Before hiring an au pair to care for your children, you’ll
need to choose a qualified au pair sponsoring agency--one that has received
authorization from the U.S. State Department. This is an important decision, because the agency will take care of a
lot of important tasks for you, such as:
- holding a personal interview with each applicant
(and preparing a written report about it, which you can view)
- administering psychometric exams and creating
personality profiles of applicants
- checking applicants’ school, job, and personal
- checking that applicants have an international
- requiring applicants to undergo a physical exam,
- conducting criminal background checks.
In the course of this, the agency is expected to make sure
that each applicant:
- has child care experience
- is physically capable of handling the tasks
- has basic English-language skills, and
- in the case of some agencies, is a nonsmoker.
For applicants who make it through this screening and sign
up for placement, the agency will provide some training in child safety and
development. The agency will also help the au pair prepare for a U.S. stay, by arranging
health, accident, and auto insurance, offering language courses, and remaining available
in case difficulties arise while the au pair is here. It will even pay the au
pair’s plane fare and other transportation to the host family’s house (using
the fees paid by parents). Keep reading to learn more about choosing the right agency--or if you're already at the stage of choosing an actual au pair, read Choosing an Au Pair for In-Home Childcare.
How the Timing Works
You can start your au pair search at any time. It is not a
seasonal thing, though some agencies schedule arrival dates on a rotating
basis, such as once every month or two. Plan ahead, however. It can take weeks
or months to get through the paperwork and interview process and find an au
pair you like.
What to Ask or Find Out About Your Au Pair Agency
Your choice of an au pair agency is important. Although you
must start with the State Department’s list of Designated Sponsor Organizations, and there are only 16 agencies on that list as of late 2016, they are not all
Below are some things to research or ask about when choosing
- How long
will the process take? Make sure the agency’s scheduling fits your needs. A
good agency can start matching you up with potential au pair within a day or
- How much
will you need to pay in total? Find out how the fee structure works, both
at the initial application phase and after your au pair arrives, for example if
you are not happy with her or you lose your job and can no longer afford to pay.
If one agency’s fees look significantly lower than the others’, do not assume
it’s a bargain. The agency may later ask you to foot the bill for other costs that
would simply be included in other agencies’ basic fees.
- Is the
pay structure for local coordinators based in part on bonuses, and if so, for
what? For example, some receive a bonus for every au pair who successfully
stays with her host family. Although meant as positive reinforcement, this also
means that your coordinator will have every interest in convincing you to keep an
au pair who’s not a good match.
- What’s the
ratio of host families to local coordinators? The more families your
coordinator has to take care of, the less individual attention you will likely get.
- Can you
talk directly to the local coordinator now? You’ll probably start the process
with the agency’s national headquarters. But it would be nice to make sure
you’re comfortable with the local coordinator early on, if possible, since you’ll
be dealing with that person a lot later.
- What’s the
procedure for matching families with potential au pairs? Some agencies pride
themselves on providing one-on-one matching. In other words, instead of hitting
you with a slew of applications, they carefully identify a few candidates who
closely meet your criteria, then present their information to you. The agency
allows you to interview and choose among the selected candidates without the
pressure of other families having access to the same group. Conversely, some agencies
simply make all of their candidates available to all prospective parents, for example
on a website with photos and profiles.
benefits does the agency offer au pairs? For example, if it buys them
health insurance, that’s one less thing you will have to worry about.
countries do most of the agency’s au pairs come from? No one agency has the
resources to represent au pairs from the whole world. Typically, they draw from
40 to 60 countries. This is relevant if you are hoping for an au pair from a
certain country (perhaps one who can cook the food of that country or teach
your kids its language).
- How much
child care experience does the agency require for au pairs caring for children
over the age of two? State Department regulations require au pairs to have
a minimum of 200 hours of infant experience before being placed with a family
with kids under two. But there’s no minimum requirement for kids over age two. If
you have older kids, look for an agency that has raised its standards above the
State Department’s, for example by demanding that all its au pair candidates
have 200 hours of child care experience.
After selecting an agency to work with, you will need to pay
an application fee, send photos of everyone in your household, provide personal
and employment references, and to fill out forms or write short descriptions
- your children’s needs
- your preferred form of recreation
- your religious practices
- the likely schedule you will ask your au pair to
- how you plan to provide transportation while the
au pair is staying with you.
The agency does, after all, need to make sure that you will
be a suitable host family. And it is gathering information to give your
prospective au pair, so that he or she can get a sense of who you are before agreeing
to come live with you.