Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nanny Versus Au Pair Care

Foreign Exchange: Au Pair Care On the Rise

Do our readers agree with the Wall Street Journal on this topic? Comment on this topic below the article.

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?

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh boy, where do I start? Honestly, people who can afford an experienced nanny with great references would be crazy to hire someone with without the same experience or list of references.

Although parents can email and speak to potential au pairs on the phone before they agree to house them, typically they never meet the au pair before they agree to the cultural exchange agreement.

Unfortunately, au pairs are young. Very young. They must be 18-early 20's to be in the au pair program, which typically means they don't have much experience.

Au pairs travel to America for the cultural experience. Then they must leave in a year.

A legal, American nanny can provide consistent care for the same children for many consecutive years.

Au pairs are not allowed to work the same long hours most nannies work. Au pairs aren't allowed to clean the home. Nannies can be flexible in these areas.

Of course there are many great au pairs working and living in America. But if the parents can afford a nanny that can care for their children and home for many many consistent years and grow with the family that would be the best choice for most families and children.

Anonymous said...

I have worked for my current family for 6 yrs. Last year I decided to go to 30 hr. wk. Momboss brought in an Aupair from Thailand to cover the rest.
She has been with us for almost a year now, and I have some real concerns. While she is very sweet and loving, and the kids love her, she is basically incapable of handling many of the day to day challenges that come up. No matter how many times we have talked about hygiene, she doesn't seem to believe that it is important for her to bathe the kids and change their dirty sheets. The house is a mess when she is in charge and I have given up on trying to keep the nanny van clean. Her commuication skills make it impossible for her to say - relay a message from the teacher to the parent. I shudder to think what would happen if she ever had to call 911. She is very young and immature and I understand that. Actually I have grown very fond of her despite the problems. She will be here for one more year, and we will all miss her when she is gone. But even feeling this way about her personnaly, I would never recommend an Aupair. Before she came here she lived in the country in Thailand and had to be taught about refridgeration, safe cooking methods, keeping the kids safely within eyesight and many other things that you would never have to deal with with a nanny. This has taken a good part of the first year and I am still not quite comfortable with her taking the kids out.
Anyway, that is my experience, as a nanny with the Aupair world. Spend a little more money and hire a good nanny for goodness sake. I would think the peace of mind would be worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

I have been in the nanny field for over 20 years, To keep it short and sweet "Why would you hire a foreign child to care for your children here in the US." If you have teens that would learn foreign cultures then it would be worth it. However is that what is happening. Babies taking care of babies, worse yet, babies who know nothing of our way of life most times can not speak the language well enough to call 911. PLEASE THINK ABOUT WHO YOU ARE GIVING YOUR CHILDREN TO FOR SAFE KEEPING.

Janice StClair said...

I've heard horror stories from Au Pairs as well, about being required to work long hours and do heavy cleaning, and being given a moldy basement room as bedroom, all in violation of the au pair program regulations. And being given no support by the program that placed them.

Most of the au pairs I have met (by no means all!) have little or no childcare experience, and focus on having fun in America rather than on the responsibility of helping raise a child or children.

So I don't think the program has had nearly enough revamping to be a viable alternative to dedicated, trained and experienced caregivers.

Also, I think it's ok for older kids to have a succession of caregivers every year or so, just as they have new teachers and camp counselors every year. But during ages 0-5 or so, kids need to bond with an individual and count on them. Turnover during the early years hurts their development by teaching them that the people they depend on can disappear without notice, forever.

Anonymous said...

There are certainly au pair success stories. Many well educated, loving caregivers join the program and great U.S. families are great host parents for the experience.

But, I've known so many families where it was just a mess.

One family I know paid for three separate au pairs to come to work for them and then the au pairs switched to other families before the three month trial period was over. None of them wanted to stay (problem employers in this case).

One friendly au pair I knew switched three jobs in one year and still went home after the 13 months in the United States (au pairs can work 12 months and travel one month not allowed to work that 13th month).

Unfortunately she left hating the U.S. vowing never to return because each family treated her as a servant (her words that's how she felt).

Of course $149 per week may sound good to an au pair from Czechoslovakia until they get here and discover that weekly salary doesn't cover one evening out with friends in New York City.

From au pairs I know they typically get "burned-out" and resent the american parents that do not follow the au pair program guidelines of 45 hour work week, not many domestic chores, and so on.

In this tough economy I think parents should hire Americans when possible right now.

Anonymous said...

I would pretty much cut out anything before firing the nanny or the housekeeper. We actually just gave our nanny a raise. She does everything and keeps the house running. We are both lawyers in NYC and b/c of the recession are trying to make sure that we maintain our presence at work. So we wanted to make sure she was exceedingly happy b/c without her, we would be up a creek without a paddle. She hasn't been complaining with more late nights to ensure we keep our jobs. She even says she doesn't want us to lose are jobs. My husband and I both hate cleaning and having a housekeeper prevents resentment from piling up along with the dirt. Our housekeeper does a fabulous job and is the one person who really does make my life easier and more pleasant. Also the amount we’re paying her is negligible compared to the “big ticket” items (NYC mortgage) but is probably significant to her. The only situation in which I could imagine laying her off is if both of us would lose our jobs.

Cassandra Robinson said...

Just as all nannies are not equal, the same goes for all au pairs are not equal. I am a Local Childcare Coordinator with Cultural Care Au Pair, and I wanted to clarify some statements in this blog. The au pair program is regulated by the State Department and all au pairs are between the ages of 18-26, have a minimum of 200 hours of childcare experience, and provide up to 45-hours of childcare per week and these duties may include child-related housework (laundry, meals, general pick-up). Au Pairs are not professional childcare providers. I have seen au pairs from 250 hours of experience to 3000+ hours of experience. The au pair program is all about cultural exchange; an American Family welcomes an au pair into their home as a family member (not an employee) for a year, and in exchange for their hospitality the au pair provides loving childcare, and your children are exposed to a new language, culture, and overall broadened view of our world. Hosting an au pair is an affordable live-in childcare solution regardless of the number of children you have. If you are interested in learning more about the au pair program, send me an email: cassandra.robinson@lcc.culturalcare.com

Anonymous said...

I am a nanny. And want to mention to everyone that of course I have met lovely au pairs. The arrangement often works out.

It's good to know that au pairs are required to have some childcare experience.

But 200 hours is less than I babysat as a high school kid. That is only one month childcare experience for a typical nanny. 200 hours does not qualify someone to say they are experienced. You need a year or more. Good jobs require five or more years. We cannot say we are experienced if we merely have 200 hours experience.

Ask any au pair, they are an employee. Tell a parent that they aren't a childcare provider and they wouldn't welcome the au pair into their home.

The fact is that au pairs often work hard because the parents do not follow the guidelines of the program. Of course the same thing happens to live-in nannies, not just au pairs. Anyone who doesn't stand up for themselves can easily get "walked over."

No working arrangement is ever perfect. But I do hear more complaints from au pairs then nannies. But, that's just my experience.

I don't want au pairs of au pair agencies to think nannies don't respect au pairs because I do.

I just don't see how anyone can really assume that parents are laying off nannies to hire au pairs. That's my main gripe with articles making those assumptions.

Anonymous said...

I'm a mom and really quickly before I leave for work through the snow I wanted to comment that I have hired both an au pair and a nanny.

We love the au pair dearly. Having her live with us was great experience. We will stay in touch with her always. She is always welcome in our home.

That said, having an au pair live with us was a lot of work. As parents we didn't save money going the au pair route. It was very time consuming training and caring for the au pair. I worried a lot as a host mother. It felt like having a teen aged child. But we love her.

It's much easier having a full-time live-out nanny now. I don't worry. We trained her once and she's been with us for years. She goes home (unless the weather is intolerable) and we love her just as dearly as the au pair.

As a parent my personal experience has been that the nanny is a lot less work for me.

But I don't want to speak poorly of the whole cultural exchange process because it does work for many people. That's just my experience.

Anonymous said...

Cassandra Robinson of Cultural Care Au Pair wrote it herself above, "Au Pairs are not professional childcare providers."

Obviously I would want to hire a professional caregiver be that a nanny or staff of a daycare.

Anonymous said...

You get what you pay for! Cheap parents get bad attitude caregivers who feel taken advantage of -- period. Pay more, happier employee. Parents should create jobs that they would want to have themselves. $10 an hour is insulting to anyone but a high school kid watching tv and eating popcorn on your sofa while watching MTV with your kids asleep in bed. Why would an au pair deserve any less just because they are in a program that allows low stipends? Good employees take jobs that pay well. You get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...

Although au pairs may be disappointed after they realize how little their stipend is after they arrive in America, they sign up for the program and that's how the program works.

Whether you are a nanny or au pair you ought to have a good attitude. Whether parents hire a nanny or au pair they ought to thank them with a generous end of the year bonus (if they can afford it).

In-home childcare is a domestic / service industry and a lot of the responsibilites are less than appealing. It's not glamarous. If the caregiver expects more than that they will be disappointed in the job no matter how much money they are given.

Single Mom of Nanny

Anonymous said...

I am confused, where is the proof that nannies are declining and au pairs increasing? I don't think the increase of au pairs means there is a decrease in nannies!!!!! There is nothing to prove that at all.

Anonymous said...

I found these comments to share on the topic. There are so many hidden costs the mother didn't even mention. The link is at:

http://www.msmoney.com/blog/2007/03/high-cost-of-au-pair-care.html

As a mother, a business woman and a community member, I feel it is imperative that the public be aware of the consequences of the Au Pair Care system.

Our Au Pair said every one of her [seven]7 Au pair friends had switched households at least once and some of them had illegally left the program and stayed on here illegally while leaving their families in the lurch. This is more common than the agencies will ever let you know. Guess who has the foot the bill for the extra cost of getting a new Au Pair? The family ... not the agency, even if it is was the Au Pair's fault. And the family can lose thousands of dollars, which for some is a hefty sum.

If a family has an Au Pair who illegally leaves the program, does something tragic ,or is just not a good fit, the parents generally do not get their pre-paid money back from the agency. You see, families pay all 12 months up of the agency fees up front. The agency gets paid the same amount as the Au Pair. I wonder how many Au Pairs really understand this.

Au Pair agencies are staffing companies that take 50% of the Au Pairs first year salary up-front and is usually non-refundable, regardless of the situation works out or not.

Also the parents have to pay a registration fee, education costs for the Au Pair and possibly air fare too. So if the Au Pair leaves or the family decides the Au Pair is not a good fit for their family, they often will not receive their money back. I personally lost $2,000 and my Au Pair lost $1,000 that the agency wouldn't give back because she illegally left the program to travel around the U.S. A good friend of mine lost $3,000 that Au Pair Care refused to give back. What is happening here?

If the Au Pair rings up a $1,000 in long distance charges to their homeland (it happens!). Who pays? Not the agency, the family has to burden that cost. I would recommend turning off your international long distance service if possible and using Skype instead.

One Au Pair's references we checked said they would never trust their child in the care of this woman, who was their Au Pair in London, nor should we. And this reference was on the Au Pair's application she sent to us. How in the world did she get into the program then and why didn't the agency check her references? I asked and the agency said they did check her references. Interesting ...

It was a shame that after 8 1/2 months [our au pair] decided she didn't want to work anymore and wanted to travel the U.S. with her girl friends, some who were also illegally staying in the U.S.

She left one day with[out] any notice, just a note left behind I found a day later after worrying endlessly where she had gone - just a like a mom would if her 19 her old daughter didn't come home one day. And just like a mother, worrying about the impact of one child leaving on another, I was saddened beyond words when I had to explain to my son that his "sister" had disappeared.

Luckily she did come back in a few months on her way back to Ecuador to say goodbye to our son and to wish us all well in our life. However, I don't think it will ever remove the sting of her unexpected departure with myself or our son.

Au Pair care offers many advantages for all parties involved. However, it also has many risks. To minimize the risks, one should research as much as possible, check references (whether you are the Au Pair or the Parents) and set your boundaries with the Agencies with the terms you are willing to accept.

Anonymous said...

I am not shocked to hear the AU Pair program does not work a large percentage of the time.
The Au Pairs want to come to the country to learn better English, see America, etc.
The families need "affordable" childcare.
But how can an Au Pair be the best childcare choice when their priority is not giving quality childcare?

The families/Au Pairs don't even get to meet in person before.
Many times it does not work out- and who suffers? The children.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget all the nannies that are educated and childcare professionals turned nannies. I know so many nannies that worked in daycares or were early elementary education teachers but could find nanny positions that pay more. Often they have trouble finding a job or were fired so decide to give nannying a try while they wait for a teaching job to open up only to find nannying more fulfilling and pays more. I'm sure some au pairs have early ed background too but the job is less appealing. Au pairs don't stay in America for the job, but to stay in America. So many remain illegally working as servers in restaraunts because they make more money doing anything other than being an au pair.

Anonymous said...

Being an in-home childcare provider is difficult. Long hours and demanding and often high stress. It is not glamarous.

I think the au pair decision is right for a stay at home or work at home mother. The au pair is an extra pair of hands and a friend and for support.

But I think that working mother's are risking a lot having a foreigner they haven't met yet alone in the home with their chidren for long hours each week. It's just such a stressful job better to hire someone with more experience who knows the culture.

There is just so much to teach foreign caregivers. Little things can be big things like driving on the proper side of the road, making American meals, safety issues for children, communiating clearly, the list goes on and on.

The costs aren't always cheaper either. I think the daycare option is good for parents that cannot afford a nanny. Daycares are at least licensed and have many other people working there to regulate behavior.

Anonymous said...

There is no proof that families are hiring au pairs instead of nannies to save money due to the economic recession.

More likely stay at home parents have to go back to work and need to find childcare in order to go back to work.

Anonymous said...

I had the most terrible experiences being an au pair for my first family. My problem was that I worked intolerable hours for a low stipend. The parents hired me just to save money. They weren't friendly. They didn't want to learn about my culture, me, my family, nothing. I felt like a servant.

Finally I am now working for my third family and they are nice. I return home in a month though. If I were to visit America again I would not work, just vacation.

AuPairMom said...

Au Pairs can be a great childcare option-- and I know from experience, having had 10 great au pairs in as many years. Like any childcare provider, an au pair needs some training, supervision and 'management' -- and a host parent who cares.

One helpful site for advice on having a great au pair is www.AuPairMom.com The blog is not affiliated with business or agency, and is all about helping host parents. THis would be a good place to look for advice, as well as for a breakdown of the actual costs of au pair care.

Anonymous said...

i was recently an Aupair in the USA from South Africa, and I have never had such a terrible experience in my life!

story short, i was the 'mother' to my Two year old twin host children, while my host parents treated me like a servant! they never spoke to me let alone make eye contact with me in the home. they always criticized me and i never did anything right in their eyes. I had no support what so ever from anyone in the programme and i'd say 75% of the aupairs i met where having an awful time!

i found that the host families where not that interested in our cultures and backgrounds, we were just there to work, which is not at all what is made out in the programmes promises.