Childcare: why working women face backlash
With the Louise Woodward nanny trial, America has turned on its heel and laid the blame for the death of nine-month-old Matthew Eappen firmly at the feet of his parents, or more precisely his mother because of her decision to work outside of the home and to pay another woman or, in this instance, a young girl to take care of her two children.
In a society which pioneered the working woman, it seems ironic indeed that such a backlash against working women might be possible as we approach the 21st century where working parents are now the norm rather than the exception.
But there is another dimension to the Louise Woodward case; many people feel that relying on an untrained and unskilled teenager to bring up two small children amounts to exploitation and nothing short of slave labour on the one hand and a risky childcare option on the other.
In spite of the fact that the terms `au pair' and `nanny' have been used interchangeably in commentary on the trial, the two are, or at least should be, worlds apart one is unskilled and the other is not and therefore more expensive.
And while Irish girls traditionally went to work as au pairs in the US, they used to be regarded more as `mother's little helpers' rather than as a replacement for full-time childcare for high-powered couples with major earning power.
Today those young people are in short supply as most now have Morrison visas and computer skills up their sleeves and are in search of more lucrative work.
The finger of blame has been pointed at the Eappens largely because they willingly left their children in the hands of a young 18-year-old girl who came cheap because she also lived in despite the fact that they were obviously able to pay somebody who was skilled and qualified.
And not unlike Irish couples who rely on others to rear their children, it would seem, from the outside at any rate, to be a case of expecting someone else to do what they are unwilling or unable to do for their children themselves.
With up to 50pc of women with children in Ireland now also working today, the issue of childcare is and continues to be a major one with the added dimension that, in Ireland, childcare is unregulated and there are basically no legal controls.
The average childcarer in the home charges up to and around £120 per week (housework NOT included) while the average au pair can expect payment of around £50 per week, plus bed and board.
Orla McCormack, of the Language Centre of Ireland, in Kildare Street, who also offer an au pair service, says that requests for au pairs are up 50pc on last year due to the fact that more and more women are working today.
``Our experience is that many women opt for au pairs because they may work awkward hours such as say 3pm to 8pm, a time at which most creches are closed.''
``We find that the vast majority of women are either working part-time or job share and have a great deal of flexibility in terms of the number of hours they work per week,'' said Ms McCormack.
``Our au pairs are expected to help with caring for the children, to do some light housework like ironing or hoovering and to do some cooking for the children. They are not supposed to be full time housekeepers as well,'' according to Ms Mc Cormack who says that au pair fees range from £40 per week for women who don't work, £45 for those who finish at 3pm and £50 for those who work full time, but these are only recommended minimum rates and many families do opt to pay more.
There are three issues involved in the Louise Woodward case. here.
One - childcare should not be a woman's issue only. If a woman decides to work , then both should be equally responsible for the arrangements they decide on. Two - no parent can or should expect a person, usually a woman, to love and care for a child they have never set eyes on before or bonded with, to care for their child in the way they cannot or will not themselves. Three - au pairs are not designed to be a cheap form of childcare cum cleaning service in place of proper and qualified full-time childcare.
It is perhaps a point worth remembering that many couples do seem more willing to hand over their children to unqualified carers than they would be to submit their highlights to an unqualified hairdresser or their prized motor to an unqualified car mechanic for a service.
There's an interesting thought ...