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Childcare De-mystified – Nannies vs Au Pairs

Childcare De-mystified – Nannies vs Au Pairs

Choosing childcare can be tricky. There are so many variables to consider. It’s a bit like choosing an ice cream with your children. You have to weigh up what will make them happy versus what you’d like them to have. Cost, of course, is a big consideration. And essentially, what’s going to be the least stressful option for everybody (most importantly, you). There’s probably no perfect solution, we’re all just looking for the one that involves the least crying and screaming.


That’s where we come in!

We appreciate that it’s a tough decision. Making the right childcare choice for your family is hard – and we want to help. Which is why we’re doing a series of simple explainers on the various options out there.

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 also try to give an honest appraisal of some of the other options available too.

If you’ve been following our recent posts, you’ll know that we kicked-off this mission with our ‘Childcare De-mystified: Nannies vs Childminders’ blog. So if you’re currently trying to decide between a nanny and a childminder 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. 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. They are more like an older sibling, helping with family chores, taking care of children, preparing meals and doing light housework.


Nannies, on the other hand – are experienced childcare professionals and would be classed as your employee. They’re not required to, but most come from a nursery or childcare background. Likewise, nearly all 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 tend to work around 30 hours per week. 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. This might include 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. And it’s 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 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 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. Plus you have the added bonus of a live-in baby-sitter. 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 doesn’t it? 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. You’ll be expected to provide an au pair with pocket money, usually around £70-£85 per week, but they’re not classed as a professional childcare provider or employee. Essentially they look after your children in exchange for food, lodgings and language lessons. Due to their young age and inexperience, an au pair tends to work best alongside a parent or family member, also sometimes known as a ‘mothers help’.


Depending where you are in the UK, how much you pay a live-in nanny will depend on their experience and qualifications. Plus 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 an au pair is not an employee. You can’t set duties in the same way that you make a contractual arrangement with a professional nanny. There’s also a huge difference in experience. When you employ a nanny you’re paying a professional with years of experience and qualifications under their belt. Whether you have toddlers or young babies or school age children, you should feel confident leaving your nanny in sole charge of your brood from the outset. Some may also have extra qualifications in looking after children with additional needs. And often they have experience in more demanding scenarios like looking after young twins or night nannying.


Finding the one

Sharing your home with someone is a big commitment. Take your time finding the right one. Make sure they are the right fit for your family and be clear about your expectations.


If you’re hiring a nanny, use a reputable agency (err, hello!?) Happy Nest for instance, will search on your behalf, vet documents, interview nannies personally and get references from previous families. We’ll also do a new DBS criminal background check and psychometric assessments. We can also offer extra support if you need it, like setting up a contract and taking care of all the payroll and emailing you a monthly payslip.


The final word

A live-in nanny or au pair is a good choice if you have a demanding job that needs a more flexible approach to childcare, but they provide very different levels of experience.

Find someone who fits in with your family. Nannies may seem more expensive, but you’re paying for their experience – and your peace of mind. You can’t put a price on that really.

It’s a tough choice, but whatever you decide we hope this has made things a little easier. Try the British Au Pair Agencies Association for more detailed info on how to find an au pair and what’s expected of you as a host. 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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