Foreign Exchange: Au Pair Care On the Rise
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Posted by Sue Shellenbarger
More families are relying for child care on foreign au pairs – the child-care workers who come to the U.S. under a State Department cultural exchange program. Nearly 22,000 au pairs were residing in the U.S. last year, up 44% from 2004, department data show.
Cost-conscious parents, as we discussed yesterday, are likely driving the trend. In the best cases, au pairs save families money while providing a rich cross-cultural experience. Au pairs’ work hours are limited to 45 a week, in return for wages and an educational stipend, and they can stay with a family for no more than two years.
To secure an au pair, parents must pay a fee of roughly $5,000 to $7,000 to one of 11 agencies authorized by the government to recruit and place au pairs. The total cost to families is usually about $13,000 to $14,000 a year plus room and board, typically less than a full-time nanny. The State Department posts rules and contact information for au pair placement agencies on its Web site.
Growth in the au pair program is one reason use of full-time nannies is declining, industry sources say. Many families employ several au pairs in succession and stay in touch with them for years.
Parents may remember horror stories of the 1990s, involving abuse or neglect of small children by ill-trained or poorly adjusted au pairs. A 10-year-old lawsuit arising from one of those cases, involving British au pair Louise Woodward, was recently resolved. However, regulation, screening and monitoring of au pairs by the government and placement agencies has since improved, and no such incidents have come to light for years.
Would you recommend an au pair as a child-care option?