What is an au pair?

Published on Wednesday, 05 September 2018
Last updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2021

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What is an Au Pair?

Most Australian parents looking for someone to care for their children have heard of nannies, fewer have heard of au pairs. Typically an au pair is a young, single person from overseas who wants to come to Australia to learn English and live as a member of an Australian family.

Au pairs can be expected to do a combination of child care and light housework duties in exchange for board and a small allowance. In Australia, au pairs are given a 12 month Working Holiday Visa, placements can last for the duration of the visa however some au pairs may want to travel for a few months at the end.

It is important to note that au pairs are not trained nannies and may have little or no training. They should not be left in sole charge of babies younger than 12 months. However, once both the parents and the au pair have confidence in the arrangement children older than 12 months can be looked after for a few hours at a time.

In families with school-aged children, au pairs are mostly used for before and after school care. Where there are young children in the family the au pair may also work a few hours during the day.

Daily Responsibilities

The responsibilities of an au pair will depend on the age of the children and the nature of the household and a daily timetable should be worked out to take into account time commitments on both sides of the relationship. More than 80 per cent of the au pair's daily tasks should revolve around the direct care of the children in the family and the remaining 20 per cent can be used for light housekeeping duties.

While each family will have a different schedule a typical daily timetable for an au pair might look something like this:

  • Wake children in the morning
  • Help the children wash and dress for school or day care
  • Help children make their bed and clean their room
  • Prepare breakfast for the children
  • Prepare lunches for the children
  • Drive children to school or day care
  • While children are at school complete light household tasks such as children's laundry or weekly vacuuming
  • Pick up children from school
  • Prepare a healthy afternoon snack for the children
  • Drive the children to after school activities and pick them up
  • Help the children with their homework
  • Bathe the children and get them ready for bed

Au pairs should be given time every day to study and pursue their own interests. They should also be given a set amount of time off work each week. In Australia, the most common arrangement is for au pairs to work 30 to 35 hours per week with weekends off work. When a family asks their au pair to work a Saturday, she (or he) should be given the following Monday off work in lieu.

Settling In

When considering the possibility of taking in an au pair it is important to see the placement as a cross cultural experience which will be of benefit to the whole family. If you are simply looking for help around the house then an au pair is not the right choice to make.

The initial settling in period is a very important time for both the family and the au pair. Au pairs are often young and away from home for the first time. They are not trained house cleaners or nannies and may feel lonely and uncomfortable in the first few weeks.

To make this period as easy as possible, your au pair should be welcomed from the outset and included in as many family activities as possible. Be prepared to spend plenty of time in the first weeks helping your au pair become accustomed to life in their new home this may include:

  • Making the au pair feel comfortable by creating an occasion of their arrival
  • Making the au pair's room pleasant and welcoming
  • Giving a tour of the house and clearly explaining house rules
  • Providing clear instructions about the au pair's duties and offer feedback
  • Offering friendship and patience as the au pair becomes familiar with their new life

An important part of ensuring that your relationship with your au pair is successful is to treat them as an addition to the household. The success of the arrangement relies on flexibility and goodwill on both sides. Your au pair has come to Australia to experience a new culture and improve their language skills and will appreciate being spoken to in English and having their mistakes explained. It is a relationship which will strengthen in an environment of openness and understanding.

Use our handy search service to find an au pair in your area.

A Note on Demi Pairs

Demi pairs are young people from overseas who attend language classes during the day. As such they have less time to assist with child care and more basic language skills. Typically, demi pairs help families with older children with after school care (from 3:00pm until 7:00pm).

Responsibilities may include:

  • Picking children up from school
  • Driving children to their after school activities
  • Preparing afternoon snacks
  • Helping children with homework
  • Preparing and serving children's dinner
  • Bathing children and preparing them for bed

Demi pairs work a maximum of 20 hours per week and usually they only take four to six month placements with families because of their language courses. In Australia, demi pairs are currently only available in the major cities.

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