A question I often receive when families are considering the au pair option is, “What will we do if it doesn’t work out?” Believe it or not, I appreciate when potential host families are this direct. It means they are really thinking about their options and ensuring that au pair childcare is the right fit their family. You see, this is the biggest difference between hosting an au pair and employing a nanny. Nannies are employees and paid to perform particular childcare/housekeeping duties that are set forth by the family and agreed upon by the nanny. Alternatively, the US State Department sets the requirements and restrictions of what an au pair can and can’t do. And, while I never want to hear that a nanny was fired, their positions can be terminated by the family as the family sees fit because they are the employer. The host family on the other hand is not considered an employer, but rather a particpant in the J1 Visa program. When a family hosts an au pair, there are a series of steps that must take place before they can officially call it quits with their au pair. Let’s take a look at the necessary steps:
(1) MATCHING/INTERVIEWING YOUR AU PAIR
Let’s start with matching. Yes, this step will take place BEFORE a family welcomes an au pair, but this is important to highlight. Make sure that you have asked every question possible to ensure that this is the right person for your family. Now, while this may surprise you, I am going to be very clear. Do not focus on the candidate’s repertoire of childcare positions. Do I think it is important that an au pair has previously worked with children? Yes! It is also a requirement! However, families get bogged down with the specifics of an au pair’s childcare accomplishments. The truth is, an au pair is considered a cultural exchange student. While an au pair must have a minimum of 200 hours of childcare experiences, this experience can vary from babysitting (with or without another adult present), to being a camp counselor, to being a teacher. The point is, au pairs are not professional nannies. They are between the ages of 18-26 so they are not going to have the breadth of experience that a professional will have. Does that mean that they will be terrible childcare providers? Of course not! Some of the very best out there are au pairs. I speak from experience as a former host mom and a Local Childcare Consultant of 10 years! Most au pairs come to the US to improve their English and experience American culture. Some au pairs will choose to continue in the childcare field, but most go on to have careers that do not involve working with children. What you will want to look for in your video interview is your candidate’s level of intelligence. Does it appear that she can take direction? Does she use common sense? Offer a scenario and see how she reacts under pressure. This is a sure way to see how she will respond since she is probably nervous speaking to you! If you feel that she passes this part of interview, then you are halfway there! The other necessary component to take under strong consideration? Do you truly like her? Does she smile and give off a warm and fuzzy presence or is she more drawn in? Do you see this person fitting into your family? Are you going to be happy waking up every morning and seeing this person in your home? If you genuinely like this person, then almost all of the time, you will do whatever you can to make this work. Intelligence and personality are my two most important qualities to look for in an au pair candidate. What else should you consider? Be extremely cognizant of the candidate’s driving experience. While my colleagues overseas are unable to evaluate the au pair’s driving, there are many ways that you can assess their driving skills. First, take a look at their experience in their profile. How many years have they been driving and how long have they had a driver’s license? Do they have their own car or do they borrow a friend’s car? What are the harshest conditions they’ve driven in? Heavy rain? Snow? Highways or country driving? I often get asked if driving on the left hand side of the road is a big issue and it hasn’t been for my au pairs so I wouldn’t let that be a concern. Once the au pair has been welcomed into your home, take her driving! Give her a radius of where she can and cannot drive, show her the gas she can use, discuss your car rules. Most importantly, do not hand over the keys until you are 100% comfortable with her driving. While I wish I had a crystal ball to determine if a particular au pair will work for your family, I can ensure that you are asking the right questions to make sure you are covering every topic possible! Please have a look at my 30 Questions To Ask Your Next Au Pair or Nanny. Be direct! Don’t be a afraid to discuss your deal breakers. Don’t assume that the au pair will be okay with an earlier curfew or be fine to not have a car. Be very detailed with what you can provide, what your expectations are for the year and what will not work for your family. I rather have a candidate tell you that they are not interested during the interview rather than settle in and decide that this will not be a fit. You WILL find an au pair – a truly, amazing au pair. Be direct, detailed and diligent. You will find your person!
(2) DETAILS DETAILS DETAILS!
Do you remember how I mentioned that Au pairs are not professional nannies? Au pairs have either never lived away from home before or are used to living on their own for a short while with their own set of rules. Think about this. You are going to welcome a young (but very capable) person into your home. Unless English is their native language, this person will have to get used to speaking English. Think about how difficult that can be! Next, this person is not only working for you, but living in your home. How stressful! Your au pair may be afraid to ask questions because she does not want to disappoint you. Now, something else to consider. What if you were to go into someone else’s home and was asked to begin running the household? Could you pick it up 1 – 2- 3? This person has to learn your household rules, learn where the dishes are, how to run the laundry machine, drive your new car and get the kids to school. It may seem relatively easy to us; the parents, but that is because we do this every single day! Did I add in the possible jet lag that occurs when an au pair first arrives? Yikes! There are so many factors that can challenge an au pair initially. So, this is my advice: Be direct (in a nice way). Be detailed. Be diligent! If you want you au pair to prepare meals for the kids, show your au pair where the pots and pans are, how to work the stove and the oven, provide easy recipes and any advice that will help your au pair run the household easily. Make sure that you provide a weekly written schedule before the work week begins. Even if the schedule does not change, print out the same schedule! Set aside an agreed upon time with your au pair and review the schedule. When is she working and when is she not working? Discuss what your au pair will be doing from 9:00am-10:00am and does she have any questions? Is she planning on scheduling classes or considering a vacation? Is she happy? Is there anything bothering her? If your au pair is happy, most likely your kids will be happy and so will you!
(3) SPEAK UP!
If you have done the above and you are unhappy with how things are going, it is so important to discuss your concerns with your au pair. Constructive criticism is important so your au pair can improve. You should expect that it will take a minimum of 1 month for your au pair to be officially up and running smoothly. Please consider that there are cultural and language differences in addition to this being a totally different family with a whole new set of rules and traditions. Communication is the most important component of this relationship. Texting is not an ideal form of communication because the sentiment can not be fully expressed via text. Set aside time to sit face to face and have a conversation. At minimum, you should be having weekly briefings with your au pair to discuss highlights, challenges and whatever else is important to you. If these one on one conversations are not working, you are encouraged to contact your Local Childcare Consultant (LCC). This is what you should know. We are not going to place an au pair in your home and leave you to fend for yourself. The fact is, you have local support in addition to our office support to help you and work with you. It is a State Department requirement that your LCC connects with you 1x per month at minimum. This means that the LCC will reach out and you and the host family must respond. The LCC will also have scheduled monthly meetings with the au pair group to answer questions and be available for anyone that needs a hand. So, if you have a questions or a concern, please contact your LCC. Your LCC will listen, offer suggestions, remind you of the State Department rules associated with the au pair program, and most likely suggest that she meet with you and the au pair for a Support Meeting. This meeting does not have to take on a serious tone and should make the au pair and family comfortable to discuss their concerns. The LCC will not show partiality towards anyone person, but rather be a support system and offer suggestions to make positive changes to the current state of the relationship. At the end of the Support Meeting, the LCC will suggest next steps to ensure that positive changes can be made. The LCC will follow up a day after the support meeting, then at the week 1 mark, and then at the week 2 mark. At this point, a family can decide if they want to continue with their au pair. Unless there is a safety concern or extraordinary circumstances, the family must participate in a Support Meeting before they decide to cut ties with their au pair.
(4) PARTING WAYS PROTOCOL
If you have decide to part ways after you have participated in a Support Meeting, please understand that an au pair can not immediately leave your home. Remember, this au pair is coming from overseas. She does not have family here. She only makes a weekly stipend of $195.75 per week so she can’t afford to stay at a hotel or buy food for herself. In the Host Family Agreement, the family accepts to house the au pair for 2 weeks while we search for alternative solutions for both the au pair and the host family. If the family decides that they want their outgoing au pair to work for those two weeks, then she will be paid. The stipend can not be prorated so whether the au pair works 1 day or a full week, it is the same total. If the family does not want the au pair to work then they do not have to pay the au pair. It is required that the au pair is housed for two weeks and has access to food in the house. While it is never a guarantee that another au pair can be found for your family in the next two weeks, we will certainly try. The most important thing to consider is that we want you to have a successful year and do not want a repeat matching situation. We will assess what worked and what didn’t work for your family. And, we will need to find a candidate that is the right fit for your family. They may be in the pool or they may not. It is important to note that your family will not be matched with an au pair just because they are available. They need to check certain boxes and we need to make sure that they are a qualified candidate for your family’s needs.
What should you take away from all of the above? We don’t take Au Revoir, Adios, and Auf Wiedersehen lightly. There are steps to be taken before this can happen. In essence, we want to prevent this from ever happening! Just as you chose your au pair to join your family, they also chose you. Think about all of the time and energy you spent to find your special person! With all of the questions and preparation you will take, you still need to learn to live with another person in your home. The point is, we don’t want you to give up. We are here to help you, guide you and support you. We will never force you to continue a relationship that is destined to fail, but we ask that you put forth the effort to certainly try. Be direct, be detailed, be diligent. We will help with the rest.
Monday, 4 December 2017 11:46 PM