What you need to know about au pairs
Introduction to au pairs
The selection of childcare is one of the most important decisions that a young family faces. It is also one of the most expensive items in the family budget for many busy working parents. If you are not able to rely on family members to offer help or you have a job that takes you away from home, consider all the options available for childcare including having an au pair. This is not only a financial decision but also an emotional and lifestyle decision for the whole family.
Many times we are familiar with the common childcare options, such as day care and home care. But another option that is overlooked is the hiring of an au pair.
The word “Au Pair” comes from the French word, meaning “on par” or equal with the family. Since the au pair lives with the family, it is expected that the au pair be included in family activities (such as family meals, outings) and treated as a visiting relative. This arrangement is important since the au pair may be far away from her home country and typically takes the job for 12 months or more. Au pairs are granted a working visa called a J-1 visa so the au pair program is similar to a cultural exchange student. The department of state regulates the agencies that offer au pair services stipulates that a local agency representative must monitor and met the compliance requirements.
Understanding the au pair program
What services do au pairs provide?
Au Pairs provide childcare and perform duties related to childcare, such as preparing meals for the children, children’s laundry, bathing, driving the children to school and cleaning up the play area. They can work a flexible schedule up to 45 hours per week. Au pairs are carefully screened by an agency that is regulated by the Department of State. Au pairs are trained and experienced to provide quality of care. The local representative of the agency is required to monitor and supervise the au pairs and participating families and report on any issues that may be necessary.
Unique cultural factors:
Since au pairs are from foreign countries, there are important features in this relationship.
The cultural exchange also brings the opportunity to learn about other cultures and learn even more about your own, as you share with someone from outside your county. The au pair lives in your home creating an extended family. Au pairs can introduce their language and music and foods to the family as a unique learning experience. Au pairs are usually within the age range of 18 to 24 years old.
The au pair travel arrangements, documents and training are provided by the au pair agency. Au pair training may cover topics such as first aid, safety and infant care. Au pairs typically have good English speaking skills and an international drivers license.
How much do you pay for childcare services?
If you have looked at the many childcare options then you know that the cost of using day care facilities can vary across many factors such as the number of children, their ages and the hours required. The cost for a typical child in day care averages from $300 to $400 a week for full time care. Infant care adds an additional $100 to that total due to the lower staff to child ratio.
Additional expenses may include cost of laundry and diapers and meals. Plus, add on the transportation expense and the time it takes to drive back and forth each day.
Then for older children there may be fees for other activities such as classes or field trips.
The option of having a live in childcare arrangement can provide more attention and flexibility to your child’s needs. An “au pair “ provides live-in childcare service so her schedule is established according to the needs of the family. The working schedule can include nights and weekends and holidays.
Here are a few facts that may help you to evaluate this service:
The cost of having an au pair is about $350-$400 a week and they provide a maximum of 45 working hours per week. That cost is usually less than a babysitting service, which usually costs $10.00-12.00/hour. Plus the expense of an au pair is the same regardless of how many children are in the family. So if you have two or more children, then day care may be more than you can afford.
According to a 2011 report from “Child Care Aware of America” that recently examined the average cost of childcare across different U.S. cities, “ …the average annual cost of full-time care for an infant in a family child care home ranged from $4,500 in South Carolina to nearly $10,400 in New York.”
For example, if you were paying for two children in day care at an average cost of $200 for each per week ($400 times 50 weeks) that would cost over $20,000 per year.
There are many issues regarding childcare, beyond the cost factor.
Next steps, research further
As with all decisions, do your research and talk to other families that have hosted an au pair to gain their perspective. This may be a good alternative to day care for the busy family. Most agencies have a feature to interview au pairs and review their profiles and skills.
To learn more about the topic of au pairs, there is non-profit organization called International Au Pair Association (IAPA) that represents 45 countries in all aspects of the au pair and cultural exchange programs.
Au Pair Agencies
Here is a list of some major agencies that offer au pair arrangements. Gather information on cost comparisons and requirements to apply to the program. It is also helpful to see if discounts are offered for military families or for families with twins or multiples. Ask about the local representative and activities for host families to interact and socialize.
1. Au Pair Care
3. Eur Au Pair