More Bay of Plenty families are turning to au pairs for childcare because agencies are unable to meet some families' needs.
Tanya Burrage runs Dream Au Pair with business partner Ginny Douglas. The company has doubled its numbers every year since opening in 2006. The number of au pairs placed nationally stands at 400. This was forecast to grow to 650 in 2013.
Au pairs were usually school leavers, female and European, with most coming from Germany, said Ms Burrage.
"Germans tend to have excellent English, there's a close cultural fit and they can afford the airfares, visas and insurance."
Dream Au Pair began operating in the Bay of Plenty in 2009 and is looking to expand. In 2009, two au pairs were placed in the Bay. It placed 10 in 2012. There are 30 Bay families registered with the company, meaning 20 families are awaiting au pairs.
"There is a huge shortage at the moment but there always is at this time of year. Come July (when the students finish their school year in Germany), there will be a massive oversupply. We have 200 families nationwide awaiting au pairs right now."
Au pairs undergo childcare checks before arriving in New Zealand, said Ms Burrage.
"We have partner agencies around the world, which recruit the girls and screen them. They interview them, police check them and reference check them. It's a lengthy process.
"There is no minimum requirement of childcare hours but they do have to have documented childcare experience."
Families using Dream Au Pair paid a finders' fee of either $450 or $750 depending on the chosen programme.
For a 30-hour week the gross cost was $231, with the au pair receiving $151 in hand.
Ms Burrage said this was becoming more affordable.
"We're licensed by the Ministry of Education in Auckland and hope to be in the Bay of Plenty by next year. Families who have an au pair can claim the 20 early childhood education hours funding.
"If you have a three or four-year-old and you have an au pair then you can get up to $84 a week rebated against their wages."
Ms Burrage said for those with larger families the financial benefits of an au pair were clear.
"It probably breaks even around one child but once you get more than that it's definitely cheaper to have an au pair. You're not paying per child with an au pair."
However, Fiona Hughes, chief operating officer at Kidicorp, said the difference in childcare expertise between an au pair and the professionally trained was incomparable.
"Everyone thinks it's easy to 'mind a child' but when you see the training it takes to be a teacher of early childhood, three years plus a year of on-the-job training you realise there is a lot more to it.
"You cannot expect the same level of educational or emotional development or social stimulation that you would get if they were in quality childcare with qualified teachers."
Amanda Phillips, who has two children, Micah, 5 and Amy, 2 with her partner David Rangihika, has had two au pairs and started using them in August last year. Both have been from Germany.
"We had a nanny but that was costing more than our mortgage. For three days a week it was $550 and then there was two days daycare as well."
Ms Phillips said they paid their au pair, 19-year-old German Leo Oelze, slightly more than average at $230 in hand after deductions. The family also provided him with a car.
Ms Phillips, who works as a dealer at Craigs Investment Partners, said it was crucial for both sides to be clear on each other's expectations from the start.
Tauranga mother Jacinta Horan, who runs Bureta Physiotherapy, and her husband Sean have three children - Zach, 5, Hugo, 3, and Lucia, 8 months. They employed their first au pair last year.
Mrs Horan, who is the New Zealand women's sevens team physiotherapist, and her husband, who is the team's coach, spend a lot of time travelling.
"We travel around the country and overseas a lot so it's just great to have that extra pair of hands there the whole time. It makes life so much simpler."