Families are turning to au pairs amid childcare crisis. That’s how it works

Many families turn to au pairs to look after their children. This includes the following. (Photo: Getty)

Many families turn to au pairs to look after their children. Here’s what’s involved. (Photo: Getty)

When Melanie Rosen and her husband sat down to explore childcare options for their two children, ages 1 and 3, as she prepared to return to work full-time, things initially looked bleak.

“It just didn’t make economic sense,” says the mother from Charleston, South Carolina. “As it is for so many families in the United States, calculating net pay and childcare has not been a favorable equation for us.”

According to a study by the Center for American Progress, the The average monthly childcare cost is about $1,300 per child for a daycare that meets state licensing standards. The cost for infants and young children is slightly higher due to the lower minimum child-to-adult ratio. At that rate, families with an infant pay nearly $16,000 a year to cover actual childcare costs.

And it’s not just the cost: expectant families are advised to tour child care facilities and wait-list for many desirable programs as early as the first trimester. These waiting lists can be as long as 18 months to two years in some cases. According to the Center for American Progress due to inadequate wages and a lack of social benefits, which explains some of the long waiting times. These factors can force many parents to retire from the workforce to care for children or, as in Rosen’s case, to get creative.

“We happened to have a vacant bedroom in our house,” says Rosen, “so we set out to hire an au pair.”

The family’s first au pair arrived in the summer of 2010. In the more than 12 years that have passed since then, Rosen has taken in another child and hired a total of eight au pairs. She says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive for her family.

An au pair (which means “equal” in French) is a young person from abroad who helps with housework and childcare in exchange for board and lodging with a host family in the country of their choice. The contracts last from 10 months to a year and the au pair lives in the family household for the duration of the contract.

Each agency matching families with au pairs will have their own requirements and will likely include match processing and program fees, au pairs generally need to be between the ages of 18 and 26, have their own bedroom and a small stipend get to spend money (Au pair USA requires a minimum weekly stipend of $197.05), work a specified number of hours per week (typically around 45 hours per week) and take time off to rest or travel, and fully integrated into the culture and everyday life of the family to be. The term Exceptional Au Pairon the other hand, refers to carers with more childcare training, typically in the form of a degree or formal childcare training or two years of full-time childcare experience; You will receive a higher remuneration as a result.

Depending on the agency, an educational grant may also be required: Au Pair International requires payment from host families per year at the cost of six credit hours of coursework. When abroad, host families usually have to pay for a language course at a local school or university. Some US-based agencies also charge a program fee, which can range from $5,000 to $10,000, which covers the services and assistance provided by the agency and other program costs such as international airfare and visa fees. The one-time fee is steep, but fortunately it applies to the entire time you use the agency, no matter how many au pairs you sign. In return, the family receives help with childcare and household chores, and the children get to know the culture, traditions and language of their au pair.

It also works differently: Americans become au pairs and travel to other countries to take care of children and discover the world. Anna Burkett, from Orlando, Fla., felt a little stuck trying to figure out what to do next after graduating from college. “I had a friend who was an au pair in Germany at the time, and that really appealed to me as I love kids and love to travel,” she tells Yahoo Life.

Burkett had never traveled outside of the US before becoming an au pair, but her parents supported her decision. Use of the Site AuPairWorld.com, In February 2021 she joined a family in France’s Loire Valley and started working as an au pair in August last year taking care of four children including a 5 month old baby. She documented her experience as an au pair on her Instagram account. Anna goes to France.

“I could filter the countries I wanted to go to, and I really wanted to go to Europe,” says Burkett. “I’ve had interest from families in Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland and other countries.” Burkett spoke regularly to a family in Spain, but because visa regulations were so strict after the pandemic hit, both parties had to move on.

For Charlotte Kumar from Maitland, Florida, the decision to hire an au pair was more about scheduling than anything else. “My husband and I both worked odd hours,” she says. “On a busy week we might need to start work at 5am and that’s not something a daycare would provide or we could ask of a babysitter or nanny. With an au pair, she lives at home with us so she could just wake up with the kids like it’s a normal day while my husband and I are already having our second cup of coffee.”

"Knowing that there are now people all over the world who know and love my children means more than I can say." says a mother who has hired au pairs.

“To know that there are now people all over the world who know and love my children means more than I can say,” says one mother who has hired au pairs.

Both Rosen and Kumar characterize finding an au pair as similar to online dating. “You enter your criteria and it’s matched against candidates,” says Kumar. It took Kumar and her family about four months to find an au pair the first time, as the visa process takes time, but they have bonded and engaged with others faster. Rosen has used both AuPair care and cultural care to match with their au pairs from Montenegro, France, Brazil, South Africa, Sweden, Argentina and Mexico. Kumar’s family has now taken in au pairs from Brazil, France and Colombia.

One of Rosen’s requirements was that the au pair must have a driver’s license, which caused some problems for an au pair. “We had to compete again with one of our au pairs because she just wasn’t a good driver and we didn’t feel safe driving our kids,” she says. “Being able to drive our kids to school and activities was a big reason we needed an au pair so it just didn’t work that she couldn’t deliver.”

Kumar also had some issues with her au pairs including language barriers. With an au pair from Brazil, they spent the first few weeks communicating with Google Translate. “She and I only spoke a few months ago and she told me that at first she had no idea what I was saying. She was just trying to be as happy and kind as possible,” says Kumar. Her family also had two au pairs who were “nice” but not really a match. Both were brought together with other families.

While helping with childcare was the primary goal in the short-term, the long-term benefits for Rosen, Kumar and their families endured long after their au pairs’ contracts expired and they moved. “Among other things, the children learned about different foods and holiday and birthday traditions that were new to us. But perhaps more importantly for us, many of these young women have truly become like family to us,” says Rosen.

One of Burkett’s fondest memories was cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for her host family last year. “Having lived in the Loire Valley, there are a lot of castles everywhere,” she says. “I used to run around in the gardens of these amazing castles, play with the kids and just be in awe that this was my life. I’d tell them we don’t have anything remotely that old in the US. I just walked around with my mouth open because of the beauty.”

Kumar also recalls fond memories with her au pairs, including when her first au pair hosted a Disney Princess dance party for her 3 year old. “My daughter put us all in different princess costumes and turned on Disney music,” she says. “We weren’t all comfortable with each other, but dancing around in princess costumes breaks down those barriers pretty quickly. That’s when she became part of our family.”

Those connections have stayed strong for Rosen.

“We kept in touch with most of them, visited them in their home countries, got to know their families and witnessed how the au pairs became parents of their own children,” says Rosen. “Our own family is quite small and to know that there are now people around the world who know and love my children means more than I can say.”

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