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On par with your family

TRANSLATED from French, au pair simply means 'on par', with a recent four-part multicultural series aired on RTÉ One depicting the au pair experiences of four diverse families in the Ireland of now. Called When

the Au Pair Comes to Stay, the programme honed in on the lives of four of the many families in Ireland that take on au pairs to help look after their children and young teens, especially during the summer months.

Following the au pair experiences of a different family in each programme, the series explores the rapport that develops when an au pair comes to stay with their respective host family. When there is a good fit and trust and respect exists on both sides, the au pair can turn out to be a valuable 'family member' during their stay.

Caroline Joyce, founder and director, Cara International, an agency that offers an inbound au pair programme in Ireland, says an au pair will generally be a young person aged 18 up to 25 or 26 and usually from a European country. So why do people opt to have an au pair? While they might have some babysitting experience, Joyce says people should not view an au pair as being a substitute for a childminder because they generally wouldn't be qualified childminders or nannies.

"It depends on a family's needs," she says. "Some families may have an au pair if the mother is expecting or has a new baby where there is another toddler in the house and the family needs an extra pair of hands.

"If both parents are working full time they would probably need to be complementing the au pair with a crèche when they have younger children. We wouldn't recommend leaving a newborn baby with an au pair.

" The hours and the criteria for the au pair situation is generally 35 hours. It is kept out of the 40-45 hours because it is not an employment situation."

She says families need to evaluate how they can combine the au pair into their routine, with the au pair doing extra babysitting at the weekends and carrying out extra minding and helping out where possible.

An agency will generally explore each familial case individually, explains Joyce, taking into account how old the children are, evaluating how much training the au pair will need, how many hours the kids will be in a crèche and how far away the parents are working, etc.

In general an au pair could stay for a six to 12 months, while three-month stays during the summer are also popular with kids out of school.

Once people decide they want to opt for an au pair, she says the procedure involves registering with an agency, filling out an application form to create a profile of what the family wants, etc.

Her advice for people who are considering having an au pair is to go through an agency, registered under IAPA [ The International Au Pair Association], which Cara International is a member of, as they go through the proper vetting criteria. See www.iapa.org.

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