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Spotlight on au pairs as childcare rebates dwindle

As childcare rebates run dry – more than 100,000 households are expected to reach their annual limit by June 2017 – families are increasingly turning to cheaper au pairs for childcare.

Nicole Kofkin, chief executive of au pair agency Smart Au Pairs, has seen an increased demand for the service over the last few years.

“This year we’ve had to say no to 100 families,” she says.

Julia, from Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay, hopes her family isn’t number 101. She is currently searching for a German au pair. Not only will it cost her only $100 a day (as opposed to $160 for regular childcare), but she likes the flexibility a live-in nanny affords her. It means she can take a fulltime job and return home whenever work finishes, not when her 8-month-old, Lily, needs to be picked up from daycare. Plus, Julia hopes the au pair will teach Lily her Dusseldorf-born father’s native tongue.

While cost is the driving factor for Julia, Kofkin thinks it shouldn’t be.

“I wouldn’t encourage people to [get an au pair] just because of cost,” she says. “It is also a commitment you’re making as a parent to someone living in your home.”

Kofkin says that with increased numbers comes a need for government regulation; for the benefit of families and au pairs alike. The industry is self-regulated. This means some agencies can indulge in unscrupulous practices, and some ‘au pairs’ can be unqualified for the job.

“There are people who just go and find an au pair on Gumtree. They call it an au pair but it isn’t,” Kofkin says.

Host family and au pair screening, support for au pairs in the event something “goes wrong”, and a specialised au pair visa are among Kofkin’s regulatory wishes.

Photo: Smart Au Pairs picnic for newly arrived au pairs. "Australian based support is very important for au pairs", says Kofkin.

Smart Au Pairs picnic for newly arrived au pairs. “Australian-based support is very important for au pairs,” Kofkin says.

Most au pairs in Australia are on working holiday visas, which allow them to work under one employer for 6-month stints. A specialised visa would allow them to work for an employer for longer, as well as provide more tailored applicants for au pair roles.

“It would make a huge difference to host families,” Kofkin says.

It would also make a huge difference to people like Zan, 24, from Los Angeles. She loved her au pair job, based in the leafy Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill. However, once a year had past (her employer family had successfully obtained a 6-month employment extension), she regrettably returned to the US. She didn’t want to slog it out on a farm for three months, a pre-condition for a second-year 462 visa, which would allow her to work as an au pair for a further year.

Yet despite industry, family and au pair calls for a specialised visa, the government has indicated it doesn’t intend to create one.

Names in this story have been changed.

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