Lets be clear...
Today, I have been contacted by several medias, who luckily had their knowledge in order. But I can read on several online media, that the au pair program has been abolished in Norway! The Norwegian government has NOT abolished and scrapped the au pair program yet.. - they will vote on it at the end of June.
So until then, we can talk about the au pair program, and fight for the cultural exchange, which is the case for the vast majority of families and au pairs in Scandinavia.
Cultural exchange... taste it... it is NOT a job and you do NOT get paid. Therefore, it should not be equated with a job either. And no one here is working as a slave for wage. A stay with a local family that you help in everyday life as part of the family in return for pocket money, free board and accommodation, there is not a value to it. No other value than the personal value it has for both parties. An au pair who matures, experiences a new culture and learns to stand on her own two feet. A family that invites someone from another culture into their private home leaves their children, who learn to speak another language and get to know another culture, and a lifelong friendship is born. That value...
We place in Aupairagent approx. 65 au pairs in Scandinavia per year. Our graduates are hugely driven by the desire to travel and to have a cultural experience. Live and be a part of a local family. Of course, pocket money matters when you come from a poor country. But shouldn't we consider it a help, and an outstretched hand to the au pair and to a family, and to the possibility that siblings can get an education they otherwise couldn't get? It actually gives enormous value to the Scandinavian families, that they can actually contribute and lend a helping hand. In short, we HELP each other. In exchange for board, lodging and pocket money, a family gets more help in an already stressful everyday life. Help with breakfast and lunchboxes. Follow children back and forth to nursery or school, and walk the dog. Groceryshopping, doing household chores and helping with the dinner. 5 hours a day, often divided into a few hours at a time spread over the day when the family is under pressure and the kids are tired. Max 6 days a week. One and a half days off min. In a week. 5 weeks holiday like everyone else.
Are there rotten apples? Yes unfortunately. Unfortunately, we see unfortunately this in many industries. It is not necessarily enough to simply shut down the industry. Why not imparted instead? Lately we saw it in the Armed Forces in Denmark. That's not enough to shut it down. We improve, optimize and minimize errors. As an agency, we keep an eye on our families and au pairs in a good way. They know they can always contact us if they have questions. No one should be exploited. Neither families nor au pairs. The arrangement is based on mutual respect. The starting point for getting out and traveling and experiencing a culture as a young person, before starting a family and life becomes serious, there is nothing wrong with that.
We ourselves set the premise for the program, and of course it must naturally follow the times. For almost a year, I have tried to "reach out to the danish politicians" and ensure, for example, the Danish teaching fee changed to a fair distribution among all families. At the same time, I think that Danish education should be compulsory. But by imposing more costs on families and then claiming "that it is only for the rich" that is a double standard. Setting the pocket money rate so high that it becomes more attractive and drives the candidates more than the experience, we actually have to be careful with that too.
I have families who are definitely not rich, but are single for various reasons. They are either divorced or have lost a spouse to illness or accident. Those people are under extra pressure and need an extra helping hand in everyday life. The fact is, that we work more and more, and the demands on our workplaces are higher. It is not always connected with the fact, that we also prefer to look after the home and children ourselves. If you have an au pair, someone will look down on you. Higher requirements, inflation and now also fewer holidays mean that families need help. Stress and depression are unfortunately normal diagnoses in today's day and age. Not just among the parents. Our everyday lives are simply not connected in many families. Grandparents today have their own lives, and are not in the "kitchen with an apron", as my grandmother was, for example. Therefore, not all families have the opportunity to ask the grandparents for help, as we could generations ago.
The families also lack recognition for actually opening their home to a stranger for up to two years. They should get much more understanding and respect for that in society. It's about SO much more than the skills to "swing a vacuum cleaner". Unfortunately, families often encounter this primitive attitude from others. Is it a social and information problem? Maybe? But that basically has nothing to do with the program. -And we can change that. Just as we can adjust the au pair program, so that it fits todays time.
But let's call it what it is; cultural exchange. Au pair means "on equal footing", and means that you get help with childcare and household tasks. The au pair becomes part of a family and receives pocket money, as well as free board and lodging. There is nothing wrong with that part, and every year we also have scandinavian au pairs traveling globally and come home, more mature, and with a backpack full of good experiences from a foreign country. For example to the USA, where they help the family up to 45 hours a week, at a lower pocket money rate than au pairs actually get in Denmark og Norway. In fact, this two countries are one of the countries in Europe that has the highest pocket money rate.
So, when we all have an opinion about the au pair program, it is my hope that you actually know what you are talking about, and are not just speaking based on hearsay and the media's versions. There are far from only bad stories, and after 8 years as the owner of the agency I have to learn that 95% of my families are responsible for the good stories. Let's also talk about the good stories, the ones that make us happy and in a good mood. Why do we always have to focus on drama and badness? I have only had two families over the years, that I have announced that I will not place an au pair with again. I visit many, get a cup of coffee and make sure everything is good. They know we are here to help and guide them, if they need it.
So let's be clear: nothing has happened in Norway yet. You can see this simply by going to the Government's website. The media which are already ruling out the au pair scheme, they actually don't have their sources in order! Or they are looking for exactly the image I described above.
Last week I came home from the annual conference with the International Au Pair Organization. This time in Athens. 150 people from all over the world from agencies meet to talk about cultural exchange, including: internship abroad, trainee, exchange, au pair and the opportunity to work abroad in many different ways. In short, we are an entire industry that is ready to help young people from all over the world to travel and experience the world exactly as it suits them. And we collaborate as agencies and organizations to ensure that young people, regardless of destination and origin, have a good and safe journey. No one is forced.. and many young people need "a breather" after finishing their studies, or as previously mentioned, while they are still young and capable!
Let's get the debate going in the right direction. Let's define what cultural exchange means exactly. Let's create the right premises for a good and solid au pair arrangement BOTH in Norway and Denmark, (and anywhere in the world) which is sustainable for many years to come. Let's get together, be responsive to each other and Dear politicians, HEAR us and DO something.. USE us who have "our fingers in the dirt" physically every eternal and single day. We know what's going on and have many good suggestions for improvement. And NO, it must not be changed to a system with a minimum wage and collective agreements. We are destroying the cultural exchange, which already contains so much greatness.
There are lots of good stories, and I am happy to share them with those who will listen. I know my families would like that too. And dear you; recognize a host family that has the energy to open their home to a stranger.
Our candidates are interviewed, screened, prepared, told what the au pair program is all about, and much more. Our graduates know that becoming an au pair is not a right or a requirement. It is a chance and an opportunity to have an experience of a lifetime, and you should be grateful for it.
We get what we "put into the bank". If we offer and give, we usually get something in return.
In Athens last week we have an annual Au Pair of the Year Award in IAPA. And Antonella who won, she is a fantastic example of getting back what you give. The video with Antonella left 150 people with tears in their eyes and completely speechless. There was silence. I think you should watch the video here. Because it describes very well what the au pair program is about and why it should not be tampered. Adjustments, that's another thing. Watch the video right here.