Choosing an Au Pair for In-Home Childcare – Part 1

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This is part 1 in a 3 part series on au pair’s.

Before returning to work after giving birth to my daughter, I had to figure out what childcare option would be best for our family. I visited daycare’s in our area, looked at the possibility of hiring a nanny, and finally, I researched au pairs. After exploring all my options, I decided to get an au pair.

What’s an Au Pair?

Au pairs, by definition, come from another country; it’s a special visa program run partly by the U.S. State Department, allowing young people (ages 18 to 26) to spend up to two years in the U.S. living with a family and providing childcare in return for a small salary.  In addition to the salary, the au pair receives your help learning English, goes to school, and has an American cultural experience. Before having a child, I had never heard of the au pair program, but after speaking to a few of my mom friends who had au pairs in the past, I realized that this was the right choice of childcare for our family.

When deciding on childcare options the costs were not the only deciding factor for me. Besides the emergency backup care, my #1 reason for getting an au pair is flexibility. I work full-time, and the hours of my job can vary month to month, so I need someone with scheduling flexibility. With having an au pair, I like that there is no morning scramble of trying to get everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time. And we can travel with the au pair, which make trips so much easier. Plus, depending on where you live, an au pair typically costs less then a nanny or daycare.

Is Your Family Eligible to Host an Au Pair?

To serve as a host family, you must:

  • live within an hour’s drive of an au pair program coordinator’s home (they act on the au pair agency’s behalf in matters relating to the au pair and will contact you regularly to see how things are going)
  • be interviewed by an agency representative
  • pass a background investigation in which you provide employment and personal references (for you and any adults living in your house)
  • be financially capable of affording all your hosting obligations
  • have status as U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents
  • be fluent in English
  • not expect the au pair to be in charge of any children under the age of three months
  • not plan on the au pair caring for any special-needs child, unless the au pair has specifically relevant prior experience, skill, or training, and
  • have enough space in your home to give the au pair a private bedroom.

The Host Family’s Obligations

Once the au pair is living in your home, you will be responsible for the following:

  • Pay. This is not open to negotiation. The agency charges a set amount of fees and then you must pay a preset weekly stipend directly to the au pair. These amounts are set by the U.S. government.
  • Limited work days and hours. The au pair is allowed to work only 45 hours per week and no more than ten hours per day or five and one-half days per week. However, the schedule can be flexible, depending on your family needs.
  • Inclusion in family activities. You are expected to share meals, outings, holiday parties, and other family activities with your au pair.
  • Weekends off. Once a month, the au pair must be allowed a weekend off with no responsibilities. Consider this essential for their mental health.
  • Vacation. You must give your au pair two paid weeks of vacation time per year. (That means you pay their weekly stipend)
  • Arrange and pay for classes. The host family pays up to $500 per year for at least six semester hours of college-level coursework. Many au pairs attend english as a second language classes.

How Long is the Contract?

The visa for an au pair is good for one year. If after mutual decision between the au pair and the host family, the au pair can extend an additional 6 months, 9 months or a year. However, two years is the max.

If an au pair is under 26 years old they go back to their home country and can apply again to be an au pair. Our current au pair came to us at age 25, after completing her first year, she extended an additional year and she’s now 27. She leaves us for good next month to go back to Brazil. She will not be able to be an au pair again as she has aged out.

What Your Kids Will Get Out of the Experience

When I chose our first au pair, my main criteria was that she had to love kids (duh!), she would be a good fit for our family, and she could teach my daughter a new language. I didn’t care if it was spanish, chinese, german, or whatever, as long as it was something besides english. When I’m at work, I encourage our au pair to speak in their native language to my daughter, so unfortunately, most of the time that means I don’t know what my daughter is saying, but hey, that’s okay!

The most important thing we have gained is that our au pair is now a permanent member of our family. She is like a daughter to me and like a big sister to my daughter. We love our au pair’s.

Next, check out the post on Finding an Au Pair Agency.

Does your family have an au pair? What have your experiences been?

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