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There are many childcare provider terms used – nanny, live in nanny, part time nanny, mother’s help, childminder, au pair – and this can be confusing.

The start of a new school year is a time in which we are very often asked by families to help source before and after school care, which can be a real challenge.  We therefore thought it timely to think about the distinction between nannies and au pairs, as for some families an au pair may be a sensible solution. 

While, as an agency, we do not provide au pairs as part of our services (due to their lack of childcare experience – see further below), we can offer guidance with how to find one if you choose to go down that route; and indeed some crucial information on what each can offer.

Here are some guidelines on how they differ and to help you decide what is best for your family:

  Au Pair Nanny
Qualifications and Experience Au pairs do not usually have any previous paid childcare experience or qualifications.   Host families may support the au pair to obtain first aid certification and will often contribute to the cost of a language course at a local college.    A nanny is a trained, qualified, professional employee who has chosen to carve out a career in childcare and paid for relevant training courses themselves.   They are experienced child care providers and we would expect them to hold up to date first aid training, as well as a DBS, and professional liability insurance, all at their own expense.  Many will also have a recognised childcare qualification (NVQ level 3 or equivalent is a good benchmark) but some may also be “qualified by experience”. Nannies are also capable of becoming OFSTED registered. 
Age Typically of student age, an au pair is usually between 18 -30 years old and without dependents who goes abroad to live with a native family in order to learn or perfect a language in exchange for childcare. There is no age barrier – nannies are able to work at any age and in fact it is discriminatory to prescribe the age of a nanny.
Childcare remit Au pairs should not be given any sole charge of children under 2 years old, nor left in sole charge of any child for a great length of time.   As experienced childcare professionals, nannies may often look after multiple children across a range of ages at any particular time.
Working hours They should not be required to work any more than 30 hours per week including evening babysitting and light housework.    Hours can vary considerably from job to job, but long days are common and full time jobs can be in excess of 50 hours a week (subject to the laws of the country of employment).
Employment Status Not an employee.  This is considered a cultural exchange which is of benefit to both the au pair and the family, and the au pair should be integrated into and treated as part of the family, included in mealtimes and outings etc. They are employed by their families, and thus are entitled to employee benefits such as paid annual leave and statutory sick pay.  
Pay Au pairs are paid “pocket money” (usually in the region of £100 per week) together with board and lodging and other living expenses. Their salary must meet at least the minimum wage for the country they are working in.  In the UK most nannies command a significantly higher salary than minimum wage – in the UK it would typically be upwards of £11-£12 gross per hour depending on their location and experience, and can be higher than this in some areas.
Residential status Live in only Can be live in or live out
Visa status Outside of the EU they may be required to obtain an au pair visa.  Currently EU based au pairs have no restrictions although this may change post Brexit. A nanny from abroad may need a work permit or a visa. However, a nanny is not allowed to work with an au pair visa.
Annual leave They can travel home during the year to visit their own family at their own expense – at least 28 days’ paid holiday per annum is recommended, but not required.   In line with statutory employment law – in the UK this would be 28 days inclusive of bank holidays (pro-rata for part time employees).
Typical duties Strictly linked to helping with the children and light domestic work The nanny’s tasks depend on the agreement with the employer and should be laid out in an employment contract. They may or may not include housekeeping duties depending on the agreed job specification at the outset (note the scope of housekeeping  duties is covered in our separate blog here: https://happyfamiliesnannies.co.uk/wp-admin/post.php?post=1880&action=edit.  As an agency we can help to advise on what is a reasonable scope of duties and that there are fair expectations on both sides.  
Duration Typically between 6 months and up to one year Usually permanent contracts.  Some nannies stay with their families for many years. 

Summary

In our experience they work best for families with school age children, as they can provide a very cost-effective solution to help with school pick-up and drop off, an issue many families find hard to solve.  Below school age, this is only likely to be appropriate if helping alongside a parent at home rather than in sole charge.  However, the family does need to be aware of the need to provide a welcoming family environment to their au pair and to remember that their au pair is young and may need a lot of support. 

For after school care, it can be very challenging to find good nannies for this role, as for most nannies their nanny job is their primary source of income, and after school roles do not offer sufficient hours.  Hence, for after school care, an au pair can be a good solution for some families. 

When thinking about whether a nanny or au pair would suit you best, reflect upon what is right for your family dynamic. Do you need someone trained and qualified in childcare or are you looking for a helping hand and someone to be more like a big sister to your child(ren)?   What’s your budget?  We are always happy to talk through your options so do get in touch!