees would make them too expensive to employ for the majority of lower to middle class families who depend on au pairs for affordable childcare for their school age children and invaluable help in the home for busy working parents. Au pairs don’t earn enough to claim self employed status. At one time Britain also tried to apply strict Vetting and Barring criteria to au pairs which would have put a lot of unnecessary red tape around the placement of au pairs instead of the current straight forward provision of home country police checks.