Seeking help in the home

With creches costing thousands per child, many parents are looking to au pairs for support, says Fiona Dillon

Fiona Dillon

A growing number of parents are choosing au pairs over other types of childcare arrangements.

The trend has emerged as a recent study by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) found that families are paying up to €14,000 a year in creche fees for just one child.

The NCA points out that while factors such as location, staff qualifications, play facilities and opening hours are important, affordability is now key for many parents.

The recession has seen a massive surge in demand for au pairs in this country. This group -- predominantly young women -- are paid based on the number of hours they work, which can work out at about €90 to €100 a week.

There are, of course, 'hidden costs', because they are also given full board and lodging, which must include their own bedroom.

However, many parents welcome the fact that their children are being minded in their own home, which cuts down on a lot of rushing around.

Au pair agencies have noted an increase in the number of people seeking to come here to work as au pairs, as well as in the number of families who want an au pair.

Spanish teacher Teresa Melendro (32) who has two girls Elisa (4) and 15-month-old Marianna, says that there were a number of financial and practical factors behind the decision to explore the option of having an au pair at their Blackrock home. "It was just more convenient," she says.

"Two full-time creche places would have been costly. To pay for the full-time creche fees would have cost around €1,800 a month for the two girls."

Teresa, who works in St Andrew's in Blackrock, says that her husband Stephen Shortt (33) travels with his job regularly, so having someone in the house helping is appealing.

Another factor which influenced her decision was that Marianna would have been just eight months when she went to a creche and Teresa felt that was too young.

Teresa says that she found her French au pair, Maud Lecoeur (21), through the Au Pair Study Centre in Dun Laoghaire, and Maud has been with the family since the end of last August.

"We filled in the application form last April or May and within a couple of weeks we had Maud's application form and it was perfect," says Teresa.

She says that Maud was a brilliant fit with the bi-lingual family, being able to speak some Spanish and English. "She minds Marianna in the mornings while I'm at work. She's in charge of the kids' play area and the kids' bedroom. She also looks after their clothes."

Elisa goes to pre-school, and Teresa drops her off there in the morning.

"When I come home, Maud either goes and studies for a little bit, or comes for a walk with me and the girls," says Teresa.

In addition, Maud does babysitting duties once a week. "It's wonderful, it's incredibly handy," she says about having Maud to help out.

"We really have a great bond and the girls love her," explains Teresa, who says that Maud is part of the family. They all have dinner together.

The family converted the attic, so Maud has a big room and her own television and space. "We are very accommodating with each other," says Teresa, who believes that the relationship is based on respect.

"We respect her time and space," says Teresa, who says that laying down the ground rules at the beginning of the au pair arrangement is very important.

Teresa says that her experience has been fantastic, and told how she has invited Maud to join them in Spain for a holiday.

Meanwhile, for her part, Maud, who comes from Auxerre, about two hours south of Paris, says: "I decided to become an au pair to improve my English because I would like to work in the tourism sector."


She says that this has been her first au pair job, and she will go back to France in June. However, she has not ruled out staying in Ireland for another year to improve her English further.

Maud says what she likes about the country is that "Irish people are kind". But she says that she doesn't like the prices in Ireland.

"The advantage of being an au pair is I'm accommodated in a family, and I don't have to pay rent or bills," she said.

She says that she tends to mix with other au pairs, who are French girls. "I know it's no good to improve my English," she says, but adds that it's difficult to meet Irish people.

She goes to English classes on two evenings a week, organised by the Au Pair Study Centre, which is based in Clarinda Park North.