UK au pairs shun posts in America

THE EXPERIENCE of the British au pair, Louise Woodward, at the hands of the United States legal system is being blamed for a sharp fall in the number of Britons applying to work as nannies in the US.

According to figures compiled by US agencies, including the largest, Au Pair in America, 400 British au pairs will take up such jobs this year, compared with 1,500 in 1997.

Quoting au pair agencies in the US and Britain, the Washington Post says that many young British women were scared off after Ms Woodward was convicted of murder following the death of a child in her care and sentenced to life in prison. The conviction was reduced to manslaughter on appeal and the sentence cut to time served, allowing Ms Woodward to return home last June.

The details of Ms Woodward's life as an au pair that emerged during the trial - the long hours caring for two small children, the restrictions on her social life and the isolation of many suburbs - illustrated the downside of the arrangement.

According to the Washington Post, au pair agencies, which have seen a fall in applications from Britain of between 70 and 90 per cent, are having to step up recruitment elsewhere, including in the former Eastern bloc, Israel and South Africa.

The contrast that was frequently drawn between the pay of a professional nanny and the "pocket-money" paid to au pairs also gave the impression that the latter were seen less as young people working to pay for a cultural experience than as a cheap form of childcare.

The fall in the number of British au pairs is causing difficulties for many families. Despite the publicity given to the Louise Woodward case, they are still much in demand.

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