Monday, June 15, 2009

The Au Pair Experience by Washington Post

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."

To see rest of article click here.


Best Nanny Newsletter said...

I do like many au pairs and think it is a great relationship for some families and au pairs who experience the cultural exchange program.

The problem for some parents with au pair care rather than nanny care is that there are many rules and regulations for hiring au pairs.

For example, au pairs can work a maximum of 10 hours a day and 45 hours per week. Even if the au pair is sleeping, if she is caring for children alone those are considered working hours. Au pairs are not allowed to work longer for extra money. That would be a violation of their Visa.

Au pairs are also not allowed to do housekeeping. Parents cannot even pay the au pair more money to do housekeeping. To do so would violate their Visa.

And then, of course, an au pair's Visa lasts one year, while nannies can work for the same family for many years consecutively.

Of course nannies can negotiate any household responsiblities for extra moeny they want and can work flexible hours the parents might require.

Au pairs are not professional child care providers. But, of course if a 45 hr work week without additional household chores works for the parents than "hiring" an au pair can be a great cultural experience.

Anonymous said...

I wish we could find out exactly how many parents are firing nannies so they can hire au pairs to save money. I honestly do not think it is many. I think it would be a HUGE adjustment to change from live out nanny (highest paid of the bunch) to live in au pair where parents host the individual so they can learn about the culture and see the country.

Mothers in my town in NJ tell me that after paying for food (room and board), application fee, airline tixs, and son they did not save much money during the year with the au pair.
Mareen O. NJ

Anonymous said...

No doubt the au pair program is great for many Americans and young men and women coming to see America.

But, of course the reality is most parents and au pairs break the Visa regulations a lot. What au pair says no to working a few extra hours, especially if they are paid to do so? The au pairs are paid such a low salary of $149 per week they have to do a little extra to make extra money if they hope to site see or travel for a month as their Visa permits.

Anonymous said...

I have been not writing my comment for more than a day for fear that I will anger some. But, the problem is that at a time when american's are losing jobs other american's should be hiring out of job american's. It may sound mean. But I loved having a foreign exchange student live in our home for a few months in high school. I really do not have problems with au pairs personally. Just we need to help out unemployed american childcare workers right now. I strongly feel american's need to hire american during this recession.
Career Nanny Tess, CT

lovebeingananny said...

I am glad you said it first Tess. I do not know if I could say this to anyone's face since it is not politically correct but I actually agree with you.

Americans should be hiring unemployed Americans.

Anonymous said...

People have to decide if they want someone living in their home all the time. It changes the whole dynamics of a household. Many parents complain that having an au pair is like having another child.
I agree that we should be hiring unemployed Americans. It would help our economy.

AuPairDebbie said...

parents cannot get blamed for the economic recession and for not hiring only americans. we should all buy only american cars and only food from american farmers but we don't because we have to do what is best for us.

Anonymous said...

For some that commented above: It is a little bit crazy to expect parents to not hire an au pair due to the poor economy. We would have to blame American's for buying foreign cars then too. But, then we would criticize them for not buying "green" hybrids, which really are foreign cars. We can start buying American cars again when they start making affordable hybrids. Parents can hire experienced and educated live-out nannnies once their jobs imporove too.
Natasha, Chicago

Anonymous said...

Parents cannot forget to add up the extra food and utilities and leasing a car for an au pair drive. Although the au pair exchange programs in America only require nannies be paid $149 per week parents should still pay more. If you want a happy caregiver you need to treat them well.

The most important part of hiring an au pair is to make her feel a part of the family. Parents must seem more like second parents rather than employers. When host parents treat the au pair primarily as a hired employee rather than a new memeber of the family it becomes a negative experience for the au pair. An unhappy au pair leads to unhappy children and parents.

Although I think the treatment of the au pair is more important than the salary they make (they come for the cultural exchange not the salary) for many au pairs knowing how much nannies in America make compared to them does often make them resentful too.

But I think it's the way they are treated, accepted, and respected by the family that is most important to au pairs.