WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
Thousands of U.S. families have enjoyed participating in the au pair exchange program. Most have found it to be a rewarding experience, but it is important to fully understand the program before deciding if you and your family will benefit. The ultimate responsibility for the well being of your children rests with you the parents. This brochure explains the program and answers some frequently asked questions.
The United States Information Agency (USIA) established the au pair program in 1986 as an educational and cultural exchange with a strong child care component. "Au pair" is French for "on the par," reminding host families that their international visitor is to be treated as a member of the family, not an employee. USIA's rules are clear: au pairs are provided a private bedroom meals, remuneration tied to the minimum wage, a full weekend off each month, two weeks paid vacation, and up to $500 toward attending an institution of higher education. An au pair is not to work more than 10 hours a day/45 hours a week and is not expected to perform general housekeeping.
If these rules cause you any concern, your family might be better served by a different child care option. There are other considerations as well. Are you willing to communicate in the beginning what you expect from your au pair? When occasional problems arise, one mistake host families make is to hope that conditions will improve and problems will correct themselves. As you consider whether the au pair program is right for you, think about how you and your family will adjust to having an international visitor in your home for a year. The following questions and answers might help you to make that decision.
What is the au pair program?
The au pair program is an educational and cultural exchange program with an extensive child care component. Au pairs come to the U.S. for one year to provide up to 45 hours of child care per week for their host family while pursuing educational credits. Sponsoring organizations in the U.S. have the responsibility for administering the program, within the regulations set by USIA.
The sponsoring organizations identify, screen, select, and match au pairs and host families and monitor the au pair/host family relationship throughout the year. At the end of one year, au pairs return to their home country.
Although USIA authorizes these sponsoring organizations to conduct au pair programs, the responsibility for choosing the right organization rests solely with the host family and the au pair.
What do the sponsoring organizations do?
Sponsoring organizations carry out the day-to-day operation of the au pair program. They identify, screen, select, and match au pairs and host families. They ensure that background investigations, including criminal history checks, are performed on au pairs, and that host parents have adequate financial resources to participate in the program.
The sponsoring organizations interview au pairs for spoken English proficiency and suitability to participate in the program. They also interview host parents to ensure spoken English fluency and suitability to deal with an international visitor.
The sponsoring organizations provide au pairs with a detailed profile of the host family and community into which they will be placed, and the educational institutions available in the community. They ensure that au pairs have all the training required by USIA. These organizations must maintain monthly contact, through local and regional counselors, with au pairs and host families to ensure compliance with the program.
What do local and regional counselors do?
Local and regional counselors maintain ongoing contact with au pairs and host families. They are required to report to the sponsoring organization any unusual or serious situations or incidents involving au pairs or host families. Any incidents involving or alleging a crime of moral turpitude or violence are immediately to be relayed by the sponsoring organization to USIA. Moral turpitude is defined to include, but is not limited to, acts of theft, sexual misconduct, and child abuse.
Are there any checks on the sponsoring organizations?
Yes. Every sponsoring organization must annually submit to USIA copies of their advertisement and recruitment materials. They must submit a summary of the annual survey they conduct of host families and au pairs, which includes a summation of all complaints received and their resolutions. They must report to USIA all situations which resulted in the placement of an au pair with more than one host family. Sponsoring organizations are audited annually to ensure compliance with the procedures and reporting requirements set forth in USIA's regulations.
What is the educational component of the au pair program?
Au pairs are required to attend an institution of higher education to earn at least six hours of academic credit, and host families must pay up to $500 of the cost.
What is the difference between a nanny and an au pair?
Nannies are child care providers who are paid for their expertise and experience and they are employees of the family for whom they work. Au pairs, on the other hand, are participants in a USIA exchange program. Au pairs provide up to 45 hours of child care per week as part of their responsibilitiy to their host family and are considered members of the family, NOT employees.
THE SELECTION AND SCREENING PROCESS
Where do au pairs come from?
The au pair program is worldwide, so au pairs can be from any foreign country except those with which the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations.
What kind of training and experience is required to be an au pair?
Au pairs must be proficient in spoken English and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Before becoming part of a host family, they must receive at least 8 hours of child safety and 24 hours of child development instruction. At least 4 hours of the child safety training will be infant related and at least 4 hours of the child development instruction will be devoted to the care of children under 2 years of age.
The child safety training, provided by qualified organizations, includes topics such as stress management, shaken baby syndrome, and CPR. Additionally, au pairs responsible for children under 2 years of age must have at least 200 hours of documented infant child care experience.
Au pairs will NOT have specialized training in nursing. They are NOT to dispense prescription medication or undertake therapy regimes.
What costs are involved?
The average annual cost to an American host family is about $13,000. This includes fees to the sponsoring organization, a weekly payment tied to the minimum wage (currently $139.05 a week), an educational allowance of up to $500, and room/board.
ONCE THE AU PAIR IS WITH THE HOST FAMILY
What are au pairs entitled to?
Au pairs are entitled to a private bedroom, meals, a weekly wage which will increase if the minimum wage increases, a full weekend off each month, two weeks of paid vacation, and up to $500 towards attending an institution of higher education.
What are host families entitled to?
Host families are entitled to a maximum of 10 hours a day/45 hours a week of child care and they have the benefit of someone from another culture living in their home.
What responsibilities do both parties have?
Either a parent or responsible adult must be present in the home for the first three days that the au pair is with the host family. This can include a weekend. There must be a signed written agreement between the host family and the au pair outlining the au pair's obligation to provide not more than 45 hours of child care per week. The host family and au pair must attend at least one of their sponsoring organization's family day events during the au pair's stay.
How long can an au pair stay with a family, and can the arrangement be extended?
Au pairs can stay with their host families in the U.S. for one year. After that time they are required to return to their home country. The au pair arrangement cannot be extended.
QUESTIONS OR PROBLEMS
What if I have questions after the initial selection and match have been made, or what if a problem arises?
The sponsoring organizations have local and regional representatives who are available to help and counsel one or both parties of an au pair program match. You can contact them or the sponsoring organization through which you entered the program.
USIA's Exchange Visitor Program Service staff is available to answer questions at (202) 401-9810. In addition, you can receive information from the agency's FAX ON DEMAND service (see below).
If I am not happy with the arrangement, can I back out?
Both the host family and the au pair have options if they are not happy with the au pair arrangement. Since the terms of these options may vary from one sponsoring organization to another, it is suggested that you check your contract with the sponsoring organization for specific information on cancellation conditions or talk with your sponsoring organization directly.
PLEASE READ YOUR CONTRACT FOR TIME LIMITS AND CONDITIONS
For a listing of USIA-designated sponsoring organizations contact the agency's FAX ON DEMAND service by calling (202) 205-8237 (document #203) from a phone/fax, or check USIA's web site at www.usia.gov.
Please Note: No guarantee of performance or competency is made by the designation of sponsor organizations.