Au pairs are often marketed to parents as cheap alternatives to nanny care, however the reality could not be further from the truth. While in some situations, like when parents need an extra set of hands or when older children need afterschool supervision, an au pair may be an appropriate child care choice, if you are looking for a childcare specialist to provide full-time care for your young child, an au pair typically isn’t it.
Here are 10 reasons why au pairs are not nanny replacements:
1. Au pairs enter the United States through a cultural exchange program. The primary reason au pairs enter the United States is to experience American life. The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Au Pair Exchange oversees the exchange program that provides J-1 visas to foreign nationals in exchange for providing child care for the children of host families.
2. Au pairs are foreign nationals who are between 18-26 years of age. Au pairs are young adults who may not have the life experience that a seasoned nanny may have. When choosing an au pair, you have no option but to choose someone in this age range.
3. Au pairs can only stay a limited time with families. Unlike nannies, who may stay several years with the families that employ them, au pairs are only able to stay a maximum of two years. While they enter into the program for one year, they may extend their time in the U.S. for 6, 9 or 12 additional months.
4. Au pairs do not need to have significant child care experience. All au pairs must receive a minimum of 32 hours of training. Unlike with nannies, who often have extensive experience and/or training in early childhood development, these 32 hours could be the only child care related training or experience an au pair has ever had.
5. Au pairs can only work a maximum number of hours per week. Unlike nannies who can work as many hours as you agree to (although they must be compensated for each hour worked), au pairs can work a maximum of 10 hours per day and 45 hours per week.
6. Au pairs cannot provide unsupervised care for young babies. Au pairs are not placed in homes with babies 3 months of age or younger unless there is a parent or another responsible adult in the home supervising the au pair. Au pairs can, however, be placed with children aged 2 and under if they have200 hours of documented experience. In nanny experience, this would be equivalent to having only one month of child care experience.
7. Au pairs must enroll in academic programs (that you have to pay for). Not only must au pairs enroll in classes, as a host family you are responsible for paying up to $500 towards the fees of those classes. You must also ensure your au pair has the time off to attend the classes she enrolls in.
8. Au pairs must live with their host family. While parents have the option to hire a live-in or live-out nanny, au pairs must reside in the homes of their host families. The host families must provide a suitable room plus three meals per day for their au pair.
9. Au pairs must have one complete weekend off each month. While you can ask your nanny to work every weekend as part of her agreement, when it comes to au pairs, you can’t. The program requirements state that au pairs must have one weekend, from Friday evening until Monday morning, off each month.
10. Au pairs must be included in family life. Since au pairs are in the United States to experience American life, their host families are expected to include them in meals, in holiday celebrations and in family outings. While your nanny will have her own life, your au pair may depend on you to create her life for her.
If you are looking for a mother’s helper or gap coverage for your child between the time when he gets home from school and you get home from work, an au pair could be a viable option for your family. However if you are looking for a childcare specialist with extensive experience to help you raise your children for the long haul, you’ll really need to consider hiring a nanny.