The Washington Post
The Au Pair Experience
By Stacey Garfinkle
The recession's been hitting home in all sorts of ways. And as parents lose their jobs, so, too, do their nannies, writes Annie Gowen in The Washington Post. Nannies in the D.C. region average about $16 per hour, Gowen writes, a huge sum for most of us to swallow.
Usually, when parents talk about child-care choices, nannies or day care lead the list. Sure, there's the lucky family who can ask a grandparent. But there is one less talked about option available: the au pair.
The au pair program is run through the State Department with au pair agencies pairing families with foreigners with child care experience who want to live and travel in America for a year and improve their English. The French term means "on par" and that's how these family helpers are meant to be.
Au pairs are young adults, aged 18 to 26 who spend a year living in your home. Having them there is a little like having an adult sibling living at home. They get paid for their work and are expected to go to school for part of the time they are here. They cook their own meals and clean up after themselves. And they provide child care and do other child-related tasks for between 10 and 45 hours per week depending on a family's needs. Families are also expected to help them experience the culture here. Comparatively speaking, au pairs will cost a family about $17,000 per year; a nanny working 45 hours per week would earn about $37,000.
While nannies are facing a higher unemployment rate, the demand for au pairs has been on the rise, says Elizabeth Boa, who is a local Cultural Care Au Pair program coordinator. "Data from the U.S. Department of State, which regulates the au pair program, shows that nearly 22,000 au pairs came to the United States last year, up 44% from 2004." Cultural Care is one of the au pair agencies in the region.
So, what's it really like to have foreigners living in your house, taking care of your kids, particularly from a practical standpoint? Single mom Laura Jones has 2 kids, ages 4 and 6. She's now employing her second au pair and has been pleased with the program. Jones needed flexible child care that didn't require her to take off work every time her children were sick. Because nannies were so expensive, she chose the au pair route. There were only a few agencies to choose from, she said. When selecting an au pair, she sought out the advice of other families. Because she had fairly young children, others told her to "tap someone with lots of child care experience. Someone a little older because if they are going to drive, they would make the insurance expensive [if they were too young]." Particularly in the Washington, D.C., area, Jones recommends families hire older au pairs. "There’s a lot to deal with in Washington when you’re 18 or 19. It’s too much to ask."
Other tips from Jones: "Find someone who doesn't have a boyfriend or girlfriend back home and someone who has an outgoing personality who can make friends easily because it’s a difficult transition."
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