Au pairs may be a more cost-effective option for families with two or more children than paying for each child to attend outside childcare. An au pair is a young person from another country who comes to the United States to absorb American culture by living with a family. Sometimes, the au pair attends school while in this country. In return, the au pair agrees to help with childcare, and may even take on some light housekeeping. Au pairs, however, are not employees of the working parents, but are meant to be considered houseguests, or one of the family. In fact, au pair means on a par.
The fact that au pairs are not workers hired by families is an important difference from nannies; unfortunately, this is not the only difference. Au pairs are young, and they often are inexperienced with caring for children. They are also far from home, which could lead to a number of problems. Some au pairs will suffer from homesickness. Others may like America a little too much, and may be more interested in carousing or clubbing than in learning what family life is like in our country.
One possible advantage is that your children may be more at ease with a young au pair than with an older caregiver. On the flip side, however, your children may not see the au pair as an authority figure, which may make her less than useful as a childcare provider.
Locating an Au Pair
The United States Department of State-through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs-has designated several au pair organizations to administer the Exchange Visitor visas (known as J-1 visas) that some au pairs use to enter the United States. These programs are reputable sources of au pairs, as they are the direct connection to au pairs with the J-1 visa.
Exchange Visitor Visa Providers
Agent Au Pair
1450 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
American Institute for Foreign Study
9 West Broad Street
Stamford, CT 06902
600 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
Cultural Care Au Pair
One Education Street
Cambridge, MA 02141
Cultural Homestay International Au Pair USA
104 Butterfield Road
San Anselmo, CA 94960
EurAuPair Intercultural Child Care Programs
(Contact information varies by region. Check the Web site for your regional office.)
111 East 12300
South Draper, UT 84020
Au Pair Foundation
1010 B Street
San Rafael, CA 94910
161 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10013
P.O. Box 2126
Lake Oswego, OR 97035
The State Department's au pair program provides a uniform set of requirements for both au pairs and the families that host them. Au pairs placed through this program can remain with the family for up to one year, although under some circumstances, this can be extended an extra year. The au pairs are expected to provide up to 45 hours of childcare per week (up to ten hours per day), and must also be enrolled in at least six hours of post-secondary course work at an accredited school, which includes a community college. Au pairs in this program are not allowed to care for infants less than three months of age, unless there is a responsible adult present. In addition to a weekly payment and an educational stipend, families are expected to provide the au pair with a separate bedroom, use of a vehicle, and all meals. Au pairs are also entitled to two weeks of paid vacation and at least one weekend off every month.
Some of the agencies can put you in touch with foreign youths holding J-1 visas. More often than not, however, the prospective au pairs you will find through these agencies will hold some other type of temporary visa, and will not be subject to the State Department standards.
Cost of an Au Pair
The typical bottom line cash cost for an au pair is in the area of $13,000. The family pays a placement fee to the sponsoring agency, which usually runs about $5,000. There may be an application fee of several hundred dollars as well. Of course, the cost of meals is not factored into that total amount, so your cost will be more, in actuality. The weekly payment you give the au pair is meant to cover her expenses beyond room and board, and most au pair agencies recommend that families require the au pair to purchase a phone card rather than letting her use the household phone at will. If you have two or more children, an au pair may end up being a bargain in comparison to full-time day care.