We’ve all heard of them assisting busy families with childcare. The au pair, usually a college student studying English in this country, helps out with minding children in return for accommodation and some pocket money.

Some families or individuals, however, have hit on the idea of employing au pairs to help look after elderly relatives. A presence in the house, someone to do light housework, remind the person to take their medication, go to the shops with/for them… It’s an ideal answer for some and one that several companies are working to meet.

Catherine Wickham of MindMe.ie says they saw the gap in the market that wasn’t being served by any other Irish company – a gap to connect carers with people looking for carers.

“We don’t personally link people together but we give carers and those seeking care the opportunity to connect with each other via our website. It includes carers who want to work full-time or part-time and au pairs looking for work in Ireland.”

While a lot of students in their early 20s who come to Ireland to study English are more geared to childcare au pairing, that is changing.

“We have an increasing number of au pair students who have had experience with elderly care prior to coming here and who are interested in that kind of work,” she says.

“With nursing homes and care companies charging high fees, au pairs for seniors can be an alternative option for families too, depending on how active the person still is.”

For instance, if paying the minimum wage of €11.30 per hour, which comes into force from January 2023 for people aged 20 and over, for 30 hours of care over the course of a week, this would work out as €339 per week.

The demand for elderly care has increased across all levels of care, she adds.

“With elderly care there is the expense of nursing homes, then care companies who will be charging placement fees and a salary per week, which is expensive. We have seen an increase in demand for care across the board. It can be full-time, part-time or companionship. Some people just need someone to be in the house as a watch for their parent, to make sure all is okay. Some people would have a room or apartment in the house and like someone living there just as company or as a precaution [in case of crisis]. Obviously with elderly care you’ll have people looking for companionship, for a couple of hours a day or maybe two days a week or much more comprehensive care perhaps. It very much depends on what the individual is looking for. Au pairs looking for part-time work while studying can suit some people if their care needs are low.”

With students currently having difficulty finding accommodation near colleges, accommodation in return for some care can be an option too.

“Yes, there are people advertising free accommodation in return for light housekeeping duties,” she says. “Students are under a lot of pressure to find accommodation at present.”

It is generally family members of the senior person who contact companies like MindMe.ie, she states.

“Daughters or sons would set up the profile for the most part. The website gives them the ability to find carers, whether in their own locality or not, and then to contact as many carers as they want to on our lists. After some contact through our website messaging system, they can then exchange contact details and meet for interview if they choose to.”

Write out a simple contract

Catherine has some advice for those thinking of employing a carer, whether au pair or otherwise, however. It involves really thinking out what you want and expect at the beginning and agreeing all this with the carer.

“This is so that you don’t realise half way through, ‘I didn’t think of this or that’ and that you haven’t made decisions about a lot of things like ‘do we need meals cooked or prepared’ and so on. We have had instances where people were upset that somebody hasn’t done what they thought they should do,” she says. “That’s why preparation is key in trying to find care for anybody.”

The simplest way to define and agree duties and responsibilities is to write out a list.

“You don’t need a legal document, you just need to sit down before you look for your carer and think about what your needs are and then be very clear in communicating that with the carer. You have to really talk it through and get their agreement. We recommend that you write it out in points a-z in what you require, what you feel your needs are and what you expect of your carer and get them to sign that and you sign it also.

That prevents situations where people get annoyed or disgruntled when someone said they’d do something and they haven’t done it. It eliminates any of the grey areas and keeps people clear about what their responsibilities are on both sides.”

The need for all this was highlighted when ICL spoke with another recruitment company who has offered an au pair for seniors connection service in the past. The manager preferred to speak anonymously.

“It didn’t work out so well unfortunately,” he said. “What we found was that the people who applied for au pair care really needed care assistants, but were hoping for a much cheaper alternative. They or their families, had high expectations of the au pairs and it wasn’t easy for people to find the right match. It [how it works out] is very dependent on how well the elderly person is. It would work for someone who is still active but is living alone and just needs company in the house and minor assistance. Au pairs are limited to working 30 hours per week. While having an au pair can be an affordable alternative, it is best suited to active, independent people who want minimal assistance and company as au pairs are only obliged to provide informal care such as light housework, food shopping, tidying, some cooking or doing things like ensuring medication is taken on time.”

Boundaries and vetting

Setting boundaries is also important, for example, stating that you prefer non-smokers. Other issues like carers/au pairs (if they are live-in), inviting friends to the house must also be discussed in order to avoid problems later on.

Catherine Wickham also stresses that all references provided should be well checked and the person Garda vetted.

“This is really important because you are inviting someone into your home whether it is for childcare or elderly care. You want to be as sure as you can be that their references and vetting is clear and that you are happy, having met them and talked to them and discussed your needs, to employ them and welcome them into your home.”

Contact process

Carers register for free with companies like this. Free registration with the company and providing an ad with their care requirements means that a client can then search the company’s database of carers and view carer profiles. Payment happens when contact is requested with a chosen carer. The private messaging service on the website can then be used to contact potential carers.

“All your messages are contained within your account and you can chat with whoever you want and arrange interviews etc. That’s how conversations start.”

Remember you’re an employer

If you have an au pair it is important to remember that you are an employer. In the past it may have been a cheaper, more informal arrangement, but under a ruling in 2016 by the Workplace Relations Commission the position of au pair has been declared to be employment. This means that all current and future au pairs are entitled to the protection of all employment laws in Ireland. This includes, the minimum wage legislation, holidays, time off, work breaks and where applicable, minimum notice.

You will have to:

1. Register with Revenue as an employer.

2. Draw up a contract of employment.

3. Make sure that you comply with the Organisation of Working Time legislation in relation to breaks, time off, maximum working hours and holidays etc.

4. Keep adequate records.

5. Pay at least the minimum wage.

6. Ensure a safe work environment.

7. Consider what steps you must take if you have to terminate their employment.

8. Ensure that your home insurance covers this.

Read more

See the Code of Practice for Protecting Persons Employed in Other People’s Home and Employment Rights of Domestic Workers in Ireland.

E-scooters: beware of serious injury

Thinking of getting someone an e-scooter for Christmas to get around towns easier, rural or otherwise? It’s time to think carefully according to An Garda Síochána and Professor Eoin Sheehan of the Midlands Regional Hospital, who recently launched a campaign to flag up the dangers of these now-popular vehicles.

“Catastrophic injuries” have resulted in crashes, the orthopaedic consultant said, because of the force and impact involved in accidents.

Already in 2022 there has been one fatality and 24 serious injury collisions related to e-scooters.

Anne Marie McMahon, Deputy Garda Commissioner, added that they are not a suitable mode of transport for young teenagers or children and pointed out that it is an offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle, which would include e-scooters, to a person under 16 years of age.

Read more

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