Au pairs, home helpers and babysitters

Having someone to look after your child at home can be a real help, but you should weigh the pros and cons before hiring.

What are they?
People who look after your children in your home aren't registered with Government regulatory bodies and will almost certainly have no childcare qualifications. So it's a good idea for any of these carers to be able to call on a responsible adult if necessary. There are some fees involved with all.

An au pair is an overseas visitor who comes on a cultural-exchange programme to learn another language and help out in a family home. She, or he, will live in your house as part of your family and will need their own bedroom. An au pair is normally expected to work between 25 and 30 hours a week, depending on their country of origin, and must have time off to attend language classes. More and more families are hiring male au pairs to help out with boisterous boys.

A home helper is someone who lives in your house and helps you look after your children. She, or he, normally speaks English as a first language and works up to a maximum of 45 hours a week. She, or he, is entitled to a private bedroom and proper time off. They usually work in families where one parent is at home.

A babysitter is someone who comes to your house occasionally to look after your children while you go out for a short period. She, or he, should not be younger than 16.

Pros

  • An au pair or mother's help can help with light housework, taking and collecting children from school, or looking after them for short periods after school.
  • An au pair or mother's help is a 'built-in' babysitter, although you must agree terms and conditions for this beforehand. Don't expect them to babysit for more than two or three nights a week.
  • An au pair can help your child understand another culture.
  • A good au pair or home helper can become a close friend.
Cons
  • It's likely that an au pair, home helper or babysitter won't be qualified. They won't be registered, either.
  • They aren't suitable for full-time, sole-charge childcare.
  • You may find it hard having someone else living in your house.
  • They may be great play companions, but not know how to cope when the going gets tough. It's your responsibility to make sure they know the basics of childcare and first aid, and have suitable back-up in case of emergency.
  • With an au pair, there may be language or communication difficulties.
  • You'll almost certainly need to provide some emotional support for a young au pair - think of yourself at 18.
Source: BBC
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